From neknominations to ice-bucket challenges, 2014 was undoubtedly the year of the cyber teen.
And as teens and preteens throughout the land rapidly run down the battery on their brand new tablet or smartphone this festive season, it’s only a matter of time before the next viral craze sweeps the nation in 2015.
A staggering 48pc of kids aged six to 12 implored Santa to bring them an Apple iPod this Christmas, according to a recent Nielsen survey. And 60pc of 13 to 19-year-olds were also hoping to find some kind of tablet under the tree on Thursday morning.
But while thousands of students here spend the rest of the holidays glued to internet-enabled gadgets, many of their parents will enter the New Year feeling more disconnected from their children than ever, experts warn.
“A lot of children will have received their first tablet or smartphone on Christmas morning,” says social media expert Aoife Rigney. “It can be quite scary for parents.
“For those who have younger kids, it’s easier to say: ‘Don’t do X, Y or Z online.’ For parents of teenagers, it can be more daunting – especially if they’re not IT literate themselves.”
With new research this year showing that the average Irish seven-year-old now has a smartphone, with their older teenage siblings typically checking social media 125 times a day, it’s little wonder Irish parents are still worried about the dangers that lurk online.
In September, Ireland’s first ever national cyberbullying conference, Understanding and Managing Cyberbullying, took place in Dublin Castle after a survey by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals found that 16pc of Irish students have experienced bullying online – a 33pc increase on 2013. While in February, Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged teenagers not to accept neknominations after the extreme drinking game – which went viral on Facebook and Twitter – was linked to the death of 19-year-old Jonny Byrne from Carlow, telling Galway Bay FM: “This is not a game and young people irrespective of their connection with social media should just give this up.”
Avril Ronan, head of internet safety at Trend Micro, told Weekend Review in April: “You wouldn’t give a child the keys to your car, so why would you let them do anything they want online. When it comes to teenagers, parents don’t have to understand every aspect of the technology because there’s no way they can try to keep up with every trend.
“What parents can do is teach their children about issues such as bullying, good behaviour and etiquette online. The principles are the same, even though the apps may change.”
One survey by parenting site Mumsnet nonetheless found that 30pc of parents allow their children unsupervised access to the internet.
“When it comes to the internet and what teenagers are exposed to, most parents really don’t get it,” says Dublin psychotherapist Joanna Fortune. “It’s not enough to say you don’t understand that stuff and you’re not into it.
“You have to adjust your parenting style in line with their development. At the same time, parents can’t be their cool friend who allows them to do everything.”
For parents who gifted their child a gadget two days ago, it’s not too late to set the ground rules, explains Aoife Rigney.
“Every Christmas, I get worried tweets from parents asking things like: ‘How do I turn off the wifi?’,” she says. “In this day and age, many kids know more about technology than their parents, so it’s important for mums and dads to catch up. Technology is not necessarily a bad thing for young people. For instance, there are loads of apps and games that are great for learning. What’s important is parents get involved in the conversation from the outset.
“Casually reminding teenagers not to give out personal information, checking in online when they’re walking home, is likely to be more effective than lecturing them about the dangers of the internet.
“For younger kids, setting out the limits from the beginning, like that they can use their tablet for an hour in the evenings after they’ve done their homework, and maybe giving them more freedom as they get older, is key.”
Certainly technology and the internet hasn’t harmed Cork teenagers Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow.
The Kinsale Community School students bagged the top prize at the Google Science Fair 2014 in California in September for their ground-breaking project on seed germination which could help tackle world hunger.
“There’s no point in telling parents not to buy the devices because they’re only going to be even bigger next Christmas,” says Rigney.
“It’s a bit like crossing the road, kids know from a young age that there are cars on the road – it’s up to the parents to help them cross safely.”