Cyberbullying – a Real and Present Danger to our Young People

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 27 September 2023
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered: Cyberbullying

Brian O'Donovan, RTE’s work and technology correspondent has flagged up a concern expressed by online safety charity, Cyber Safe Kids. The CEO, Alex Cooney, has warned that online safety for children remains a critical issue that is not being sufficiently addressed in our schools or by the social media companies whose platforms are being used. She says that their research has found that more than a quarter of primary school children and 40% of secondary school students have faced cyberbullying. She stresses that the posting of pictures without permission, the creation of fake profiles and being excluded from chat groups are the most frequently reported forms of cyberbullying and that girls are more likely to be victims of this treatment than boys. 

Children's online safety remains a 'critical issue' (

These findings are echoed in a recent report spearheaded by the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement (CREU),  Stranmillis University College and the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland. Their research adds new evidence and current information from young people into the online experiences of children in Northern Ireland and reports on how they interact with the internet.  The research involved two online surveys which were issued to 8-18 year olds earlier this year. 6,481 pupils took part in all. Taken together with the 5000 responses to the study in the Republic of Ireland, these finding are a very good barometer of our young people’s current experience online. The National Centre for Social Research also found that 47% of young people reported being bullied at the age of 14 and yet again that girls are more likely to be bullied, than boys, in that same age group.

Like the findings by the Cyber Safe Kids research, the Stranmillis report shows that there were major downsides to pupil online use with one in 5 young people in Northern Ireland (20% of 8-13 year olds and 18% of 14-18 year olds) reporting that they had experienced “something nasty or unpleasant online over the past couple of months, with girls more likely than boys to have a negative experience.” As in the Republic of Ireland, girls were also three times more likely to have had problems than boys particularly around content promoting self-harm and eating disorders. Girls were also more prone to experience hurtful comments or the spread of rumours about them.

Research reveals Northern Ireland children falling asleep in school due to online use | UTV | ITV News

The report is at pains to stress that there are positives as well as negatives coming from the online world in which teenagers choose to spend so much of their time.

“For many children and young people and particularly for some young people at risk of exclusion, being online represents an important source of ‘comfort’, support and genuine friendship. Such positive messages are an important and timely reminder to adults, who are prone to adopting an exclusively negative discourse when discussing children and young people’s online lives”

Growing-Up-Online-Executive-Summary-Report.pdf (

It is important to be clear about what constitutes cyberbullying. The National Bullying Helpline is a widely recognised charitable advice centre founded in 2003 by qualified employment law specialists which is endorsed and used by the Employment Tribunal Service, ACAS, OFSTEAD, The Samaritans, UK Employment Solicitors and many others. Its aim is to provide help adults and children who are coping with bullying, including  cyberbullying.

About the National Bullying Helpline

They define cyberbullying as;

 “….bullying and harassment using technology. This includes trolling, mobbing, stalking, grooming or any form of abuse online. Cyberbullying is bullying online and any form of anti-social behaviour over the internet or via a mobile device. It is an attack or abuse, using technology which is intended to cause another person harm, distress or personal loss”.

They expand on this definition to describe that it can happen in a variety of forums and involve a range of technological tools including computers, mobile phones, tablets and games consoles. It can involve e mail and texts and often takes place on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and targets individuals and groups. It can include spreading malicious gossip or rumours, making threats or harassing someone or posting inappropriate images without consent.

It is illegal in the UK to use the internet – which is part of the phone system to deliberately cause someone “harm or distress”. The advice from the National Bullying Helpline in such circumstances is to gather evidence of any threatening texts or messages and press “print screen” to get a hard copy as evidence of what may be a criminal act. School leaders will be sadly very familiar with this problem and know that it is – like bullying in general, very difficult to deal with. While it seems quite hard to talk about police and criminality in a school setting, it is ultimately where very serious instances of cyberbullying can lead. It is therefore appropriate to be proactive and impress on pupils in school the potential seriousness of careless cruelty to others which social media use can sometimes involve. Actually, bringing the police in to the classroom to talk about the issues and demonstrate what can happen can shock pupils into realising the potential for harm to others and bad consequences for themselves.

Pastoral Care in our schools can of course be there for pupils who suffer from cyberbullying, but it can be extremely difficult to repair the damage to self-esteem and mental health which can result. Much better therefore to head off as much of the incidence of this horrible practice as possible before it happens. Schools are well versed in putting in place the required anti- bullying policies and this has been a feature of good practice for many years, but in the face of the new reality that young people and indeed older generations too, post personal information and images online without a second thought, we need to up our game in educating pupils about its risks too.

Legal Island Training Resources for Your Staff

Workplace Bullying | eLearning Course

Are you responsible for overseeing the implementation of training for all employees on the new Bullying Code of Practice in your organisation?
Legal Island has created a 45-minute eLearning course for all employees. The provision of this training for your staff will enable your organisation to act in compliance with the Code and help to raise awareness of bullying and harassment in the workplace and explain what to do if employees are concerned.

Click here to view our course on workplace bullying.

This article is correct at 27/09/2023

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

The main content of this article was provided by Frank Cassidy. Email

View all articles by Frank Cassidy