You hear Childline, you think abuse. Battered and molested children. Neglect. Evil parents.
Not many people actually realise that those cases are just the tip of the iceberg for Childline, and that it’s a service that could prove useful at some point to practically every child in the UK.
What Do I Know?
I don’t mean to come across as patronising, or as some do-gooder Know It All, I just want to share what I know about Childline as I think it’s a tool that could prove useful to any parent or guardian.
I’ve been volunteering for Childline for almost 3 years now. I completed the fast-track training session and have been volunteering for my weekly 3.5 hour counselling shift every week ever since – or near enough, anyway!
Volunteering For Childline
Sometimes it gets tough. On one hand, you become familiar with taking calls from young people who are suicidal, self-harming, suffering abuse, battling eating disorders, illnesses, exposed to drugs and alcohol abuse in their homes, fostered – the list is pretty endless. On the other hand, every week brings something new and different to cope with, and often something shocking and disturbing.
Childline do go to great pains to support their volunteers, not just through the training, but throughout every single shift as well, and the supervisors in the base I volunteer in are all wonderful, supportive, kind, caring people. They go out of their way to make you feel valued and appreciated, not least in the endless cups of tea, cake and biscuits volunteers are supplied with throughout each shift!
What Can Young People Talk To Childline About?
Arguably the biggest myth surrounding Childline is that it is available for kids suffering extreme abuse. This simply isn’t true. Childline counsellors are available to talk to young people about absolutely anything they want to, however big or seemingly trivial. Although abuse, suicide and self-harm calls make up a significant proportion of calls, many young people call about bullying, issues with friends or family, issues with parents, divorce, school work, or because they’re lonely or even bored. Counsellors are trained to accept any problem or reason for the call, and no young person is ever turned away from Childline.
In fact, it doesn’t matter whether a kid calls claiming they’re in the midst of an alien abduction or are being chased down the street by a giant biscuit, as a Childline counsellor, you accept what they’re saying as true and roll with it.
The call about the masturbating cat was definitely one of my favourites – especially as I had to take it within earshot of an ex-pupil of mine. Awkward.
Children Bottle Things Up
Kids don’t share everything with their parents. Fact.
If you’re honest with yourself, you can probably recall events in your childhood – particularly during high school or your teenage years – that caused you distress or sadness that you would never dream of sharing with your parents. Possibly bullying, issues with friends, questions about the opposite sex, fights you had with your parents, their divorce even.
So if you didn’t talk to your parent, who did you talk to? Anyone?
Some young people have truly great relationships with their friends and can confide in them. Some have close relationships with other family members; older siblings, grandparents, extended family members etcetera.
Not all young people feel they can talk to someone they know comfortably and in confidence. A lot feel embarrassed or ashamed about what they’re thinking and feeling, and so won’t talk to anyone about it, and bottling things up can become quite a negative thing for them.
How Can Childline Help a Child?
Firstly, Childline is a totally confidential service for young people, unless that young person’s life, or someone else’s life, is in danger. This means young people can be open and honest with Childline without worrying about what they’ve said being passed on to anyone else. This can be an incredibly liberating thing to a child.
Secondly, Childline never tell a child what to do, or promise things will be OK, or tell them they should do this or should to that. They listen to children for at least the first 15 minutes of a call, without there being any talk of what can be done about the problem. They explore the child’s feelings as thoroughly as they can, and this in itself is a hugely powerful thing, as it’s not often children can totally pour their hearts out, and a lot of the time this is simply all that’s needed to make them feel better.
Thirdly, when discussing what a child can do to fix a certain situation, whether it be a problem at school, or with parents, or with abuse, they let the child decide what’s right for them and explore all the ideas the child may have had and all the possible outcomes these choices may lead to. This empowers the child, giving them control over the situation and the power to choose what is right for them, rather than being told.
So How Can Childline Help MY Child?
Childline is free and available to all young people up to the age of 18 24/7.
As a parent, it’s normal to feel totally helpless when it comes to your child and their problems. There is no parenting manual that has a step-by-step guide on How To Help If My Child is Being Bullied, How to Protect Your Child When You’re Getting Divorced, or What Can I Do If I Discover My Child is Self-Harming? A lot of the time, you’re relying on a combination of your own experiences, advice from others, common sense and information you’ve found on the Internet.
I honestly don’t believe there is any shame in providing your child with the number for Childline, telling them a little bit about the service and telling them it’s OK if they want to talk to someone to get things off their chest. It’s not a failure as a parent if your child doesn’t confide in you about absolutely everything. Find me a teenager that does and I’ll find you a pig that can fly.
Since volunteering, I’ve also found a lot of kids won’t talk to their parents because they’re trying to protect them from the worry, or because they know their parents have something else they’re dealing with at the time. As a parent, I’m sure you’re screaming “but I’d drop everything immediately if I knew my child was going through something and needed me”, but, being brutally honest, many kids just won’t give you the chance to do that.
I give Childline’s number to loads of kids at school, and I will give it to my kids when they’re old enough to use a phone.
I would never dream of telling anyone what to do but, if you’re concerned your child may be bottling something up, I would suggest you have a look at the Childline website, see what the service has to offer, and think about giving the number to your child as a means to coping with the myriad of trials and tribulations of growing up.
(N.B. I’ve used a lot of images from the NSPCC/Childline website for two reasons. Firstly, no-one is allowed to take pictures in a volunteer base for confidentiality reasons and, secondly, their posters are really simple but really effective – worth having a look at online!)