Leona O'Neill: Bullying is a scourge we must all help to stamp out

Bullying has a huge impact on the mental health of children, many of whom bear the internal scars well into their adult years. It's a terrible problem, exacerbated by social media, but there is help available, writes Leona O'Neill

Children who are being bullied feel anxious and depressed

I SPOKE with a dad last week who was at his wit's end with with a bully relentlessly targeting his son.

His 12-year-old at this stage doesn't want to go out of the house because another child in his street has been bullying him mercilessly for months. 

Every time the child went out he'd come home with his top ripped, his face red from being hit, breathless from running the gauntlet or just quiet and withdrawn after facing a barrage of personal insults from this other young person who has spent these summer days persecuting this sweet, gentle child.

The bullying started in school, moved online after school hours and carried on to the street where they lived. 

Approaches to the parents of the bully have proved fruitless. Any effort to try and make the situation better by talking about it have been met with abuse from the adults too.

The father of the bullied child has put his house up for sale as he just wants his son to feel happy and safe in his home and in his community. 

His child has gone from a content, outgoing and lively boy to being withdrawn, anxious and depressed. 

He doesn't want to leave his bedroom, he becomes anxious when they leave the house. His father is extremely worried about him.

I don't blame him for his concern. It seems like every week we hear of children taking their own lives because they can't carry the weight of the bullies' cruel actions any longer. 

Any parent would move Heaven and Earth to ensure that their child is safe and happy. I can't imagine the worry he feels every time his son steps outside his front door.

Bullying has a huge impact on the mental health of children and many of them carry the baggage of what happens in their younger years well into their adult years. 

For many it destroys their peace for decades. It is rampant in our schools and on our streets and needs stamped out.

The NSPCC’s Childline service in Northern Ireland has this week reminded children and parents that just because it’s the middle of the school holidays, there is often no holiday from bullying for the many children who experience this misery.

Childline’s counsellors are increasingly finding that with the growth of social media and children’s ability to remain connected to peers at all times via mobile devices, bullying is becoming a 24/7 issue.

Bullying was the fourth most common reason for children to contact the free and confidential helpline in 2015-16.

A spokesperson for Childline said: spokesperson for NSPCC in Northern Ireland said: “Online bullying is one of the biggest child-protection challenges of this generation. 

It is a problem intensified by the ever-increasing presence of the internet. Years ago a child could escape their bullies when they left the playground and get some respite in the safety of their home, now the 24/7 nature of the internet means that a child can be targeted around the clock.

“Bullying, regardless of whether it occurs online or in person, can have a devastating impact on a young person, affecting their self-worth, leave them feeling isolated and potentially being a trigger for depression.”

“We receive a lot of contacts about bullying, in particular from children aged 11 and under. 

Last year, Childline carried out 318 counselling sessions with children from Northern Ireland who were experiencing bullying – including online bullying. Bullying can happen to anyone at any age. No-one has the right to hurt you or make you feel bad and if you are being bullied you don't have to put up with it, you can talk to someone about it. You are not alone – Childline can help.”

If a child is being bullied, Childline counsellors advise them to:

  • Tell someone – speak to a friend, parent/guardian or someone they trust. Even if they’re not ready to take it further they can offer them support.
  • Find a way to stay safe – stay away from people known to be involved in bullying; if bullying happens on the way home make sure they’re accompanied or get a lift.
  • Block the bully – make sure they don’t have access to social media accounts and don’t reply to any abusive messages as this can make the situation worse.
  • Build self-esteem – it is easy to start believing that the insults are true, even though they are not. Getting confidence back can help children deal with bullying.

Anyone being bullied can speak to a Childline counsellor by calling 0800 1111 or through a one-to-one chat online at There is also advice from other young people on the online message boards.

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