A survey of girls and young women has revealed worryingly high levels of online abuse over the past 12 months, while happiness has declined
In today's world of constant digital interconnectivity, cyber-bullying and online abuse have become a major concern for young people. According to the Office for National Statistics, almost 1 in 5 children aged 10 to 15 years in England and Wales experienced at least one form of online bullying in the year ending March 2020. The proportion equated to roughly 764,000 children. In the same report, girls were slightly more likely to experience online abuse than boys (20% vs 17%).
One charity looking to drive a positive change in cyber-bullying and online harm is Girlguiding. Famously associated with its Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, and Rangers programmes, Girlguiding produces an annual report of its Girls' Attitudes Survey which explores online and social media experiences for girls and young women, as well as many other pressing issues.
In this year's survey of over 2000 girls and young women aged 7 to 21 years, online abuse remains a common issue experienced by many.
According to the survey results, 71% of all respondents experienced some form of online abuse in the past year. The number increased with age too: 49% among girls aged 7–10, 73% among girls aged 11–16, and 91% among young women aged 17–21.
Included among the types of abuse experienced were sexist comments (reported by 50% of 11–21-year-olds), images that made them feel insecure (45%), harassment (28%), and bullying (21%).
Some types of abuse were also found to be more common for minority communities: 42% of LGBQ girls and young women aged 11 to 21 received unwanted messages or threats, compared with 24% who identified as straight, while 40% of disabled girls and young women reported harassment, compared with 25% of those without disabilities.
The survey also asked respondents about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their mental health.
Two-thirds of respondents said they feel more sad, anxious or worried than they did before the pandemic, while 62% said they have felt lonelier over the past 12 months. Those that feel happy 'most of the time' has also decreased to 63%, compared with 81% reported in the same survey 3 years ago. One third of all respondents feel unhappy most of the time.
Exacerbating the effects of the pandemic
The combination of deteriorating mental health among girls and young women and the ongoing online abuse they experience is in desperate need of addressing, says Girlguiding chief executive Angela Salt:
“Girls’ mental health has been significantly impacted. Online harms have been exacerbated. It’s critical that we address the decline in girls’ happiness that we’ve observed since we started this research over a decade ago.
“I’m proud that Girlguiding has provided invaluable support for girls’ mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic and into recovery – helping to build confidence, resilience and giving them a space to have fun, adventures and develop their skills.
“But society must do more to address this worrying downward trend.”
Almost all (94%) girls and young women aged 11 to 21 said that more should be done to protect young people from body pressures online, while 90% said there should be stricter rules to stop advertisers bombarding them with weight loss or ‘appearance-improving’ adverts online.
Read the full Girls' Attitudes Survey report here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health