ISPCC says children being cyberbullied at increasingly younger ages

Some children are self-harming on calls with Childline, according to society volunteer

Twenty-eight per cent of 10-17 year-olds reported that they were bullied online during the first Covid lockdown, according to a study conducted last summer by the National Anti Bullying Centre in DCU. Photograph: iStock

Twenty-eight per cent of 10-17 year-olds reported that they were bullied online during the first Covid lockdown, according to a study conducted last summer by the National Anti Bullying Centre in DCU. Photograph: iStock

 

Childline has received calls from children as young as eight who are self-harming due to cyberbullying, according to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), which runs the service.

“Before, children could come home and find refuge with a parent, sibling or friend. Now, it’s impossible to escape unless they just don’t live online at all, which isn’t realistic,” said the society’s chief executive John Church.

Mr Church said the effects of cyberbullying on Childline callers can be severe.

“It ranges from extreme anxiety and fear to self-harming. Often self-harming on the call with the Childline volunteer, because they feel this is the only way to relieve their feelings. We have seen an increase in suicidal ideation as well.”

Many children and teens don’t know how to tell their parents, guardians or teachers about the online abuse, he said.

“We are looking for education minister Norma Foley to formally introduce online safety into the curriculum,” he added.

An independent complaints mechanism is also needed to ensure abusive content does not remain online, according to Mr Church.

He said he believes social media platforms regulating themselves is not working, and there’s no way for them to communicate about bullying across various sites.

He said Australia’s eSafety Commission is a good model, and believes Ireland should create a similar body.

Children who ring Childline seem to be experiencing cyberbullying at a younger age, according to Megan Sarl, who volunteers with the service.

She said that in the past few years, she has had calls from children aged 8-10 who are self-harming.

Ms Sarl said children are also accessing smart devices at a younger age, and they are extremely tech-savvy. “They can get past the age limits on most social media apps.”

Twenty-eight per cent of 10-17 year-olds reported that they were bullied online during the first Covid lockdown, according to a study conducted last summer by the National Anti Bullying Centre in DCU.

Gaming platforms

Half of the children who took part this study witnessed someone else being cyberbullied online, according to Dr Tijana Milosevic, one of the study’s authors.

Children who belong to the LGBTQ community and/or those who belong to an ethnic minority tend to be at greater risk of being cyberbullied, and they are more likely to be adversely affected, according to Dr Milosevic. “According to our UNESCO reports, identity-based bullying is a significant source of motivation.”

Cyberbullying occurs on gaming platforms, social media and messaging apps. “[There are] videos devoted to being mean to someone, it could be a response video on Tik Tok mocking someone’s initial video. Mean comments under a post are also pretty frequent,” said Dr Milosevic.

Aggressive behaviour is also normalised on gaming platforms, said Dr Milosevic, adding that sometimes people do not even realise they are engaging in bullying because the aggression is so normalised.

“When someone is not playing well, they are constantly berated for being the newbie or being totally ignorant about the game, with the aim of kicking them out and them not wanting to play anymore.”

The consequences of cyberbullying can be serious. “It could be anxiety, depression, poorer school outcomes, a decline in self esteem.”

However, Dr Milosevic said it is important to note that not every child who experiences cyberbullying will experience mental health problems as a result.

She added that there can be contributing factors in a child’s life which may lead to a more adverse outcome.

Children who do experience depression or anxiety should receive the right support and therapies, said Dr Milosevic.

She supports the idea of an independent eSafety commission, similar to Australia’s model. “Social media needs to do more... self-regulation is not sufficient.”

Dr Milosevic says the whole online culture needs to change to prevent cyberbullying from occurring in the first place. “It’s also a relational problem between teens. If we don’t work holistically to raise their self esteem and teach them how to think about each other, we are not going to solve this problem in the long run.”

If you have been affected by the contents of this article, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.

Childline can be free phoned on 1800 66 66 66, texted on 50101, or live messaged on childline.ie.