Cyber bullying in the sporlight at launch of schools resource pack
A conversation on cyberbullying was opened up as representatives of Comhairle na n'Og launched their new schools resource in County Hall.
Chairperson Cllr Paddy Kavanagh welcomed Gavin Mooney of Comhairle na nOg, teacher in St Mary's New Ross Laura Howard and student Aoife Murphy to the meeting, saying that cyberbullying is a 'very important issue.'
Before discussing the resource, Gavin filled members in on the roots of their Shut Down Cyber Bullying pack, which will soon be sent to all 22 secondary schools in the county.
'At our 2013 AGM, cyberbullying came up as a topic and we saw that it wasn't talked about in SPHE. In 2014 in County Hall, we proposed our plans for an information pack for SPHE classes in secondary schools in Wexford,' he said. 'We gathered information from young people in Wexford and it proved that it was a subject that was rarely talked about.'
As a result of research carried out, the group developed the Shut Down Cyber Bullying educational resource pack. This was piloted in St Mary's of New Ross and according to Gavin, was met with great feedback.
SPHE Teacher in the school Laura Howard echoed this in her comments, saying that it has proved to be a core resource for staff.
'We put some of the visually striking posters on our notice boards and the awareness campaign completely took on its own life,' she said. 'We had a poster competition and the response from students was incredible.'
'This has helped to normalise the conversation around cyberbullying.'
St Mary's student Aoife Molloy, who Cllr Kavanagh pointed out is a cousin of Cllr Lisa McDonald, also said that her fellow students responded well to the initiative.
'The poster examples we were provided with were excellent and they encouraged more people to enter the poster competition,' she said. 'However, all of the content and opinions we received were from the students themselves. We had a lot of feedback on the impacts of cyberbullying and ways to deal with it and shut it down.'
Acknowledging that everyone can be a victim of cyberbullying, Cllr Malcolm Byrne asked what advice the trio could give the councillors who are often victims of negative comments online.
'I think when you are a politician, everything you say is scrutinised and sometimes people can take it out of context no matter what you say. The best thing to do is just think before you type anything and put it online,' said Aoife.
Cllr Tony Dempsey called for a push for legislation around cyberbullying.
'People have ended their own lives as a result of cyberbullying. We need legislation to identify and publish the bullies. Until the power to do so is there, bullying won't stop,' he said. 'Maybe you as a group could push for this legislation.'
Responding to Cllr Willie Fitzharris' query on whether the group required help with the initiative, Gavin said that support in pushing for such legislation would be much appreciated.
Placing a 'WexCoco Against Cyberbullying badge' on the council website was suggested as a first step by Cllr Kavanagh.
Cllr Deirdre Wadding commended the group on their work.
'We are always dealing with the clifftop of these issues but never dealing with the journey to it,' she added.
Cllr Anthony Kelly also congratulated the group, as did Cllr Michael Sheehan, who asked whether they were aware if their work had made any difference to people.
'I think it has normalised the conversation around cyberbullying and this has encouraged students to approach our guidance counsellors,' said Laura. 'We have found that the majority of cyberbullying happens outside of school.'
Cllr Lisa McDonald said that she finds it frustrating as a solicitor to see that there is a lack of legislation around the issue.
'I think there is a laissez-faire attitude among politicians to legislate,' she said.
Cllr McDonald also suggested that the initiative be rolled out to primary schools, saying social media users are getting younger and younger. Gavin said that it could be an idea for the future.
Responding to Cllr George Lawlor's query on whether all schools have a cyberbullying policy, Laura said:
'Schools must have a policy on bullying. The majority of our research shows that it's happening outside of school so there is a limit to what the principal can do,' she said. 'Legislation has to come from the top down.'