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Remote Schooling: Keeping Kids Safe From Coronavirus, but At Heightened Risk for Cyberbullying

In order to protect children and their families from COVID-19, it is imperative that schools stay closed as we enter this new school year. The future of whether kids will be able to do a hybrid of online and in-person school is still to be determined based on how the Coronavirus pandemic improves or worsens in months to come. While this is absolutely the correct decision in order to protect children from the virus, it does present some major challenges for them, not the least of which is anticipated increases in cyberbullying.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying or harassment done in any digital format – be it on social media, discussion boards, text messages or anything not in-person. It is typically threatening and cruel in nature and, because there can often be no real name or face to the bully, is often more aggressive and long-lasting than in-person bullying. Anyone can cyberbully and because of the anonymity of the Internet those who bully online often detach from the real impacts of their actions. Though physical bullying is terrible and should not exist, cyberbullying is often perceived by victims as being worse because things on the Internet last forever. Forty-one percent of children surveyed reported that they felt social anxiety increase due to being the target of cyberbullying. The threats to children are projected to only continue to grow more and more as kids are being forced to stay home.

Mental Health

A recent study was conducted which looked at the long term impacts of cyberbullying on a child’s mental health Tatiana Falcone, M.D. of Cleveland Clinic said about the survey, “Cyberbullying actually has a long-term impact on mental health. In this study, they looked at the incidence of depression, anxiety and PTSD, and they found that a lot of the kids who were cyberbullied also have increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.” This is believed to be because children can revisit the harmful things said to them or about them. While a majority of cyberbullying occurs among people who know each other, some children are online “friends” with people they have not ever met. These negative impacts are only expected to worsen during the Coronavirus pandemic due to isolation and increased screen time while at home.

Isolation and Increased Screen Time

Something else which has become more of a concern since the Coronavirus pandemic is the fact that these children are missing out on normal, face-to-face interactions. According to the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANY’S), an increase in cyberbullying is to be expected as we continue to rely heavily on technology for communication. It’s anticipated that things like feelings of loneliness and lack of access to peers and teachers – which is sometimes a break for some children in abusive or harmful homes – will lead to an this increase in bullying online.

On top of these feelings of isolation and loneliness, increased screen time will only allow for more exposure to the harshness which lies out there on the Internet. It will expose children to the potential for cyberbullying further and will also cause the social-media induced feelings of inadequacy caused by comparison. These negative feelings associated with the online world is expected to worsen for children as they continue to solely communicate while online.

Tips for Parents

  • Talk with your kids about cyberbullying – This is a particularly difficult conversation to have with your kids. If your child exhibits signs of depression or major changes in attitude, talk to them and find out if they are falling victim to cyberbullying. Try and find out who the child is that is doing the bullying to put a stop to it. StopBullying.gov can be a good resource to help with this conversation.
  • Don’t raise a cyberbully – It is important to not only discuss whether or not your child is being bullied online but to make sure they are not being cruel to other kids online as well.
  • Limit and monitor screen time for children – As mentioned above, increased screen time – particularly now with the Coronavirus causing so many kids to be indoors more than they would have been during a normal summer – can lead to more exposure to cyberbullying. Limiting screen time will help your child to not only avoid cyberbullying, but help their mental health as well. Especially if you are concerned about your child being bullied, monitor their actions and make sure they are staying safe while online.
  • Get your kids out and play (responsibly) – Mental health is incredibly important for kids as so is physical fitness! Getting outside and playing with your kids can help them feel some sense of normalcy during all of this craziness. Not only that, playing and getting some energy out will help their spirits. Get outside, enjoy the sunshine, and just make sure you socially distance if you go in public!

Image by Freepik.