ONE in seven teenagers has been cyber-bullied in the last three months and almost 10pc have bullied someone online.
The worrying picture will be presented tomorrow to a meeting in Dublin Castle of the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Rheumatology.
Dr Stephen Minton, TCD Lecturer in Psychology of Education, will tell attendees that the government decision not to bring in laws earlier this year was “a mistake and a missed opportunity”.
These consequences gripped the country under a year ago when 13-year-old Erin Gallagher, from Ballybofey in Co Donegal, took her own life because of cyber-bullying. She was followed two months later by 15-year-old sister Shannon.
Ciara Pugsley (15), of Dromahair, Co Leitrim, had committed suicide six weeks earlier for the same reason.
Mr Minton believes that while adolescents may be technologically adept, their ability outstrips their maturity. He will call for increased education and will urge parents to closely monitor their children’s online activities.
“If the law is unclear, and if the response of technology providers is intermittent, it puts the onus on parents to smarten themselves up,” he will say.
“There is no excuse to say ‘oh this is all beyond me, we didn’t do computers in school’.
“My feeling is if you move into a new neighbourhood, you get to know the landscape – where you do and don’t want your children playing.
“Employ the same logic to the cyber landscape. Get to know the sites and keep communication open with the child. It can be difficult in the teenage years, but it is a better safeguard than any legislation or technological device.”
He will explain that with other forms of bullying, girls tend to exclude people, while boys usually go for physical forms of intimidation.
But when it comes to cyber-bullying, the balance is roughly even.
“Most of our data relates to 13 to 16-year-olds,” he will say. “We can’t say with great confidence whether kids grow out of it or not because we don’t have the hard numbers.
“But our experience of working with young people, teachers and parents would seem to be that this sort of thing seems to be a difficulty associated with early teenage years.
“We also find conventional and non-cyber forms of bullying peak at 13 years of age.”
But Mr Minton will also claim that there is light at the end of the tunnel, with certain social media sites taking steps to combat cyber-bullying. But others continue to allow it, often affording the bully anonymity.
The conference has been brought to Ireland by Dr Orla Killeen and the National Centre for Paediatric Rheumatology at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. It is the first time it has been held outside the UK.