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Warning to parents of bigger online risks to kids during lockdown

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Cyberbullying among teens can take many forms. Photo posed

Cyberbullying among teens can take many forms. Photo posed

Cyberbullying among teens can take many forms. Photo posed

Parents have been warned of the possibility that children could be at greater risk to online threats such as cyberbullying and sexting during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With children and young people out of school and effectively on lockdown in their homes, there is a growing reliance on smartphones and other digital devices for communication.

Children are also missing out on normal supervision, controls and advice around digital activity offered in the school environment, which parents may find hard to replicate.

Internet safety experts are urging parents to guard against children becoming victims of cyberbullying.

This can take the form of exclusion, bullying through reaction videos on platforms such as TikTok, sexting, grooming, breaches of privacy and exposure to harmful content.

Tijana Milosevic of the Anti- Bullying Centre at Dublin City University (DCU) said that with all socialisation taking place online via Skype, Zoom, Instagram, Houseparty, WhatsApp, it was vital to remember the dangers that children could encounter.

In an example of the risk of exclusion as a form of cyberbullying, she spoke about how a group of girls could meet on Skype for a coffee chat and take a photo of the group and post it to Instagram, tagging another girl to draw attention to the fact that she had been excluded.

Ms Milosevic also said a girl might post a video on Tik Tok or YouTube, dancing to her favourite tune, with someone posting a reply video mocking her.

While there is no Covid-19 related research on it yet, Ms Milosevic said many people feared it would rise.

However, she added: "We should not automatically ass-ume there is a greater incidence of cyberbullying just because there is an increasing reliance on technology during the Covid epidemic."

As well as some of the other well-publicised dangers, she drew attention to the less known issue of self-victimisation online.

Pretending

This is where children post hurtful messages to themselves while pretending to be someone else.

Ms Milosevic said that while parents can use technology to control their children's online activity, "what works better is to try to talk to them and establish a relationship of trust".

She said parents should look out for different eating patterns, or if they became more withdrawn or show visible signs of anxiety.

Covid-19 has also prompted the Department of Education's internet safety website, Webwise, to update its advice to parents, including an explainer about how Zoom works, reflecting the growing popularity of the video-conferencing app.