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Warning of online dangers for girls
Headmistress warned of internet dangers for children
The lure of social networking sites, cyberbullying and internet dangers such as online grooming are parents' biggest fears for their daughters, a leading headmistress has suggested.
Schools are now routinely advising parents on internet safety, according to Jill Berry, president of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA).
She told delegates at the GSA's annual conference in Harrogate that social networking sites, internet dangers and cyberbullying had topped a recent "straw poll" of parents' concerns.
"Social networking sites, internet dangers and bullying using new technologies top the list by some margin - issues that only a few years ago we had no idea would become so prevalent," she said.
Many parents do not understand privacy settings, and find it difficult to explain to their daughters that once they have posted something online, it is irretrievable.
Mrs Berry said: "They tell us tales of their daughters making friends with total strangers who "sounded sweet". They worry about the addictive nature of networking sites and the fact that their daughters seem to be permanently connected (although, ironically, these parents themselves seem to seek to be permanently connected to their daughters through their mobile phones).
"They ask us what to do about their daughters being on the receiving end of "We hate x" sites or "honesty boxes" where comments about each other can be posted anonymously. These problems have overtaken their concerns about the girls' face-to-face contact in school."
Mrs Berry, who is also headmistress of Dame Alice Harpur School in Bedford, added: "Our schools now need routinely to advise parents about internet safety, in addition to working to educate the girls and to encourage them to be responsible in their relationships online and off line.
"We do have to educate girls - we can't simply protect them."
Addressing the issue of cyberbullying - where pupils face threats and taunts online - Mrs Berry said that girls were not crueller than boys, but girls are more sensitive about their relationships. But she added: "If they wish to be unkind they are so much more subtle than boys, and technology has given them new tools. Schools need to raise awareness, work with parents and educate girls effectively about the appropriate use of such technology, about its potential dangers and also about the real consequences of their words and actions."