Magdalena Aguilar, Co-Chief Executive for Child Helpline International, gives us an inside look at child helplines and the types of issues they are helping young people today to tackle.
Can you tell us about the children who are contacting helplines and what they want to talk about?
Magdalena: In 2016 alone, 24 million children contacted a helpline. These children are typically between the ages of 10-17, and most of them reach out by telephone, though more and more contact us through chat, email and mobile apps. They reach out to discuss a number of issues, such as abuse and violence, psychological and mental health issues, as well as peer relationships.
Do many helpline calls relate to issues faced online?
Magdalena: Today we see that children and young people don’t really differentiate between what they experience online and offline. For example, if a young person is being bullied at school, it is likely that the bullying is also occurring in social media. In 2016, child helplines responded to 52,000 cases that were categorized solely as internet or online media issues, including cyberbullying and child sexual abuse online. Based on what we are seeing, we believe the number of children calling helplines about online issues will increase over the next few years.
What are the main types of issues that children face online?
Magdalena: We experience four main areas in which children are seeking help. They are cyberbullying, inappropriate content such as hate speech or racism, illegal content often related to nudity and child online sexual abuse.
How to you help the helpline counsellors to respond to these types of issues?
Magdalena: One way is through the eLearning module we’ve developed with Telenor, which should help in building competence in handling calls related to the four main themes we are experiencing related to the internet. In addition, our #Youth Council provides us with insight to online issues. For example, one member highlighted that parents should not control their child’s online activities but rather teach them to be resilient and to build a relationship of trust with their child.
What are some signs that parents should watch for, to help identify a child in need of help?
Magdalena: Individuals will react differently to negative experiences; however, parents can generally look for changes in behavior and personality, such as more passive, angry or sad. This may be combined with changes in use of technology, for example being controlled by the phone or reacting with fear when a message comes in. When it comes to signs of grooming and other forms of online sexual abuse, evaluate whether your child is being secretive about online activities and/or having access to goods or money that they wouldn’t normally have, as well as less engagement with family and friends.
Should parents encourage their children to contact a helpline if in need?
Magdalena: The number of children contacting helplines annually tells us that these young people are willing to share their problems with trained counsellors. These counsellors are of great help to the millions calling every year, as many children find it easier to speak to a confidential child helpline resource about issues they otherwise wouldn’t talk about to anyone.
What can parents and other do to help support the good work of child helplines around the world?
Magdalena: The data from our networks shows that one of every two calls to helplines globally couldn’t be answered because of lack of resources. We need support in our mission to make the voices of children heard, respected and acted upon, and we need to help those on the front lines to give comfort, compassion, guidance and life-saving support to children. You can help us by donating to Child Helpline International or contacting your local child helpline.
Right now, somewhere in the world, a desperate child is finding the courage to cry out for help. Will you help her voice be heard?