Cyber bullying pushes teenagers towards suicide

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Peer-mentoring reveals swell of online abuse

Nearly half of all bullying is taking place online, recent figures have revealed, as a charity says a "surprising" number of young people contemplate suicide or self-harm.

The statistics, released by the charity Beatbullying, show that 45 per cent of the intimidation happens when pupils log on to social networking sites and chatrooms.

Earlier this month, Beatbullying launched its latest initiative, called Cybermentors, which is being backed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In its first two weeks, more than 20,000 young people registered to talk to peers about their problems.

Beatbullying's new media director Sarah Dyer, who oversees the Cybermentors site, said the charity was "surprised" by the number of serious incidents it had handled.

"We had to deal with a suprising number of young people who were feeling suicidal and self-harming. We were very surprised by the amount of requests we received for emergency help," said Ms Dyer.

"We have a method by which young people can request immediate intervention, which was being used a great deal. At that point our online counsellors take over and speak to them."

The Cybermentors programme enables pupils to log on and speak to people of their own age about the problems they face both in school and online. Teenagers spend on average two to three hours a day online. The internet is increasingly the place where bullying starts, rather than the playground or classroom. According to Beatbullying, in more than 70 per cent of online bullying cases, the bully is known by the victim.

Fran Long, head of the personal and learning support faculty at Langley Park Girls' School in Bromley, Kent, runs the Cybermentors programme in her school, where 25 girls are trained mentors. She says that bullying can take shape in many ways online.

"Young people can be targeted with abuse in chat rooms or on MSN. They can have certain pictures posted online with their name tagged on them," Miss Long said.

"It can be upsetting, especially when young people are using their computers at home, a place they usually feel safe. It can also spill into their school lives."

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