MPs have warned that children have no method of getting away from cyberbullying and increasing numbers are being referred for psychiatric treatment.
According to the Commons health select committee, the number of children referred to mental health services has increased by around 25% over the last year. This comes amid the increasing pressure they suffer from social media and the use of mobile devices to share indecent photographs.
Their report states that children are being ‘bullied into a state of despair’ on social media. It suggests that their emotional wellbeing may be damaged by every hour they spend on their devices.
The chairman of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said children who were being bullied felt that they were unable to get away from the tormentors. She said, in the past, if you were being bullied at school, it went away once you left school. However, with cyberbullying, it remains there all the time.
Figures from Childline indicate an 87% increase in the numbers of children receiving counselling for online bullying. MPs state that there has also been an increase of 25% in hospital referrals for children and young people suffering mental health problems.
They voiced their concern about the internet being responsible for an increase in the number of children suffering from depression and anxiety, with some of them resorting to attempted suicide and self-harm.
The report has issued warnings that girls as young as 11 are suffering damage after being convinced to perform sexual acts, with the images then being distributed around schools. MPs stated that the swapping of indecent photographs has become the norm in many schools, with children no longer giving a second thought to the effect it could have on their victims.
A former GP, Dr Wollaston, said parents should consider the potential damage their children could suffer if they were allowed to use their computers for hours on end, be it playing computer games or on social media.
The report states that 55% of boys and 20% of girls spend two hours or more each night on their computers. It refers to evidence from Public Health England (PHE) that spending increased time on computing devices and the exposure to media is linked with low feelings of social acceptance and increased feelings of loneliness, aggression and behavioural problems. They state that certain internet activities, such as multi-player online games and social network sites, have been linked to lower levels of wellbeing.
The report has issued a warning of a ‘dose-response’ situation, where every additional hour spent on the computer increases the chances of experiencing socio-emotional issues.
According to figures from Childline, the number of children receiving counselling due to online bullying increased from 2410 session during 2011/12 to 4507 during 2012/13.
The report has also highlighted the problems children and young people face in accessing inpatient NHS care for mental health issues.
It states that there are cases where children as young as six are held in police cells while they wait for psychiatric assessment.
In response to this, Dr Wollaston said that if your child was to break their leg and the orthopaedic wards had no beds available, it would not be acceptable for them to wait in a police cell for a bed.
Image Credit: Miika Silfverberg