Sunday, 12 January 2014

The rise and rise of cyber bullying, self-harm and depression

This week Childline produced a report that highlighted an increase in the number of children contacting it with concerns about online bullying. In 2012 there were 4,507 cases of cyberbullying reported, up from 2,410 in 2011-12.

Does that fit in with our experiences at LSP? Unfortunately it probably does. Although we remind pupils that negative comments made on Facebook, Snapchat or other social media can be hugely upsetting, just like every other school we still have to deal with a steady stream of cases of bullying that more often than not involve an online element. What particularly concerns me is just how unpleasant comments made online can be (just ask Tom Daley), the barrier of the computer screen seems to allow individuals to make statements they would never dare to use on the school yard, what's worse these comments can be read over and over again by the recipient, the damage done can be unbelievable.

The consequences for someone experiencing online bullying can be devastating. Although not solely caused by online bullying I feel it is no coincidence that Childline has seen an increase in concerns about self-harm, depression and anxiety. During 2012-13, Childline counselled 278,886 children and teenagers. The charity also handled 10,961 cases where a young person raised concerns about another child. We have a counsellor in school every Wednesday and she does an amazing job, we could easily fill her time every day of the week.

Take self-harm as an example, Childline notes that the number of instances have steadily increased over the years and is now affecting children at a younger age. For example, in 2011-12, 470 12-year-old girls contacted the charity about self-harming, but this rose to 700 in 2012-13. The same can definitely be said of boys. Unheard of when I started teaching in the mid 90's self-harm is now a common occurrence, although self harm can be a bit "faddish" we would typically deal with several cases a term and supporting pupils takes up a significant amount of the time of our pastoral team
Even more worrying Childline reported that 29,163 children and teenagers mentioned feeling suicidal, up from 22,006 in the previous year.

I believe that such feelings of despair can again, in part, be linked back to the fact the young people today are part of an online "multi-screen" generation, they can communicate with each other more than ever before, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Xbox live, the list goes on and on, and yet this interconnectedness involves very little face to face contact. I can't help but think that we are losing a certain amount of "social capital" as young people spend less time in each others company. In this world it seems very easy to become isolated and lonely, a young person may have hundreds of Facebook "friends" but how many of them are really there for them? The internet is a wonderful thing, without it I wouldn't be communicating with you now, but perhaps we need to monitor the influence it's having.

What else can we do to support young people? Peter Wanless of the NSPCC said" If we are to help young people we need to listen to what they are telling us” That has always been the case at  Lewis and I'm confident that when issues are reported to us we can not only support individuals with their concerns but we can also effectively deal with specific instances of online harassment.

Parents also need to play a part, we all need to understand that the problems facing young people today are very different to the issues we faced as children, we may have to deal with nasty comments on the school yard but I doubt any of us were subjected to persistent bullying by letter! Yet our children may face comments being made to them online every single night of the week, in such circumstances there is no escape. Bullying like this shouldn't be dismissed as part of growing up, it absolutely should not be tolerated and I would urge any parent with concerns to contact us in school.

Finally let's make sure we continue to highlight the excellent work that Childline, NSPCC and other similar charities do every day. They have given young people today a voice, and a mechanism to express their worries. Long may it continue!

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