Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone principal slams online school bullies

By Cate McCurry

The principal of a Co Tyrone primary school has issued a warning letter to parents over "highly inappropriate" content written by pupils on social media sites.

Stephen Magennis, head at St Joseph's Primary in Galbally, outside Dungannon, described the language as "nasty and hurtful".

Ronan Hughes, who tragically took his own life after being tricked into posting images on the internet, helped P3 pupils at St Joseph's to read as part of a support initiative.

The 17-year-old had been blackmailed online by someone who fooled him into sending intimate pictures of himself in 2015.

He was found dead hours after they threatened to send the images to his Facebook friends unless he handed over £3,300.

A man has since appeared in court in the Romanian capital Bucharest charged with producing distributing indecent images of children and blackmail.

Mr Magennis, who described Ronan as a "happy, bubbly person", said no one wanted anything like that happening to another pupil.

He added that parents of P7 pupils recently raised their concerns over what some youngsters were writing on social media apps.

"Much of the language and content is highly inappropriate and hurtful," he wrote in his letter.

He urged parents to be more "vigilant" and ensure their children were not engaged in any such behaviour.

"I would ask that you talk over with your child the serious implications of writing nasty and hurtful things about other children," he warned.

"No parents wants their child to be the subject of abuse or ridicule."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Magennis said there was "tremendous pressure" on children as young as seven and eight to use image messaging app Snapchat, as well as Facebook.

"Children are using these apps to make comments about others' shape, size and weight, as well as their looks and appearance," he said.

"Others join in and it's very destructive to a 10- and 11-year-old to see that.

"It's very difficult to get in to their heads that when you write something down and send it, that there are implications. It's hurtful and destructive to someone's self-esteem and how they present themselves.

"Parents have to be aware of what their children are doing, saying and seeing.

"I don't want any parent coming to me saying their child is being bullied online.

"A lot of this is happening outside schools, and what can we can do except alert parents and inform children?

"But parents need to take responsibility and check their children's phones and iPads to see who they are communicating with, to ensure they are protecting them.

"Online bullying is 24 hours a day. It can go on into the night."

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