Thousands of young people are reaching out to Childline for help with feelings of isolation as they struggle with the pressures of growing up in today’s society.
The latest figures reveal last year (2016/17) the NSPCC service delivered 4,063 counselling sessions – the equivalent to 11 a day – to children and teenagers suffering from loneliness.
During the same period 199 children from Scotland contacted Childline with concerns about loneliness. However, the true figure is likely to be far higher as hundreds of children did not say where they were contacting counsellors from.
Matt Forde, national head for NSPCC Scotland, said: “There is no single reason why so many young people are suffering from loneliness and as result there is no simple fix to the problem. What is clear is that the world is becoming an increasingly complex place to grow up in with children and teenagers’ facing daily pressures to achieve what society defines as a successful life – grades, relationships, physical appearance.
“It is therefore vital that children and teenagers have people around them, in particular parents, who they can really open up to about how they are feeling.”
This is the first year Childline has recorded loneliness as an issue, with children aged as young as six seeking help for the problem more commonly associated with the older generation.
Childline counsellors are consistently hearing from children and teenagers that they feel like they are invisible, misunderstood and those closest to them are struggling to understand their feelings.
Other factors include the growth of social media leading some users to make unrealistic comparisons about their life that leave them feeling ugly and unpopular, struggling to fit into new surroundings after moving house or school and losing someone close to them after a death or broken relationship.
As a result of their low mood young people would often spend a lot of time in their bedrooms or online, which aggravated their loneliness. In the worst cases some had become so desperate they self-harmed to cope with their negative feelings, or even contemplated ending their own life.
Young people also told counsellors they didn’t want to talk to their parents about their issues as they were worried what they would think of them.
In addition, the NSPCC found 73 per cent of counselling sessions about loneliness were with girls, making them five times more likely to contact Childline for help about the issue than boys.
One 15-year-old girl who contacted Childline said: “I’ve thought about ending my life because I think it’s pointless me being here. I don’t feel like anyone cares about me and I’m lonely all the time. I’ve tried to talk to people about how stressed and anxious I feel, but they’re not bothered. It’s like I’m worthless. Whenever I compare myself to other people, it makes me realise how pathetic I am. I wish I was different.”
Over the last couple of years counsellors have noticed more and more young people talking to them about their loneliness, which has prompted the helpline service to specifically record the issue. A webpage has been created on the Childline website to support young people who are experiencing isolation and loneliness.
The NSPCC has also published advice for parents and carers who struggle to get their children to open up to them:
• Start a conversation when no-one will interrupt, perhaps a bike ride or car journey
• Try not to overreact when your child tells you something alarming it may stop them from confiding in you again
• If your child isn’t ready to talk straight away try again in a few days time
• Listening is important and shows your child you value what they’re telling you
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline said: “I think we in the adult world are addicted to being busy, and that our children and young people are suffering as a result. Of course many of us have to work hard, couples may need to take on several jobs to boost their income, but sometimes that leaves too little time for the people we care about most, our children.
“I worry, too, that the kitchen table has become obsolete, families are too busy to eat together, to talk about their days together, and share their worries. So Childline has become the place young people choose to confide in. They tell us that we make them they feel valued, so they have the confidence to talk about their feelings of loneliness.”
If an adult is concerned a child is suffering from loneliness they should try and talk to them, and listen carefully to their concerns and worries. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you let them know they can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk.