20% of children bullied online as social media enables attacks ‘anywhere’, experts warn

One in five children have been bullied online, government figures show, as experts warn that social media means that children can be attacked “anywhere”.  

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its first ever set of data monitoring reports of online bullying in England and Wales. 

The figures, which amalgamate data from the 10 to 15-year-olds’ Crime Survey, cover the period for the year ending March 2020 and found that around one in five children experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour. This is equivalent to 764,000 children.

Furthermore, More than half (52%) of those children who experienced online bullying behaviours said they would not describe these behaviours as bullying, and one in four (26%) did not report their experiences to anyone.

Being called names, sworn at or insulted and having nasty messages about them sent to them were the two most common online bullying behaviour types, experienced by 10% of all children aged 10 to 15 years.

Responding to the figures, an NSPCC spokesperson said: “These findings are deeply concerning and echo what our Childline counsellors hear on a daily basis. We know online bullying is incredibly traumatic for young people and that it can feel impossible to escape.

“Lockdown has exacerbated these feelings and from April to October our trained counsellors held more than a thousand counselling sessions with young people about online bullying. 

“As we are now in another national lockdown in England, many will face the prospect of spending more time online. 

“Bullying can have a significant impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing and this can be felt long into adulthood, so it is vital that we are here for them and that they know who they can turn to for help and support.”

There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is often described as behaviour that hurts someone else, physically or emotionally, and can happen anywhere – at school, at home or online.

Sophie Sanders from the ONS Centre for Crime and Justice, said: “Greater use of smartphones, social media and networking applications means online bullying can follow a child anywhere they go. Using new data from the crime survey we can see that around one in five children between the ages of 10 to 15 had experienced some form of online bullying in the previous 12 months.

"This compares with two in five children who experienced bullying in person, and whilst these data were collected before the coronavirus pandemic, children’s isolation at home and increased time spent on the internet is likely to have had a substantial impact on the split between real world and cyber bullying."

The ONS also found that nearly three out of four children (72%) who had experienced an online bullying behaviour experienced at least some of it at school or during school time.

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