herald

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Varadkar considers age limit for smartphones over risk to kids

Leo Varadkar will listen to the views of parents and groups
Leo Varadkar will listen to the views of parents and groups

The Government is considering putting an age limit on smartphone use as it looks to clamp down on the dangerous role social media can play in the lives of vulnerable young people.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he and his cabinet colleagues have given the idea some consideration recently after campaigns around the issue gathered pace in recent months.

Mr Varadkar said he is willing to listen to the views of parents and groups representing young people on the matter. However, he has not committed to imposing an age restriction.

Concern has grown in recent months that predators are using social media apps that are easily downloaded on to smartphones to groom vulnerable young children.

Sacked RTE producer Kieran Creaven, who yesterday was sentenced to 18 months in prison after admitting to grooming a child online, used social media to send hundreds of messages to what he thought was a 13-year-old girl.

However, the account he was in contact with was actually manned by a group looking to expose predators who use social media platforms to groom children for sexual activity.

The use of smartphones has also led to concerns children find it harder to escape bullying.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged growing concerns about the use of smartphones by young people yesterday. He said the issue could be addressed in the future by putting an age limit on those who would be able to buy or use a smartphone.

Discussions

"It is an idea that has been put out there," said Mr Varadkar, "and it is something that the Government is giving some thought."

He said parents and children will be afforded an opportunity to feed into the Government's discussions.

"I would certainly be willing to listen to parents and hear what the Parents Council and also organisations representing young people have to say about it before making any decisions."

It comes after the Taoiseach this week said the Government would have an action plan on online safety ready by the end of June.

However, he said key stakeholders also had a role in protecting children.

"Government action alone cannot remove all these risks. A wide range of stakeholders including parents, educators, tech firms and law enforcement have roles to play in making the internet a safer place," he said.

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