Wednesday 21 August 2019

‘Children feel isolated and just cry down the phone’ – Childline boss

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Allison Bray

Childline’s army of volunteers is preparing for the busiest time of the year as distraught children turn to them for a sympathetic ear over Christmas.

The helpline, run by 350 volunteers at the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), typically logs up to 1,200 calls on Christmas Day alone from children up to the age of 18, who feel “fearful, isolated and alone” at Christmas, said Caroline O’Sullivan, the ISPCC’s Director of Services.

“Children are just crying down the phone,” she said.

Tragically, about 8pc of calls will be from children who are being physically, emotionally or sexually abused in their homes.

However, the majority of calls are from children who feel sad and lonely and are at odds with their families who may be abusing drugs or alcohol or there is domestic violence or discord in the home, she added.

Often children in these bleak situations believe that things will be different at Christmas and are bitterly disappointed when the reality does not live up to the fantasy portrayed on television, said Ms O’Sullivan.

To make matters worse, the homelessness crisis in Dublin and other areas is also generating a lot of calls from children who feel left out at Christmas.

“It’s just not the same thing to have a Christmas tree in the lobby when you’re living a hotel,” she said.

More than that, children who are living in homeless accommodation are under constant stress and “they just want their stress levels to be reduced.”

On top of that the so-called ‘Fear of Missing Out’ or FOMO factor on social media and it’s a prescription for disaster, she added.

It was bad enough before the advent of social media, when children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds dreaded being asked what they got for Christmas by their peers, she said.

But now, there is the added pressure of having to share not only photos of their presents on social media but to post Facebook or Snapchat photos of the whole festive period.

“It’s a huge issue. Does anyone ever have a bad day on Facebook? No, apparently,” she said.

“But often the lonelier and sadder the child is, the more they will try to present this perfect image,” she said.

“This is the last thing they need, which makes me wonder why we are giving smart phones to seven-year-olds in the first place,” she said.

“There is just so much thrown at them today.”


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