The number of children and young people who need counselling about online bullying has risen by a whopping 88% over the past five years, a new report shows. According to a report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the charity's Childline service said it counselled more than 4,500 children across the UK about online bullying over the past year, up by 13% from the previous year.
Released at the start of Anti-Bullying Week, which is coordinated by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, the report showed that in 25% of counselling sessions, children were counselled for a mental health or well-being issue such as low self-esteem, self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Children as young as seven years old told Childline counsellors that they were scared to go to school and were being abused and tormented by vicious messages from cyberbullies from whom they felt they could not escape.
"Young people described malicious and hurtful messages being posted about them on their profiles, blogs, online pictures or posts," the report reads. "The negative messages ranged from bullying and abusive comments about how the young person looked, to directly telling the young person they should go and kill themselves. In some situations, forums or pages on networking sites were set up about the young person as a place to post bullying content.
"Young people spoke to us about feeling isolated and not understanding how people could hate them so much."
Children and young people who spoke to Childline said they usually knew the people posting the hurtful messages and were often classmates from their school. They also said that the cyberbullying often led to verbal and physical bullying at their school.
The report said that young people spoke specifically about being bullied on social networking and gaming sites in 1,420 counselling sessions over the past year, up by 34% from the previous year.
"It might not sound like that much of a problem but there's this group of people I play with online and they told me to kill myself," one 12-year-old girl told Childline. "I won't kill myself but it upsets me. My parents don't realise how upset it's making me and they tell me to stand up for myself or just not play anymore but they don't know how hard that is!
"They don't understand why I want to play with people who are not friends, but to me they are. I don't know why they have just suddenly started picking on me but it hurts so much," she said.
Given the constantly-growing expanse and reach of the internet and social media, Dame Esther Rantzen, president of Childline, says online bullying can become "a persecution they can't escape."
"Bullying can wreck young people's lives, especially now that the bullies don't stop at the school gates," Rantzen said in a statement. "Cyberbullying can follow them home until it becomes a persecution they can't escape. It's imperative that adults, parents and teachers intervene to protect them, because we've learned over the years from Childline callers that bullying doesn't stop on its own - left alone it gets worse."