CHILDREN’S Minister Frances Fitzgerald has reacted with shock to the fact that a 10-year-old boy was forced out of school by Facebook bullies.
The minister said that the expanding phenomenon of cyber-bullying needs to be stamped out by schools.
Commenting on this newspaper’s frontpage story from yesterday, Minister Fitzgerald said: “God that’s very upsetting. This is extremely upsetting. There is a very serious situation.”
She said that cyber-bullying is now becoming a significant problem for schools.
“It’s as insidious and prevalent as bullying in the schoolyard or anywhere else. It’s quite serious in Ireland. It’s common and we need to tackle it,” she said.
The Herald revealed how a young boy was terrorised out of his school by child bullies who targeted him on Facebook.
Classmates set up a cruel internet campaign against the youngster and also physically hit him in school.
The bullying started six months ago when the schoolboy was punched in the face.
His parents, Gerry and Liza Dalton, spoke openly about how their lives had been affected by their son’s ordeal.
The situation escalated, culminating in the boy being victimised on Facebook and targeted at his home.
The shocking incident comes in the wake of the Phoebe Prince tragedy in 2010.
The 15-year-old Irish girl took her own life after suffering a campaign of bullying in the US.
Minister Fitzgerald told the Herald today that she is determined to help schools and parents tackle cyber-bullying.
“I think schools will have to be very aware of online bullying and they will have to deal with it in the same way that they deal with other bullying. There has to be a mechanism,” she said. “It’s coming up everywhere. The figures are quite high, the numbers that say they are being bullied online as well as face to face. What you have here are parents who aren’t as tuned into the new technology as their kids are.”
She said that parents need help to learn about new technologies so that they can react more quickly.
“I think there is a message in this for schools to be sensitive to cyber-bullying,” she said.
“There are lots of different programmes going on to help parents. Boards of managements are going to have to familiarise themselves with it.
“Schools need to be very clear about what they do with bullying. They have to tackle it, have guidelines in place and guidelines have been issued by the National Education Welfare Board,” she added.