Rise in lonely children calling Childline 'to talk'
Loneliness is one of the main reasons children are now contacting Ireland's Childline services, according to the organisation.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent Caroline O'Sullivan, Director of Services at the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, confirmed the rise of loneliness among young callers.
"Loneliness is a big issue," she said. "We could describe these as 'everyday calls' in so far as there is no major issue of worry. They are just ringing up to say I just want to chat.
"They would talk about the most ordinary things such as their day in school or their birthday. I feel a lot of children don't have the same level of communication with their peers as we used to.
"Often social media is their only form of communication with their peers so they are not making the same physical or emotional connections as we would have in the past.
"Also, the way they describe it, it is not that there isn't anyone to talk to. A lot can be self-imposed loneliness and a lot of loneliness is coming from their relationships with their peers.
"They are putting up a 'perfect' image on social media so everyone is under pressure to present the best sides of themselves and they don't feel that so they feel that they are not as worthy."
Recent figures show Childline answered nearly 400,000 calls for help in 2016.
The vast majority were made out of hours when there is no one else to speak to. Its listening service is the only 24-hour helpline for children in Ireland.
The news comes as studies show that the number of young people who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40pc between 2000 and 2015.
Former RTE presenter Colm Hayes, now a broadcaster for Radio Nova, has volunteered on Childline's phone services.
He said he believes a mixture of parents working outside the home and the increase of social media is behind the increase in loneliness. He described how some children would continually apologise for their simple need to connect with someone.
"I suppose in certain cases, the mother and father are out working and they could be [working] eight, nine, 10 hours a day.
"You could have a 12- or 13-year-old and they don't know what [they are feeling].
"Somebody needs to tell them it's loneliness. As you get older, people realise what they are feeling, but kids can't identify that within themselves.
"There is that loneliness which leads to anxiety and depression but they don't realise the source of it.
"What I noticed on the phone calls was just the conversation. They just want to talk - and they want to talk about anything. They will talk about their homework and they will talk about what they are doing in two weeks' time - but I noticed they are very apologetic about it as well, which was particularly sad and sweet.
"They say, 'I am really sorry for taking your time up', while it's your job to be talking to them anyway. They just want to talk."
Describing how children "don't develop social skills" and find themselves in a "pit of loneliness", he pinpointed social media as contributing to a rise in childhood isolation.
"While we may have gone out the door and run down the street to friends, they are reaching out on social media and it is faceless and it adds to the loneliness. And it adds to the anxiety, which we all know."
Colm was speaking as Radio Nova prepares to launch a two-day Help Our Homeless Radiothon in conjunction with Focus Ireland.
It has a target of €100,000 to help families into better accommodation, secure long-term accommodation for some and ensure they don't lose the accommodation they are already in.