The number of children and young people being tormented and bullied online has increased by 88 per cent in five years, according to a leading children’s charity.
The worrying figures, released by the NSPCC at the start of Anti-Bullying Week, which starts today (Monday), show the charity’s helpline service, Childline counselled 4,541 children across the UK about online bullying in 2015/16 compared to 2,410 in 2011/12.
In a quarter of counselling sessions children and young people were also counselled for mental health and well-being issues including low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and depression.
Childline figures for Scotland over the last year show that 201 counselling sessions took place with children as young as seven contacting the service with concerns about online bullying. Comments posted on their social media profiles, blogs and online pictures ranged from bullying and abusive words about how a young person looked to death threats and in the most extreme cases directly telling them to go and kill themselves.
In the same period, 873 counselling sessions took place with children from Scotland about all forms of bullying. In nearly a third of counselling sessions for online bullying children and young people talked about a gaming or social networking site as the platform for abuse and humiliation.
The NSPCC, which is working with the Royal Foundation Cyber-bullying Taskforce to develop new tools and technology for children and young people, has also created a dedicated area about online bullying on the Childline website at www.childline.org.uk where young people can share their experiences and offer peer support.
Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland, said: “Online bullying is one of the biggest child protections challenges of this generation. It is a problem intensified by the ever-increasing presence of the internet.
“Years ago a child could escape their bullies when they left the playground and get some respite in the safety of their home, now the 24/7 nature of the internet means that a child can be targeted around the clock.
“Bullying, regardless of whether it occurs online or in person can have a devastating impact on a young person, affecting their self-worth, leave them feeling isolated and potentially being a trigger for depression. In the worst case scenarios, bullying has driven children and young people to self-harm and even suicide.”
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 0808 8005002.