Caroline O’Sullivan said the vast majority of calls to the ISPCC’s Childline service were from “ordinary, everyday children” with high levels of anxiety and a lack of resilience when faced with issues in their lives.
The service receives between 1,000 and 1,200 contacts every day and the most recent ISPCC annual report, published in the summer, showed Childline received 422,000 calls in 2015.
The charity also said that the number of calls relating to child and adolescent mental health had continued to increase and Ms O’Sullivan said this was in part because children were “not developing skills to look at the positives and negatives of a situation”.
“Very often it can be down to the parents, that we are always ready to jump in,” she said.
“Children have to be able to make mistakes. They need to be able to cope with adversity and problems as they come up.
“We seem to be unable to let our children grow up.”
She stressed that parents often intervened for good reasons, and said: “I am not trying to fault being a parent because being a parent is tough.”
However, she said parents can also “put themselves under too much pressure — they are supposed to be perfect parents”.
The ISPCC has reordered its services in recent years to promote the idea of resilience among the young people who use them, based around the tenets of “I am, I can, I have”, focussing on self-esteem, a sense of independence, and being able to reach out for help when required.
An academic study has also shown the benefits to children of utilising services such as Childline.
The study, published in academic journal Psychology and Society, was based on a sample of 189 children aged 13 to 18 from two secondary schools in the greater Dublin area.
The participants were in three groups — those who used the ISPCC services such as Childline, those who did not but had reported a stressful life event in the previous six months, and non-service users who did not report a stressful event in the previous six months.
It found that “respondents who reported a stressful life event within the six months prior and who used the ISPCC services reported lower levels of stress than respondents who reported a stressful event but didn’t use such services”.
“While tentative, the general trend from the analysis was that the social support services offered by the ISPCC may be a factor in reducing stress levels among service users.”
The authors of the study, Prakshini Banka of Trinity College Dublin and John Hyland of the DBA School of Arts, advocated more research in the area but said the findings offered “encouragement” in how the reduction of stress can benefit mental health among younger people.
At the time of the launch of the last ISPCC annual report, which included the figures in relation to the use of childline, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone had underlined the importance of youth mental health and said she was considering an option which would see all children’s services handled by one agency.
A spokesperson for the minister said yesterday that that option was still under review.