A leading children’s charity has reported an 88 per cent increase in online bullying in the last five years.
The NSPCC’s helpline service, Childline, counselled 4,541 children about online bullying - this represents an increase of more than 80 per cent on the 2,410 children who were counselled in 2011/12.
The NSPCC also reported that a quarter of counselling sessions for children and young people included advice on depression and suicidal thoughts.
Children as young as seven years-old told counsellors they were being abused by horrible and hateful messages online.
Some children said they received death threats online with others revealing that they had been told to kill themselves.
Childline told the story of one girl who woke every morning terrified of going to school because of the abuse she was receiving online.
“Then I get in and log on to my social networking site and there are horrible messages everywhere,” said the girl.
“It’s like there is no escaping the bullies. I’m struggling to cope with how upset I feel so sometimes I cut myself just to have a release but it’s not enough. I can’t go on like this.”
Meanwhile, Junior Minister, Alastair Ross helped launch Anti-Bullying Week on Monday.
Organised by the NI Anti-Bullying Forum this year’s theme is ‘Together We Are Stronger’.
More than 500 schools and organisations in Northern Ireland will take part in events as part of the week long campaign aimed at tackling bullying.
Speaking at the launch in Titanic Belfast Junior Minister, Alastair Ross said: “Bullying is a problem that, sadly, occurs in almost every school around the world. It can take many forms from physical and verbal attacks to cyber bullying. It can happen to anyone and can be profoundly damaging; its effects can often be felt right through into adulthood. We all have a duty to both tackle bullying and support those who have been affected.
“The Department of Education has provided a clear lead through the ‘Addressing Bullying In Schools Act (NI) 2016’. It will strengthen schools’ ability to recognise and respond to this issue and will ensure greater consistency, so that all our pupils can enjoy the same high levels of protection.”
During the event the Junior Minister also presented awards to the winning pupils of the anti-bullying competition including art, creative writing and short films.
Junior Minister, Alastair Ross said: “The many inspiring and imaginative entries to this competition illustrate the importance of this issue to our young people and our schools. As well as those who have won prizes, I commend everyone who submitted an entry to all categories of the competition. The increased awareness and momentum which Anti-Bullying Week generates can be a driving force to change attitudes for the better.”
The NI Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF), an independent body which is funded by the Department of Education and helps schools and organisations to try to prevent and deal with bullying.
Children and young people can contact Childline 24/7 for free by telephoning 0800 1111.