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ChildLine warns that social media is giving children low self-esteem

By Laura Abernethy

Published 07/01/2016

Lynne Peyton, who was one of the service’s first phone line volunteers back in 1986
Lynne Peyton, who was one of the service’s first phone line volunteers back in 1986
ChildLine service manager Mairead Monds

Children in Northern Ireland face increasing pressures from social media which can lead to low self-esteem and unhappiness, a leading charity has warned.

ChildLine has revealed that the number of counselling sessions for low self-esteem rose by 9% last year. As it prepares to celebrate its 30th birthday this year, it said that in 2014/15 there were 35,244 counselling sessions for low self-esteem.

One 13-year-old girl said she hated herself because of what other people posted online.

She told a counsellor: "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."

The charity, launched in 1986, has seen dramatic changes in 30 years. At the start, children made contact exclusively by telephone - street boxes or home lines - or freepost letter. The main worries were about family problems, pregnancy, and sexual abuse.

But children are now more concerned about the pressures of social media and battling low self-esteem and unhappiness. Increasingly, children go online to talk about problems as they find it easier to communicate this way.

Independent childcare consultant Lynne Peyton, from Belfast, was one of the first volunteers to answer calls in 1986.

She was a social worker and, with a few colleagues, stayed late to help children using the new helpline. She said: "We received a number of calls and encouraged young people to talk to someone they trusted or to contact local social services offices."

The helpline opened a Belfast base in 1999 and launched a second in the Foyle area in 2006 and now local volunteers help to answer thousands of calls a year. Lynne said: "Two years ago I was privileged to visit the ChildLine service centre in Belfast and saw first hand the professionalism with which the helpline is currently delivered. Staff and volunteers are given specific training, supervised regularly and have easy access to advice and support - a far cry from that first tentative evening in 1986."

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

"The worries 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 many young people feel they can turn to." Children can contact ChildLine 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0800 1111 or by visiting www.childline.org.uk

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