New figures released reveal Childline delivered 5,103 counselling sessions about cyber-bullying in 2016/17 – a 12% increase from the previous year.

Since Childline, run by the NSPCC, specifically started recording cyber-bullying counselling sessions five years ago they have more than doubled. Name-calling, spreading rumours, death threats and blackmail posted publicly on social media profiles, blogs and online pictures were just some of the ways young people told counsellors they were being tormented.

Children as young as nine told Childline counsellors they were being targeted by online bullies, with girls and 12-15 year-olds receiving the most counselling sessions about this issue.

One boy told Childlike, “I’m being bullied on social media by people who call me fat and ugly. I can’t block them because then they’ll just bully me even more at school. I don’t want to talk to my teachers about it, I just feel like giving up. I’ve been self-harming to cope but I just want to stop feeling this way.”

Cyber-bullying is also contributing to young people’s mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, self-harming and suicidal thoughts.

The 24/7 nature of social media and the feeling they are unable to escape the bullies, even at home, can leave young people struggling to cope.

Dame Esther Rantzen, Founder and President of Childlike, commented, “Young people these days rely upon their mobile phones and social media to keep in touch with their friends, but inevitably that makes it easier for bullies to pursue their victims relentlessly. Whether bullying occurs online or in person it can have a devastating impact on a young person, destroying their confidence and leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

“Every year as a nation we lose precious young lives because bullying has made children and teenagers feel that life is not worth living. Childline wants to remind young people that they are not alone. We are here for them day and night, offering confidential help and advice on effective ways to beat the bullies.”

The NSPCC is calling on the Government to draw up a rulebook enshrined in law to require all social media sites to protect children from cyber-bullying and other online abuse.
These rules should require social media companies to introduce cyber-bullying alerts which flags bullying behaviour to moderators and sends notifications to young people being targeted.

In addition there needs to be strict privacy settings by default, clear and easy to understand reporting processes, and specially-trained child safety moderators.

The NSPCC have published advice for parents if they think their child is being bullied online:

· Make sure they know they can come to you for help
· Help them relax and take time out, away from electronic devices
· Teach them how to stay safe online and to block abusive or humiliating content
· Talk to your child’s school or club about what’s been happening
· Report online videos of bullying
· Explain to them that our differences are important and they make you who you are

Over the last year children have viewed the cyber-bullying pages on the Childline website more than 73,000 times, with some posting about their experiences of cyber-bullying as well as sharing support to their peers through message boards.

The NSPCC are also working with the Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying, in order to develop new tools and solutions for children and young people to support their friends who are being bullied online.

Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk

Parents can contact O2/NSPCC for free advice on keeping their children safe online on 0808 800 5002.

Photography by Tom Hull. The children pictured are models.