Children are plagued by loneliness

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Modern life is creating a generation of children plagued by loneliness and low self-esteem, ChildLine warned.

Marking the 30th anniversary of the charity this week, Childline revealed that children’s confidence is being destroyed by a constant onslaught from cyber-bullying, social media and the desire to copy celebrities as they strive to achieve the ‘perfect’ image. Back in 1986 children were mostly concerned about family planning problems and sexual abuse.

Mairead Monds, ChildLine service manager in Northern Ireland, said the pressure to keep up with friends and have the perfect life online was adding to the sadness that many young people felt on a daily basis.

“The worries that young people face and the way they talk to us have dramatically changed since ChildLine was launched but one thing stays the same, our vital service is often the only place that many young people feel they can turn to.”

ChildLine’s first Northern Ireland base was set up in Belfast in 1999 and a second base was launched in Foyle in 2006. The NSPCC-run service, which has now helped over four million children, reports young people coming forward in their droves to confide just how desperate, alone, and sad they feel.

When the service launched nationally in 1986, children made contact exclusively by telephone, street corner boxes or home lines, or freepost letter. The latest figures show they are now more concerned about the pressures of social media and battling low self-esteem and unhappiness. Children are going online to talk about their problems as they find it easier to communicate this way. Last year fewer than one in three counselling sessions took place over a phoneline with 71 per cent involving 1-2-1 chat or email.

This is the third year in a row that ChildLine has counselled more young people online than by phone.

These latest figures from ChildLine reveal that girls are more likely to be affected by low self-esteem and unhappiness – it was their second highest concern and the fourth for boys.

Tellingly it also seems to strike with the start of secondary school and continues throughout teenage years, with more than half of contacts coming from 12-18-year-olds contacting ChildLine to talk about the problem.

One 13-year-old girl told a counsellor: “I hate myself. When I look at other girls online posting photos of themselves it makes me feel really worthless and ugly. I’m struggling to cope with these feelings and stay in my bedroom most of the time. I’m always worrying about what other people are thinking of me. I feel so down.”

A boy (14) said: “I used to go onto a lot of social media sites and socialise, but now that I don’t have access I feel really cut-off and isolated. I don’t really have many friends in real-life and spend a lot of time in my bedroom on my laptop. I don’t have much confidence in myself and I feel as if my life is really depressing.”

Many children reported the ever-growing influence of the internet in their lives was leaving them feeling isolated, with many saying that social media led to them comparing themselves to others, and feeling inferior, ugly, and unpopular as a result.

“A lot has changed about why and how children contact us but what hasn’t changed is the willingness of members of the public to give up their precious time to volunteer for the service, listening to the children who contact us all year round, day and night.

“Some young people use volunteering for ChildLine as a career launch pad, and go on to do have great successes. We have lots of retired people who have built whole new social circles with the friends they’ve made volunteering for us, and we have other volunteers who enjoy the opportunity to give something back for many different reasons. They help us ensure that no matter what, young people have a place to turn to whenever they need it.”