Helping parents when their child needs help

On UN Day of Parents, helpline volunteer Antonia Hamilton writes about how she supports parents worried about bullying and social media – and how she keeps up with the complexities of life today.

I recently read an article about a school girl being physically assaulted in Paisley by another child from her school. While this in itself was shocking, even more disturbing was the fact that it was filmed by other children at the school and subsequently distributed via social media. This video was eventually published by various newspapers.

This video and article particularly resonated with me. As a helpline volunteer with ParentLine, I often hear from parents who are worried both about bullying and the increasing role of social media in their children's lives. More and more I hear stories of, for example, boys soliciting inappropriate pictures of girls which then get sent to schoolmates. Often by the time the parent calls ParentLine their child is distressed and frightened.

This is a form of bullying which can have huge repercussions for young people. Once shared it is almost impossible to erase images from the internet. As well as the obvious distress and hurt, it can affect school, friendships and relationships within the family.

When a parent calls about this type of bullying, I listen and acknowledge how difficult it is for the child involved and for the caller who may be feeling helpless and out of their depth. Some people need an outlet to vent their anger and frustration, while others look for more practical advice about how to help their child who may be feeling ashamed and vulnerable. All of our calls are treated in total confidence, unless we believe that there is a risk to either a child or the caller.

While we do recommend strategies to help, parents and carers are the experts on their own child, and are best placed to help them deal with the difficulties they are experiencing.

Having talked through what has been happening and what they have already done, the caller is often surprised to find their own way forward. I may recommend speaking to the school and to the police if appropriate, always keeping the child’s wellbeing at the centre.

Sometimes there is no 'quick fix' and we discuss sitting with the difficult feelings around what has happened, which can help the child realise that these feelings can be tolerated given time. We have a network of other services that we can refer callers to if we feel they need more specialised advice.

If the issues are ongoing and causing significant harm to a child, I will offer to phone back at a later date to check how things are going. Sometimes we offer continuing support with regular scheduled calls.

Technology is an aspect of all our lives that has changed significantly over the past decade, but is one that we cannot ignore. As a volunteer at ParentLine I feel lucky that I am regularly offered training with specialists about online safety and bullying. Although initially it can be daunting to try to keep up, it helps me feel equipped to deal with the wide range of issues that our callers bring to us every day.

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