Worried about a friend?
Are you worried about something your friend is going through?
It might be that you have noticed that something has changed – for example, they are behaving a bit differently than usual, aren’t spending time with you or other friends, or seem distracted or unhappy.
Or it might be that they have come to you for help. If your friend tells you about a problem which you think might be putting them in danger, it’s really important to help them to get support from an adult they trust, or an organisation who can help them.
Whatever you are worried about, you can talk to Childline about your concerns on the phone or online at any time of day or night.
Here’s some advice on some of the things that can happen online that friends might need our support with.
Are you worried about pictures of your friend that are online?
Sometimes, a young person’s nudes get shared around online. If this has happened to a friend, you’re probably really worried for them.
It is illegal to share naked photos of under 18s. But that doesn’t mean your friend will be in trouble. Although every situation is different, police guidance strongly states that the young person in the image should not be criminalised. You’ll find more information in our article ‘Selfies: the naked truth’.
What it does mean is that the other people who are sharing your friend’s image are breaking the law and could be in serious trouble. Read our article ‘When nudes get shared around’ for further information.
Are you worried about someone your friend has met online?
Has your friend met someone new online? Is that person making them feel uncomfortable, or putting pressure on them? Or are you worried they might not be who they say they are? It can be really hard to tell if someone is genuine online.
But if something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. If your friend is chatting to someone who may not have their best interests at heart, you may notice some of the warning signs below.
Do they seem distant or withdrawn?
Sometimes, we might notice that friends are not spending as much time with us as before, not talking as openly as they usually do, or seeming distracted, sad or withdrawn. There are lots of reasons why this might happen, but it’s usually a sign that something isn’t right. Let them know you are here for them, whatever is happening, and that when they are ready to talk, you’ll be there to listen.
Do they seem more secretive?
Have they stopped telling you about stuff they normally chat about or showing you stuff on their phone – or do they change the subject when you ask if everything is ok? Abusers often try to stop young people telling their friends and family about their relationship.
Have they mentioned someone older?
There are adults who use the internet to try and trick or pressure young people into doing sexual things on video. They can be very clever at convincing a young person that they are in a genuine relationship. Remember, sex and relationships between young people and adults is illegal.
Are they unable to switch off from their phone or social media?
Lots of us spend a lot of time on our phones. But if your friend seems to be on their phone much more than before, or seems worried or stressed when they can’t check for messages, this can be a sign that they might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. If you’re worried, let your friend know that you are concerned for them and here to listen when they are ready to talk. Whether they open up to you or not, make sure you get support for yourself by telling an adult you trust about your concerns, or talking it through with a counsellor at Childline.
If you have reason to believe that your friend is being treated abusively by someone online, tell a trusted adult, and get support and advice by reporting to CEOP.
Having a conversation with a friend
We all want to be there for our friends. If you’re worried they have a problem, often the best thing we can do is ask them.
Remember - people often want to talk about a problem but wait until they’re asked.
If they don’t want to talk, let them know you’re always there to listen. Maybe they’ll change their mind later on.
Remember – you can support your friend by listening to them but a lot of problems you won’t be able to solve on your own. Always seek support from an adult you trust if you think your friend is unsafe.
- Find a good time and place.
Choose a time and place when they will be comfortable, have enough time and won’t be interrupted.
- Ask them ‘open’ questions.
‘Open’ questions are questions that need more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. You can ask questions like ‘how are things going?’ or ‘how are you feeling?’
- Listen more than you talk.
Often just telling someone else about a problem can make someone feel better. Let them know you’re there to listen.
- Tell them you care about them, and won’t judge them.
If they’re feeling down, their self-esteem is probably really low, and they might feel a lot of self-blame. Tell them that you care about them, and that you won’t judge them. Whatever has happened, you know It’s not their fault.
- Tell them what you’ve noticed.
If you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour, tell them what you’ve noticed. Don’t jump to conclusions or try to guess what the problem is – let them tell you in their own words.
- If you think they’re in danger tell them you will seek help.
Don’t promise to keep secrets. If your friend tells you something which means they could be in danger you must seek help from an adult you trust, like a teacher or a parent. You shouldn’t keep secrets if they could hurt your friend or other young people.
- Support them to get help.
If you think your friend is unsafe you should support them to get help. This could be from your parent or carer, teacher, youth worker, police officer, doctor or social worker. Offer to talk to them with your friend. You could also tell them about organisations they can contact like Childline or CEOP.
- Help them weigh up the pros and cons.
If they’re worried about telling someone or getting support, help them consider the positives and negatives of talking to an adult. Help them consider different possible outcomes and what they want to happen.
- Get support for yourself.
You probably feel very anxious about what your friend has told you. You too need support to deal with what has happened. Talk to an adult you trust about how you are feeling. Remember, you can call Childline to talk to someone on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk.
- Don’t take it all on yourself.
Be realistic about the situation. You might have done all the right things, but you still might not be able to help your friend. Remember, what has happened is not your fault and you have done your best to get help. Make sure you are getting the support you need yourself.