An Irish mother has said she is in total shock after discovering the “horrifically abusive and threatening" messages a group of young children were sending each other on Snapchat.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the mother, who spoke under the anonymous name Sinéad, said her son came to ‘completely distraught and distressed’ and he became the target of the abuse ahead of his first day in secondary school.
She said the comments included one child telling another to go kill themselves and others using language “so physically and sexually threatening” that she still can’t say it out loud.
Sinéad said her son had no permission to be in the group in the first place and she was so shocked that she eventually wrote into the group herself.
“One day he came to me in fear - that is the only word I can use to describe it; completely distraught and distressed - as result of a conversation within that group,” she said.
“It had gone from already not OK, whereby children were telling children really hurtful comments and statements, including telling one child to go kill themselves to, when my son stepped in to defend that other child, this other group of kids just rounding on him.
“It went from mild but still really offensive to horrifically abusive and threatening in a matter of seconds.
“I still can’t quite believe the level of vitriol and relentless attack these children are using against each other.
“Language so bad that as much as I want to share it with you now to just really make the point, it is so graphic and so offensive, so physically and sexually threatening, that even you and I now as adults on-air speaking to other adults, I can’t say it out loud.”
Sinéad noted that there were both boys and girls in the group and “both of them were using that language and making that level of threat to each other.”
She said her first reaction was one of “total shock”.
After hugging her child and speaking to his father, they decided that he should write an apology to the group for something he had written that was “irresponsible and unacceptable in itself but nothing when compared to what came at him from this group of children”.
“He did that and they were just unforgiving and then relentless,” she said. “These children wanted blood; they were just on roll.”
“I think that, in and of itself, is an indicator of how the abnormal had become normal.
“These children sitting at home, quite possibly with their parents or carers in the house at the same time - like it was 8pm on a Thursday evening; they could have been in their rooms or on the sofa - were writing all these things as if it was standard. Business as usual.”
It was then Sinéad decided to write into the group herself.
She said she wanted them to know there was “an adult in the room” and that she would go to the school and to their parents if the abuse continued.
“Interestingly, some of them, amazingly, melted away - like suddenly they weren’t as brave - but others didn’t,” she said.
“Others continued and actually started to challenge me and started to use really offensive language at me and calling me out.
“I don’t engage with that type of behaviour, so I shut it down with another message and told them I had screenshotted the conversation and was going to be taking immediate action because I did not take threats to my child lightly.”
She said her son was “beyond shook” after the experience.
“He was very distressed and very worried,” she said.
“He had that awful bit of shame to go with it too because he knew he had written stuff himself that he shouldn’t have.
“He needed to accept that and then not stay in that space, still be able to look at it in the context of everything else. He needed that reassurance.”
She said she is grateful for two thigs – firstly that her son came to her and spoke to her and secondly, that the school took the situation very seriously and took immediate action.
Sinéad came out with her story on the same day CyberSafeKids warned that almonst one-third of pre-teen boys are playing adult games online and are being exposed to potentially harmful content.
Meanwhile 95% of eight to 12-year-olds own their own smart device and 87% have their own social media or instant messaging account.
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If you are affected by anything discussed in this piece you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or Childline on 1800 666 666.