Children as young as nine have told Childline counsellors they have been targeted by online bullies, with girls and 12-15 year-olds receiving the most counselling sessions about this issue.
New figures released to mark Anti-Bullying Week reveal Childline delivered 5,103 counselling sessions about cyber-bullying in 2016/17 – a 12 per cent increase from the previous year.
Of those figures, Childline’s south east base counselled 1,057 children from across the UK about cyber-bullying in 2016/17 – up 34 per cent compared with 786 in 2015/16.
Since Childline, run by the NSPCC, specifically started recording cyber-bullying counselling sessions five years ago they have more than doubled.
Name-calling, spreading rumours, death threats and blackmail posted publicly on social media profiles, blogs and online pictures were just some of the ways young people told counsellors they were being tormented.
One boy told Childline: “I’m being bullied on social media by people who call me fat and ugly. I can’t block them because then they’ll just bully me even more at school. I don’t want to talk to my teachers about it, I just feel like giving up. I’ve been self-harming to cope but I just want to stop feeling this way.”
Cyber-bullying is also contributing to young people’s mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, self-harming and suicidal thoughts.
The 24/7 nature of social media and the feeling they are unable to escape the bullies, even at home, can leave young people struggling to cope.
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline, said: “Young people these days rely upon their mobile phones and social media to keep in touch with their friends, but inevitably that makes it easier for bullies to pursue their victims relentlessly.
“Whether bullying occurs online or in person it can have a devastating impact on a young person, destroying their confidence and leaving them isolated and vulnerable.
“Every year as a nation we lose precious young lives because bullying has made children and teenagers feel that life is not worth living. Childline wants to remind young people that they are not alone. We are here for them day and night, offering confidential help and advice on effective ways to beat the bullies.”
This year Anti-Bullying Week (November 13-17) looks at the theme ‘All Different, All Equal’ to empower children and young people across the country, including Sussex, to celebrate what makes them, and others, unique.
Martha Evans, national coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance who runs Anti-Bullying Week, said: “These worrying statistics from the NSPCC shows what an important issue cyber-bullying is for young people today. The social pressures that children face are immense and this is compounded by messaging online. We know bullying often starts face to face and spreads into the digital world.
“Anti-Bullying Week is sending the message we are ‘All Different, All Equal’ and we hope to provide a platform for children, teachers and parents, to raise awareness of what to do if a child is being bullied, or they see it happening to someone else.
“We should all be doing more, including social media companies, Government, schools, parents and anti-bullying charities, to spread the message online as well.”
The NSPCC is calling on the Government to draw up a rulebook enshrined in law to require all social media sites to protect children from cyber-bullying and other online abuse.
These rules should require social media companies to introduce cyber-bullying alerts which flags bullying behaviour to moderators and sends notifications to young people being targeted.
In addition there needs to be strict privacy settings by default, clear and easy to understand reporting processes, and specially-trained child safety moderators.
The NSPCC have published advice for parents in Sussex if they think their child is being bullied online:
· Make sure they know they can come to you for help
· Help them relax and take time out, away from electronic devices
· Teach them how to stay safe online and to block abusive or humiliating content
· Talk to your child’s school or club about what’s been happening
· Report online videos of bullying
· Explain to them that our differences are important and they make you who you are
Over the last year children have viewed the cyber-bullying pages on the Childline website more than 73,000 times, with some posting about their experiences of cyber-bullying as well as sharing support to their peers through message boards.
The NSPCC are also working with the Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying, in order to develop new tools and solutions for children and young people to support their friends who are being bullied online.
Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk
Parents can contact O2/NSPCC for free advice on keeping their children safe online on 0808 800 5002.
For a guide on dealing with cyber bullying and how to keep your child safe online, visit www.enigma-recovery.com/keep-your-child-safe-online/