CHILDLINE ADVICE: How to tackle the dangers of lockdown loneliness

It’s no surprise that many children and young people are finding the lockdown lonely.

They’ve passed the point of it being new and exciting, and the school gates are a distant memory. Despite parents’ best efforts, it is difficult for children not to feel alone when their routines and lives have been changed so drastically.

In the first three weeks of April, more than 1,700 children contacted Childline to talk about the virus, and how things have changed. Many mentioned parents working, or losing jobs, and missing friends.

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When they’re bored or alone, it seems like an easy solution to encourage children and young people to use phones, computers, and tablets to access games and social media. Not only can they talk to others, but they can play things they enjoy as a distraction.

And a lot of the time, using devices can be a safe and fun experience. However, it’s important to help a child understand the dangers of the internet, especially if they’re experiencing symptoms of loneliness and vulnerability.

The online world in the current crisis has been labelled the ‘perfect storm’ for groomers to target young people when they are at their most vulnerable, alone, and want to talk to someone. Older children may also be starting to learn about relationships, and might want to meet people online while in lockdown.

One girl told Childline: “I’ve been having a lot of issues with depression for a couple of years now and I feel really lonely. All my friends were fake and toxic, and because I didn’t have anyone else I started using social media.”

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Unfortunately, as this girl was feeling lonely and vulnerable, and didn’t want to talk to people she knew, she started talking to strangers through Snapchat:

“I was on snapchat and this guy blackmailed me into sending a sexual video. Then, I blocked him. He recorded it without me knowing and now he spread it with 3000 people on kik so it’s gone out of my hands.”

More than 2,000 young people, aged between 11 and 17, were surveyed by the NSPCC last year, with 4% confirming they had sent, received or been asked to send sexual messages just like this to an adult online.

This doubled to 9% for respondents with characteristics that may make them vulnerable, including loneliness, greater usage of social media, unhappiness and liking attention.

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As a parent, the thought of this happening to your child is nothing short of stomach-churning. That’s why it’s crucial that we talk to our children about how they use the internet, without shying away from threats like grooming and online sexual abuse.

Parents should talk to children about their online world just as much as they would about a school day. It is vital to have these conversations, where parents are asking their child who they’re chatting with, what kind of things they share online, and what social media or games they are using.

This might seem like a daunting prospect. But it’s important to help keep children and young people safe from the dangers of the online world. If you’re unsure how to start the discussion, you can call the NSPCC and O2’s Online Safety Advice Line on 0808 800 5002, while the Net Aware website includes information on a range of social networks, apps and games.

It’s important that children and young people know that if they see anything online that worries or upsets them, it is not their fault, and that they can reach out to a trusted adult or Childline to talk about it.

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