Bullying and mates top list of kids’ fears

The Dominion Post 21 January 2009

Forget sexual assaults, eating disorders or child abuse – bullying and friendship woes are the biggest worries for youngsters, a helpline says. A free counselling phone line for children and young people received more than 500,000 calls last year, though just 145,000 were able to be answered. The What’s Up helpline gave anonymous advice for personal problems ranging from sexual abuse and homelessness, to feelings of worthlessness and confusion about sexual orientation. Relationship concerns and bullying were the main problems reported by callers, who were 50 times more worried about friendships than child abuse.

Loneliness has increased, more young people want to quit smoking and more than 100 callers had suicidal thoughts or fears a third of whom expressed “immediate intent”.  Others experienced regular physical abuse or felt “at risk of injury or death”. On average, the confidential helpline received more than 1400 calls a day last year. It has been running since 2001. A 2008 summary, made public yesterday, shows relationship problems with family, friends or partners accounted for half the year’s calls. Twelve and 13-year-olds were the helpline’s biggest users. Peer relationship problems were callers’ single biggest concern. Bullying was second, though it was the leading problem for boys and children aged nine to 11. Nearly 100 children were judged at risk of imminent harm by counsellors last year. About half were referred to emergency agencies such as police or Child Youth and Family.