Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Rise in 'lonely children' calling Childline

sad boy
There has been a sharp increase in helpline calls about loneliness

The number of UK children calling the national helpline Childline because they feel lonely has risen sharply.

From April 2008 to March 2009, 5,525 children called the helpline due to loneliness, sadness or isolation, compared to 1,853 five years earlier.

A further 4,399 children were counselled about loneliness as an additional problem, bringing the total to 9,924 - 6% of calls to the helpline.

Counsellors say changes within families and society could be behind the rise.

Analysis of calls by the NSPCC, which merged with Childline in 2006, found family relationship problems, school problems and bullying were the most common issues that came up alongside issues of loneliness.

The report said many of the children counselled in relation to loneliness lacked a network of social relationships or group of friends.

NSPCC ADVICE FOR PARENTS
Take your child's feelings seriously
Let your child know he/she can come to you with problems
Set aside times to hear about his/her day
Make sure your child does not feel isolated within the family
Remind them it is natural for friendships to come and go

"This indicates that it may be the inability of children to relate to people around them that is the problem, rather than the absence of people," it said.

The analysis found one in six loneliness calls were from a child aged 11 or younger.

And girls were more likely to call with issues of loneliness - 6,835 girls and 3,089 boys were counselled.

The report said while loneliness can be part of growing up, it could affect some children in a "debilitating and devastating" way.

Not eating together

Childline counsellors say changes within family structures and society as a whole could be behind the rise in these calls.

"Everyone's so busy all the time," said one counsellor.

"The fact that families and people in general increasingly don't eat together, and then go off and do their own things... I think that social skills among younger people are not being encouraged," said another.

They also suggest the rise may also be down to youngsters being better able to talk about feelings of loneliness.

My mum died three weeks ago and I really missed her today
Jessica, 8

"I think loneliness has always been there. People are now beginning to be more open to talking about it," one counsellor said.

Sixteen-year-old Ravinder told Childline: "I would love to have friends."

Jessica, 8, told the helpline: "My mum died three weeks ago and I really missed her today, because I've broken my arm and want my mum to hold my hand. I feel lonely."

Jade, 14, had been abused and told the helpline: "I have problems at home. My mum doesn't listen to me.

"My uncle raped me when I was 10. My mum still sees him and talks to him. I feel invisible. I feel unloved and like no-one cares."

'Deeply worrying'

Head of Childline, Sue Minto said: "Loneliness has always been a part of some children's lives but it is deeply worrying that more children are contacting us about this.

"Some of the children who contact Childline are lonely because their parents are rowing or divorcing. Others are lonely because someone they love has died.

"Yet others say they are being bullied or have no friends. Nearly one in 10 lonely children report being abused or neglected.

"Lonely children often feel worthless and lack self-confidence and some struggle to cope.

"Calls to Childline show that in the worst cases children became so desperate that they self-harm or even contemplate suicide. The sadness of their stories can be heartbreaking."



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SEE ALSO
Loneliness 'raises cancer risk'
08 Dec 09 |  Health
Social isolation 'worsens cancer'
29 Sep 09 |  Health

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