Protecting children online is now more difficult than ever due to the rise in popularity of photo-sharing apps, writes Helen O’Callaghan.
“It’s one of the best ways of getting them thinking about the issue,” says Simon Grehan of Webwise, the Internet safety initiative of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), which promotes Safer Internet Day in Ireland.
For parents, protecting their kids online is more challenging than ever. Just as they thought they’d got on top of Facebook, young people are moving towards photo-sharing apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
“Many parents aren’t as aware of these,” says Grehan.
We’re long past the days when keeping the computer in the kitchen meant you could monitor your child’s online activity.
Young people are accessing the Internet much more through mobile phones and tablets than they did two years ago.
This finding emerged through interviews with 1,000 students aged nine to 16 and one of their parents conducted by Dr Brian O’Neill of DIT.
The research is just about to be published. And while online activity is still mostly done at home, the fact their devices are personal means they’re free from parental supervision and mediation, points out Grehan.
So what’s the attraction of photo-sharing apps?
“Smart phones don’t have a keyboard — it’s difficult for kids to type and they don’t have as high literacy skills to communicate through language. They use images to communicate — instead of ‘I’m at the cinema with my friends’, they take a picture to show it,” says Grehan.
Apps like Instagram and Snapchat also provide more tools to be creative.
“With Instagram, they can edit photos — add filter effects to make it look like the photo was taken in the 1920s. With Snapchat, they can draw over the photo and paint little messages.”
On the surface, Snapchat looks like it has advantages. “It’s more private — you send pictures to a specific person as opposed to a public you’ve never seen.
“The unique thing is the photo disappears five seconds after it’s opened — eliminating the concern that your employer might see it in 10 years time.
“But you actually can’t be sure it’s gone, never to be seen again, because it’s easy to get a screen grab of it. A lot of kids would know how to do this,” says Grehan.
These new apps pose the usual cyber-bullying risks — possibility of sharing embarrassing or compromising photos and of posting nasty comments about someone’s pictures.
Grehan advises parents to communicate regularly with children about their online activity.
“Have them show you how they’re using apps and sites. Explain your concerns and listen to theirs. It’s very easy to use technology. It requires life experience to decide what’s appropriate to share and what isn’t.”
Laura Cullen, 17, is in fifth year at St Clare’s Comprehensive, Manorhamilton.
“The app I most use is Instagram, otherwise YouTube and art-sharing websites. I used to be on Facebook but there’s limited privacy.
“I don’t like the way social networking sites perpetuate the idea that you need to have a say on whatever you like and that there’s no consequence to what you say online.
“I’m very much in favour of technology. Websites don’t bully people —other people do. I’m involved in the Webwise youth panel.
“It’s mostly around raising awareness through competitions and sending posters to schools.
“It’s difficult to say how many hours a day I spend online. I feel it’s a very continuous thing — even though you have your phone down or in your pocket, it’s continuously picking up information online.”
Oisín Bowyer, 14, is in third year at Carndonagh Community School. “Here in Donegal we’ve had two suicides related to cyber-bullying.
“It’s important to do something. I’m an ambassador for Safer Internet Day. I spend two hours max a day online — below the average.
“I like Facebook — I think it’s more mature. Some young people are very naïve. The internet is a very open space.
“Everything you say can come back to haunt you. It’s important to think before you post that picture or hit that send button.”
A transition-year student at Deele College, Raphoe, Co Donegal Sean Murphy is 16. “I use Facebook a lot and Snapchat. I like that I can talk to my brothers in Australia or someone down the road in an instant.
AS we gear up for Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, 15,000 students in 100 schools across Ireland are running awareness-raising events around cyber-bullying.
“I’m not particularly a fan of the selfie — I don’t have the chiselled face other guys would envy!
“I use an alias to get around [future] employers seeing stuff about me. I’m definitely aware around cyber-bullying — I’d be pretty abrupt about stopping talking to people who’d consider taking an aggressive or mocking manner with me.
“I’m on the Webwise panel — I’ve always been an activist around keeping others safe and getting involved in school mentoring programmes.”
On Monday, Webwise will launch ‘MySelfie – Primary Anti-Cyber Bullying’, a curriculum resource targeted at fifth and sixth class primary students.
“It’s a series of short animations that provide starting points for classroom discussions around emotions driving bullying, emotional impact on victims and how children can be agents for positive change in relation to bullying.
Be safe online
* Be the one to introduce your child to the Internet. Together, find exciting, fun websites — makes it easier to share both positive and negative experiences in future.
* Agree with child rules for internet use in your home. Discuss when and for how long; how to treat personal info (name, address, telephone, email); how to behave towards others when online; what type of sites/activities are OK/not OK in your family.
* Teach social networking teens how to use privacy or security settings of a site. All responsible sites have a safety centre and a block and reporting system.
* Talk about risks of meeting online ‘friends’ in person. Children shouldn’t meet strangers they’ve met online without parental approval and without accompaniment by adult, friends or others they trust.
* Teach child about evaluating and being critically aware of online information. Not all is correct, accurate or relevant.
* Avoid being over-critical of your child’s internet exploration. If they come across adult material, open discussion about the content and make rules for this kind of activity.
* Encourage respect for others — being polite, using correct language, not yelling (writing in capital letters) or harassing others.
* Let your child show you what he likes to do online.
* Positive aspects of the internet outweigh the negatives — there are millions of age-appropriate sites for younger children. Encourage child to use these.