Cyberbullying on the rise, says ChildLine

(Photo: Jakub Krechowicz)

ChildLine has reported a significant rise in the number of calls relating to cyberbullying.

The charity also reported increases in instances of self-harming, suicidal behaviour and racism. Depression and difficult family relationships were the top reasons for initiating contact with the charity.

Between 2011 and 2012, some 2,410 cases of cyberbullying were recorded, with the bullying often occurring over social media.

Between 2012 and 2013 that number had jumped to 4,507, an 87% increase.

Some 1,400 children reported racist incidents between 2012 and 2013 compared to 861 between 2011 and 2012, a 62.6% increase.

Common themes include being called a "terrorist" and a "bomber", and being told to "go back to where you came from".

From 2011 to 2012, there were 470 12-year-old girls contacted the charity about issues of or relating to self-harming. This rose to 700 in 2012-13, a 48% increase.

In the 2011 to 2012 period, 22,006 children mentioned feeling suicidal to a ChildLine hotline staffer. That number jumped in 2012-2013 to 29,163, representing an increase of 32.5%.

From 2012 to 2013, ChildLine counselled 278,886 children and teenagers, and for the first time in its 28-year history, more counselling took place online (59%) than via telephone (41%)

ChildLine's Irish counterpart, under the auspices of the ISPCC, reported receiving 1,450 calls, texts and web messages on Christmas day. This is a 20% increase from last year.

Margie Roe, National ChildLine Manager said in the Nationalist: "The call figures received on an annual basis indicate how vital ChildLine is to children in Ireland and illustrates the deficit of accessible 24 hour services for children and their families."

ChildLine's UK founder, the former BBC presenter and journalist Esther Rantzen, said too many of the nation's children seemed to be struggling and in despair.

On the BBC News website, she is quoted as saying that: "Far too many of the nation's children seem to be struggling and in despair. It's so important that we support children to talk about issues and look out for signs that they're not able to cope.

"No matter how hard-pressed we are, we must commit to giving children time and space to talk about their lives."

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC charity, which runs ChildLine, said on the BBC: "The issues facing children today are very different from those that faced us as children.

"Stranger danger, for example, rarely comes up in contacts to ChildLine but depression, self-harm, online bullying and even suicide contacts are increasing exponentially.

"If we are to help young people we need to listen to what they are telling us about the issues they are facing.

"ChildLine is one of the most important sources of information about vulnerable children in the UK and these regular snapshots will help us keep one step ahead and focused on the areas that are really concerning them right now."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said every school was required to have measures in place by law to prevent cyberbullying.

"Thanks to our new curriculum, children will soon be taught how to stay safe online, including cyberbullying, from the age of five," said the spokeswoman.

"We have strengthened the powers teachers have to tackle bullying. They can search pupils for banned items, delete inappropriate images from phones and give out same-day detentions.

"We are also providing more than £4m to a range of anti-bullying organisations to help schools develop strategies to tackle the problem and deal with the impact when it occurs."

ChildLine was launched in 1986 after Ester Rantzen's Childwatch programme prompted the idea of a national 24/7 helpline just for children in danger. It was initially underwritten for three years by benefactor Ian Skipper, and in 2006 joined up with the NSPCC to obtain the necessary resources in an attempt to ensure that no child's call went unanswered. Over its 28 years it has counselled about 3.2 million children.