‘Don’t give under-12s a phone’

March 28th, 2023 7:05 AM

By Kieran O'Mahony

Primary school children won’t be able to cope with what they will most likely see online, said the expert. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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CHILDREN as young as eight or nine are sharing pornographic images on Snapchat group chats, a meeting in Bandon heard last week.

Jason O’Mahony of Children of the Digital Age was speaking at a meeting in the Munster Arms Hotel which was organised by Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard.

At the meeting he advised parents not to give primary school children a phone, because they are too young to cope with what they might see.

Mr O’Mahony recalled disturbing incidents where parents have rung him in tears after their daughters received disturbing images.

‘Irish society seems to be very slow to talk about pornography and kids are getting access to this at eight or nine years old. I have parents ringing me saying that their kids at that age are in Snapchat groups and one child shares a post, meaning everyone is exposed to it,’ said Jason.

‘I’ve had mothers in floods of tears because these images have been sent to their daughters and they’re being asked for images like that.’

Jason said Ireland isn’t doing enough to address pornography and that we need to ‘step up’ in this regard, with sexual offences on the rise.

Trevor Ryan, director of Elasnik Computer Network, said parents should introduce filters on all devices at home. 

‘Home networks are the weakness here, as filtration doesn’t come with internet access. Unlike in schools where none of these websites can be accessed,’ he told the meeting.

‘You can use parental control on all devices or use “screen time” on any iPhone, and you can turn off sites like gambling and adult websites and – more importantly – the time they spend on devices. It’s actually frightening the hours they spend and it’s a lot more than most parents think,’ he added.

Mr O’Mahony said he feels children in primary schools should not have access to smartphones, adding that children at that young age don’t have the mental capacity to deal with things they see, or are said about them on social media. ‘The likes of Snapchat manipulate users to create more data so they can make more money and it’s important to have digital detox days, as well as a ban on screens at dinner, and especially at bedtime.

‘If you’re not living that experience with them online, you could be looking out the window for potential harm out there, when there could be six sexual predators upstairs without you realising it. We’re definitely not engaging as we should do when it comes to children and technology.’

Lisa Culloty from the West Cork Women Against Violence Project told attendees that she runs a secondary schools programme called ‘Know Your Worth’, where young people can discuss relationships.

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