Such is the impact of cyberbullying on morale that school principals want a dedicated classroom module as part of the Junior and Senior cycle, although not as an exam topic.
The call comes from the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, whose director Clive Byrne believes schools can play a pivotal role in stamping out online abuse if teachers and parents are given the right resources.
“Increased training for educators and parents is key to this objective. All resources in the education sector have been stretched in recent years,” said Mr Byrne. However, the detrimental consequences of cyberbullying on the lives of our young people in particular, means that we can’t ignore the problem or fail to adequately resource it.”
Research into cyberbullying suggests that it is likely to exacerbate already existing mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression. In 2012, cyberbullying was suggested as a factor in the suicides of three teenage girls in Ireland.
Mr Byrne’s call for greater resources to identify and deal with the growing incidence of online aggression will be aired today at a national conference on cyberbullying at Dublin Castle entitled ‘Understanding and Managing Cyber Bullying’.
Mr Byrne is specifically asking for an increase in the Department of Education’s budget to provide training to parents on cyberbullying and the development of school guidelines which can be utilised by parents.
Last year, the department awarded €60,000 to provide training sessions for parents in how to deal with the internet threat but the NAPD said this was “a drop in the ocean” in terms of what was needed.
Mr Byrne said NAPD research “has consistently shown that parents want greater help with the problem of cyberbullying” and that they “look to schools and teachers to fill the information deficit which exists”. In this context, more funding and training was needed for school leaders, he said.
A NAPD survey carried out earlier this year found 78% of respondents felt schools should advise students on internet safety. More than 70% wanted schools to ban smart phones, 63% wanted a ban on social media usage and 73% wanted school guidelines on cyberbullying.
In May this year, the Government-commissioned Report of the Internet Content Governance Advisory Group recommended the establishment of an inter-agency working group to identify “appropriate mechanisms to ensure that internet safety and digital literacy skills are taught as a core element of the curriculum at both primary and post-primary levels”. It also recommended that further support be given to training directed at parents.
Today’s conference will hear from a range of experts in the areas of child protection, psychology, education and law. Liva Biseniece, director of external relations with controversial online social network site Ask.fm, will also address the cyberbullying conference.