'Online bullying made me feel suicidal': Leeds Childline reveals devastating impact of online abuse on city's young people
The lives of thousands of young people in our region are being devastated by online abuse, a senior supervisor at the Leeds Childline centre has revealed.
The Yorkshire base, run by the NSPCC, delivers thousands of online counselling sessions to victims of cyberbullying who have often suffered serious and sustained abuse.
One teenage victim described feeling suicidal after bullies set up a social media group filled with abusive messages against her.
It comes as the NSPCC backs the Yorkshire Evening Post's Call It Out Campaign which is sharing real-life experiences and calling on the city to unite in the fight against online abuse.
NSPCC supervisor Darren Worth, who has worked at the Leeds Childline base for 13 years, said bullying takes many forms but can lead to mental health problems, heightened anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
He told the YEP: "We have young people contact us because they’re being bullied about their physical appearance, how much money their family appears to have or the clothes they wear, their race, their gender identity or sexuality.
“The impact of bullying varies for every person, but a common thread is that it can make young people feel very anxious and depressed.
“It has a significant and deep impact on these young people and impacts their wellbeing, particularly as over the last six months their key social space is online.”
The NSPCC offers a wealth of online resources for children and young people and has seen demand for its online services increase during the pandemic.
Childline's Calm Zone, a website designed to relieve stress, has seen visits rise from 1,600 a week to 10,000 a week during lockdown.
Darren said: “It’s very common that young people who are bullied think they have to cope with it alone, which can lead to a sense of sadness and hopelessness.
"What we can do is open up a safe space online, where young people know that they’re not alone and the support is there.
“We’re proud that our service provides a young person with what they need at the point of delivery, we listen out for clues of the people they trust, where they could get support and any practical solutions.”
'Online bullying completely took over my life - it made me feel suicidal'
Emma, not her real name, first called Childline when she was 14 after a friend set up a social media group named 'we wish Emma was dead' following a small argument.
She said: "I had been bullied face to face before but this was on a much bigger scale as the group was shared so that everyone could see it.
"Lots of people added their own horrible comments too. In the end we had to ask the school to make the girl take the group down in front of the headteacher because she refused to do it when we asked her to.
"I was so upset that I cut myself off from my family and I didn’t want to talk to anyone anymore.
"I dreaded going to school because I’d see the bullies there too and they would often follow me home. It completely took over my life.
"By this point I’d become so low that I felt suicidal. I just didn’t want to be around anymore because things were so hard – when I told my mum that, it really scared her.
"My parents didn’t know how to help me but my mum encouraged me to talk to Childline."
The Childline team provided Emma with one-to-one online counselling, encouraging her to speak to her parents about feeling suicidal.
Her family rallied around her and she began volunteering for the cadets, helping her make new friends and giving her something to focus on.
Emma added: "My advice to young people who are feeling suicidal is to tell someone. Talk to Childline – they were a friend to me and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here today.
"I might never have told my family what was happening and I would have struggled to get through things.
"It was a horrible experience but it’s helped me to learn that I can be strong and not let people get to me. It’s made me want to push myself and get to where I am today.
"I’ve come such a long way I’m now training to be a police officer."
Calls for action to stamp out online abuse against children
The YEP's Call It Out Campaign has highlighted the appalling abuse faced by high-profile figures and communities in Leeds and the NSPCC says the abuse is particularly harmful to children, who do much of their socialising online.
The charity is demanding the Government make Online Harms legislation, designed to better protect children and young people, a priority this autumn.
Andy Burrows, Head of Safety and Online Policy at the NSPCC, said: “We know that cyberbullying can be really devastating for children - this isn’t bullying which can be left behind at the school gates.
"At the heart of the Online Harms Bill is a simple proposition: that social networks should have a duty of care to protect children who use their sites.
“They have to reasonably identify risks that children could face, such as cyberbullying, and take steps to make sure those risks can be mitigated.
"That could be through better reporting systems or investing in technology that can encourage children not to post harmful content.
"It’s only if we see the Government press ahead with this that we’ll see social networks take this seriously.
"Self-regulation hasn’t worked and there are children every day in Yorkshire and across the country who are coming to harm as a result.”
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