THE NATURE of the calls that Limerick Childline volunteer Val Beegan gets from children has changed enormously in the 25 years she has been doing her job.
What hasn’t changed is that children need to talk and be heard.
The Corbally woman has had conversations on the 24/7 listening service about everything from popstar heartthrobs to suicidal ideation.
“The internet has changed everything,” she told the Limerick Post.
“Social media, online bullying, and emotional abuse are all impacting children and there’s a horrifying lack of innocence among even the youngest callers.”
“The last three years particularly I’ve noticed the changes and I don’t think parents realise the kind of completely inappropriate adult material they are being exposed to.”
Even when parents monitor childrens’ activity, Val says, friends and older children provide ways to gain access to explicit content.
Val says the internet is the place where children go now for “anything they want to know about sexuality, drinking, and drugs, and it’s not always the legitimate health websites they look on.”
Val was speaking with the Limerick Post as Childline launched their new ‘Let’s Sweat it Together’ campaign, a push to get people talking about what’s bothering them.
Childline experience from calls has revealed that online bullying and peer pressure are having a huge adverse effect on childrens’ mental health.
“[For children] online is all about popularity and judgement,” Val explains.
“Their bodies are being judged. It spotlights how people socialise. If a friend posts a picture of an outing or event that a child wasn’t invited to, they can be devastated.
“Young people have been driven to suicide. We know that. Children bottle these things up. They often don’t know how to talk to their parents about it. It’s so dangerous.”
Her advice to parents is to keep track of what children are doing online and talk to them about how to stay safe in the digital space.
Val also believes there should be a formal school programme on internet safety and handling social media pressures, adding that “it can’t all be left to parents”.
This spring, Childline is calling on schools, businesses and individuals to take part in the Let’s Sweat it Together campaign by walking a lap while having a chat with a friend, family member, or colleague.