The helplines work to support children and young people, as well as parents/carers, teachers and social workers, in dealing with a range of online issues. Helplines can typically be contacted in a variety of ways including telephone, email, instant messaging and, increasingly, dedicated helpline apps.
One of the real strengths of this network of helplines is the data which is collected, as this can help to spot emerging trends and provides some insight into the challenges facing children and young people when they go online.
The helplines log the calls and contacts that they receive against 19 different categories ranging from commercial risks and threats, cyberbullying, and e-crime to online reputation, sexting and excessive use of technology.
Detailed definitions are provided for each of the 19 categories, so helping to ensure that all helplines have a shared understanding of what is being referred to so that calls can be logged more accurately. The helplines submit data every three months, with the latest figures cover the period from April – June 2015 inclusive.
Key trends and issues
- During the period, a total of 10,540 contacts with helplines were received which concerned online issues.
- Traditionally more females contact helplines and this remains the case in the latest reporting period. However, 30 per cent of helplines had more males than females making contact which is a rise of 12 percentage points on the previous reporting period. A number of discussions have taken place in helpline online meetings and training meetings about how to reach out to boys, with some countries being particularly successful in this area.
The table below indicates the reasons why helplines were contacted.
- Once again, cyberbullying was the most common reason that helplines were contacted. However there has been a drop of 5 percentage points in calls about this since the last reporting period.
- There has been a slight rise in the number of calls concerned with excessive use. This would perhaps concur with recent research showing that more parents have concerns around addictive behaviours online. The ubiquity of mobile and tablet devices among young people could mean that a growth in numbers of those struggling to manage their time online is inevitable as more and more will have access almost 24/7. Research is also finding that more and more young people are accessing the internet through their mobile devices which means that again they have more universal access.
- The category Love, relationships and sex accounts for almost 12 per cent of calls, a figure which has remained fairly constant over the last few years. These are notoriously difficult areas for teens and young people to manage and talk about, and the helplines clearly provide a valuable service in this regard. Helplines noted that the more difficult and sensitive cases tend to be discussed using electronic communication such as IM (instant messaging) or email rather than phone (voice) conversations.
- During the current reporting period, several helplines have noted that there has been a growing number of people contacting them about what is being described as ‘sextortion'. Sextortion refers to the practice where someone is encouraged to share inappropriate images which are then used to blackmail them for money or coerce them into sending more explicit pictures. Helplines are effective in offering support for those individuals who are struggling with this issue but, unfortunately, law enforcement agencies note that often the scams are being organised by criminal gangs in other parts of the world and therefore it can be very difficult to get any legal resolution.
- Privacy is divided into two separate categories: Abuse of privacy and How to protect privacy. Looking back over previous reporting periods, the category for how to protect privacy has seen a fairly consistent number of calls, whereas abuse of privacy has seen a steady rise (from 5 per cent to 10 per cent). If we combine these two categories, then we see that privacy accounts for 14 per cent of contacts which makes privacy the second most common reason that helplines are contacted.
The helplines provide a valuable service to a great many people, but staying abreast of the latest developments in such a fast moving space is challenging. We will continue to update the statistics every quarter and share important information and possible new trends as it becomes available. It is important to remember that these figures are network wide and the local situation can vary quite widely, but we hope that these statistics will provide an interesting overview of some of the issues that are challenging young people online.