‘Toxic childhood’ of cyberbullying, social media and hypersexualised culture leads one in five teenagers to self harm

‘Toxic childhood’ of cyberbullying, social media and hypersexualised culture leads one in five teenagers to self-harm

  • World Health Organisation says 20% of 15-year-olds self-harmed in last year
  • New report questioned 6,000 children aged 11, 13 and 15 in England
  • Similar study carried out in 2002 revealed 6.9% had self-harmed
  • Experts put trend down to growing online pressures and sexualisation
  • More girls report feeling unhappy than boys, the report reveals

A ‘toxic childhood’ of cyberbullying, social media and hypersexualised culture is leading one in five teenagers to self-harm, according to experts.

According to a new study by the World Health Organisation, the number of teenagers in England who self-harm has trebled in the last 12 years.

The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) report, which is due to be published this autumn, revealed that 20 percent of the 15-year-olds questioned said they had harmed themselves within the last 12 months.

When a similar study of self-harm in England was published by the British Medical Journal in 2002 it revealed that 6.9 percent of the 6,000 15 and 16-year-olds questioned said they had self-harmed in the previous year.

Some experts have put the worrying trend down to pressures put on children who are increasingly living a higher proportion of their lives online, frequently using social networks which can put added pressed on youngsters.

Children, especially girls, are also increasingly coming under pressure from cyberbullying, and an apparent heightening of sexualisation in childhood.

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at the Young Minds charity, told The Times: ‘Add that to bullying on and offline, the stresses of school and exams, uncertainly about their future and increasing sexual pressures, and it is a very bleak picture,’ she told newspaper.

As part of the HBSC report, 6,000 children aged 11, 13, and 15 living in England were asked if they had self-harmed.

The question was included in the study, carried out every four years, after a number of teachers reported seeing an increase in instances of self-harm, which encompasses actions such as cutting, burning and even biting.

Professor Fiona Brooks, the head of adolescent and child health at the University of Hertfordshire, has been helping to put together the WHO report.

She said that boys and girls aged 11 had displayed a good level of emotional wellbeing, but at 15 a gap had emerged between the sexes, with 45 per cent of girls reporting that they felt unhappy once a week. The same was true of 23 per cent of boys.

She told The Guardian: ‘We don’t yet know enough about why this [poor mental health] is but parents are busy and stressed, and children’s lives are becoming more pressurised. They know they need better grades to get to university, but there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it all.’

She added that teenagers are ‘turning to strategies such as self-harm to manage stress in the short term’.

News of the WHO study comes after government health advisers warned last week that overuse of the internet is causing mental health problems for children.

Public Health England, which issues guidance on good health to the NHS, says there is a clear relationship between the amount of time spent on social media sites such as Facebook and ‘lower levels of well-being’.

The link becomes particularly striking when children spend more than four hours a day in front of a screen – but it kicks in even at very low levels of use, according to the report.

The report also notes that the number of calls to ChildLine about online bullying, suicidal thoughts and self-harm have soared in recent years.

In a separate report, the Children’s Commissioner for England said social media sites were ‘targeting’ vulnerable young people and exposing them to the dangers of sexual exploitation.

Dr Maggie Atkinson also highlighted a surge in the number of under-18s being admitted to adult psychiatric wards.

Publish on www.thedailymail.co.uk on May 22nd 2014

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