Research reveals Northern Ireland children falling asleep in school due to online use

Some children and young people here are spending so much time online each day they end up sleeping in class, according to new research.

One Belfast teacher said they talk to children about how being 'twired' - both tired and wired - can affect their school work.

The report was commissioned to inform the Northern Ireland Executive’s five-year Keeping Children and Young People Safe and carried out by Stranmillis University.

Two online surveys were issued to 8-18 year olds earlier this year with 6,481 taking part, making it the largest such study ever carried out in Northern Ireland.

One of the key takeaways was how long young people were spending online. Around 2-4 hours on a school day is described as a reasonable limit, but over 20% of 14-18 year olds were spending five hours or more online.

Almost half of those in the age range believed they were spending too long online.

More than 15% of 8-13 year olds said they were online for more than five hours a day.

Teachers say this is resulting in more students coming to school "wrecked" or "in a complete state" or with their "heads down… sleeping".

"What we see at Ashfield Girls is probably no different to any other school in the country,” said Assistant Vice-Principal Cheryl Hoey.

“Because we are aware of that we try to combat that so we would talk to our Key Stage 3 pupils about tips for a successful school year and part of that is getting enough sleep.

“We talk to our Year 13 during their induction about being ‘twired’ – tired and wired – and the affects that that can have and how to combat that.

“We try in school as well to have some phone free time and during the hours of school the girls are discouraged from using their phone to develop social skills and friendships and there is a great buzz in the atrium during break and lunch because not everyone is sitting on their phones.”

The time spent online leaps up during weekends and holidays. One respondent even claimed to be online 23 hours a day.

Phones were the most popular way of accessing the internet, with 91.74% of 8-13 year olds having their own phone and increasing to 98.87% for 14-18 year olds.

They highlighted the positives of using their phones to be listening to music, playing games and messaging friends or family.

But there were also downsides with one in 5 children and young people in Northern Ireland (20% of 8-13 year olds and 18% of 14-18 year olds) reporting they’d experienced something nasty or unpleasant online over the past couple of months, with girls more likely than boys to have a negative

Girls were three times more likely than boys to be asked to send a nude photo or video of themselves - 1.7% of boys compared to 6.9% of girls.

Girls were also much more likely to see content promoting self-harm (girls: 3.3% vs boys 2.2%) and eating disorders (girls: 4.1% vs boys 1.6%).

“Our girls are no different to others and they would talk about the things that they see almost on a daily basis, so we try to educate them about what to do in those circumstances,” added Mrs Hoey.

“We would have assemblies, celebrate safer internet day, we have advice for parents and we encourage the use of the safer schools app because it has age appropriate advice, whether it’s a Year 8 student or an Upper Sixth girl, that they have somewhere to go for advice if it’s not a member of staff and that they know where they can go and how to report and block.

“It’s really important that no matter how many times they see something harmful or dangerous online that they do that.”

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