The online divide between parents and students from across the Mid-West region was narrowed at the weekend as over 1,000 attended an innovative gathering arranged by Limerick Institute of Technology at Dell’s Raheen campus.
The hugely successful ‘Generation Game’, organised by LIT’s Event Management students in partnership with Dell and CoderDojo, brought parents and students closer together around the online world, giving them a deeper understanding of the strengths and opportunities, as well as warnings about the threats and risks that come with it.
The family fun-day, which drew students and parents from Clare, Limerick and Tipperary, included gaming and coding workshops, as well as seminars around technology awareness. Among the highlights of the event was a coding workshop led by James Whelton, founder of Coder Dojo and a seminar on cyber bullying.
The latter saw young social media users urged to take part-ownership themselves of the campaign to make the internet safer by breaking the culture of ‘it’s not cool to snitch’. Orlaith Foley, Communications and Fundraising Officer with Headstrong – the non-profit organisation supporting young people’s mental health in Ireland - told the event that while being able to share information on the internet is a hugely positive development, education is the key to tackling the threat of cyber-bullying.
Ms Foley said: “The internet does amazing things. While young people are digitally active, they are not necessarily digitally literate. The role we have as educators, parents, older brothers and sisters is to teach young people that the things they do on line can have huge ramifications in the long term and not just in the short term.
“Young people also have a critical role to play in this. They need to realise that it is absolutely not cool to be a bystander. Sharing funny photos might seem cool but you cannot stand-by and watch this happen and laugh at the person in the photo. It’s about teaching them that it is not ok to spot something and do nothing about it.
“If it was happening in a schoolyard, would they allow it to go on? You would like to think they wouldn’t. Therefore, they need to apply the same rule to their social media.”
Ms Foley said that what makes cyber bullying different to traditional bullying is it is anonymous. “It’s a scary thing and has a whole far more cynical side. Bullies can reach victims in a whole new way and inflict an awful lot of damage on a person with very little action.
“There are plenty of practical things we can do in terms of protecting people. Ultimately it is about engaging and empowering them and educating them. But the simplest way to advise them is this: if you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, why would you go online and post it anonymously.
“Don’t share passwords. Don’t connect with people you don’t know. Young people feel flattered when someone invites them to be friends but they should only be friends online with people you are genuinely friends with offline. It’s not about having 10,000 friends on Facebook; it’s about having 200. And if they are not in your phonebook, should they really be your friends on Facebook?
“For some people it is hard to draw the line as to what you share online. Would you send an email to everyone in school that you are home alone babysitting your neighbour’s child and leave the address? No you wouldn’t. Then why would you do that on Facebook?”
Ms Foley also urged parents and children to agree boundaries for social media use, including for how often and how long they spend on it. “It comes back to sitting down with the young people. Parents need to know what is happening. They need to know if their son or daughter is spending time on the game console or actually on Facebook. They have to get involved in this world to help protect their children,” she added.
If parents or young people have a concern about potential cyber bullying, the following steps are advised:
· The first thing is to block the content
· Do not reply to it
· Talk about it with others
· Save the content
· And report it to www.hotline.ie (the Irish internet hotline for illegal content)
Other websites for support include:
· Webwise.ie (Dept of Education)
Also speaking at the event, Anthony Quigley, Director of Dell Solution Centres, said: “Dell is delighted to have supported this event by opening its doors to the LIT students to host this interesting and informative event. As a major Irish employer we are always eager to support innovative ideas in the communities we operate in any way we can. The workshops and seminars held were of interest for all ages so it appealed to all members of the family.
“Events like this are really important to ensure students become interested and excited about the potential that a career in the technology sector involves. Hopefully among us there were potential recruits for Dell and the sector generally in years to come. Our team enjoyed working with the students to prepare for the event and looking around at it on Friday, it was fair to say they did a great job.”