The Diana Award, a charity set up in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, has said that young people have been spending more time than ever online as lockdown measures have taken them out of school and recommended they stay indoors. The charity believes this has led to a jump in cyber-bullying, given a natural increase in social media use.
They say that the increase in calls to their hotline rose sharply from March – when lockdown measures were put in place – to mid-June.
According to Alex Holmes, Deputy CEO of the charity, it is usually the case that bullying begins in the playground and then migrates onto digital platforms.
And with playgrounds off limits for the past few months, it could be that bullying has simply moved increasingly onto the phone or computer.
Holmes told Express.co.uk: “With social media usage surging due to lockdown, it’s possible that this has contributed to an increase in calls to our crisis hotline.
The Diana Award charity said it had seen a 100 percent increase in lockdown calls.
“Since the lockdown, we’ve seen a spike in calls with the leading causes being anxiety, depression and online and offline relationships.”
He added that in the majority of cases, bullies are known by the victims – someone known at school, for instance.
Holmes continued: “It is very rare for a child to be bullied by a stranger, it is usually a familiar relationship, a peer and someone they know from school.
“Drama usually starts in the playground and turns into digital drama online.
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Both charities advised speaking out to a trusted adult in the event of cyberbullying.
“This is why we focus so much on offline relationships and face to face training as we know there is a clear link between what happens offline and then continues online.”
It would be interesting to know what the most common platforms for online bullying are, and where it is most prevalent.
Unfortunately, the charity said that the data they had collected so far was not “robust enough” to show where bullying was most common online.
Either way, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) say that thousands of children every year contact them with cyberbullying concerns.
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The charity said a “surge” in social media use could be behind the increase in calls.
Holmes said that all social media outlets have a responsibility to protect their users, and called on companies to put more resources into making sure that digital platforms are free from abuse.
He added: “We believe that more can always be done to combat bullying both in school and online. Social media apps, especially ones popular with young people, have a responsibility to protect their users and companies need to invest more resources in ensuring that the online space is one where young people can feel safe.”
Meanwhile, Wendy Robinson, Childline Services Head from the NSPCC, told Express.co.uk that for children experiencing cyberbullying, it can feel “impossible to escape”.
Robinson said: “Spending more time online during lockdown coupled with social isolation measures will undoubtedly have exacerbated this feeling for young people.
Schools were ordered to close as part of the UK-wide lockdown in March.
“It is vital that any child who is being bullied speaks up because without the right support at the right time, the effects of bullying can be felt long into adulthood.”
Robinson added that the Childline service has, since lockdown started, given more than 2,000 counselling sessions to children who are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing.
And she pointed out that lockdown measures aren’t just leading to bullying – there are other issues affecting children as well.
She said: “Other concerns children have raised have included suicidal thoughts, difficult family relationships and abuse”.
The Diana Award has put forward advice for anyone who finds themselves a victim of cyberbullying.
They advise anyone at the receiving end of an online bully to screenshot any evidence of the bullying taking place, and avoid sending anything in response.
Blocking and reporting the bully should be the next step, followed by seeking help by a trusted adult.
Childline also encourages children experiencing bullying to talk to a trusted adult, or phone the Childline helpline for free on 0800 1111. Alternatively, the NSPCC can be contacted by email on [email protected]