The coronavirus pandemic has created many unexpected and unforeseen challenges for parents and their children across the nation. Many schools closed and shifted learning online at the same time that non-essential businesses and activities shut down, increasing the amount of time many students spent online participating in digital activities. While anxiety levels and depression may have peaked in April, bullying has only gotten worse.

Cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats or makes fun of another person online. This can be done using cell phones or other devices. There is an increased risk for cyberbullying to take place between children now due to restricted at-school contact and more time spent online. Additionally, parents may be “exhausted” and they may lower their guard regarding what their child is doing online during non-school hours. By the beginning of April, an AI company dedicated to monitoring hate speech online noted a 70% increase in the amount of hate speech among teens and children in online chats.

There can be several causes for cyberbullying to occur, including:

  • It’s a confidence booster for the bully.
  • Cyberbullying can be done anonymously.
  • It allows for socially inactive people to feel powerful and less weak.
  • Kids see it as a trend.
  • It serves as entertainment for kids who bully together.

Signs Your Child is Being Cyberbullied

Learning to identify the warning signs that your child may be getting bullied online can help you intervene early and prevent the situation from escalating. These signs include:

  • A decline in grades
  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Mental health symptoms like depression, feeling helpless or decreased self-esteem
  • Changes in eating habits and/or sleep patterns
  • Increased physical symptoms like headaches, stomach upset, etc
  • Avoiding school or peers
  • Demonstrating self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, self-harm, or talking about suicide.

Cyberbullying During Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many teens and children to feel alone and out of control. Being taken from their consistent daily routines and normal school environments has forced a “new normal” that includes increased time and activity online. Being isolated from their friends, educators, peers and mentors can easily affect their confidence and drive. These factors can create a situation where kids can turn to or become the victim of cyberbullying.

According to Dr. Sameer Hinduja, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University, there’s “now an almost limitless number of potential targets and aggressors”, meaning that it is critical for parents and educators to educate themselves on ways to intervene.

Tips for Parents

What can parents do to help their children?

  • Communicate with your kids and teens. Let them know they can trust you and come to you if they experience cyberbullying.
  • Understand the internet and how social media platforms operate and how to report abuse or inappropriate content.
  • Explain the effects of cyberbullying to your children.
  • Define and set your expectations for proper online behavior.
  • Place any home computers in the open.
  • Be creative in finding ways to connect with your children.
  • Practice patience, especially if your kids are expressing frustrations or are easily irritated. This may be their way of figuring out how to navigate their new reality.
  • Support your children using apps like FaceTime, Skype or other video chat options to connect with their friends.
  • Encourage physical activity when/where possible.

Tips for Teachers

According to Dr. Hinduja, here are some tips for how teachers can keep an eye on their students:

  • In any online learning platform and environment, ensure that the rules and expectations are understood by all students immediately regarding appropriate and kind behavior towards others.
  • Establish a way to hold students accountable for their actions or any rule violations.
  • Make sure you are able to keep an eye on your students online interactions and encourage Upstander behavior among your students. This could be sending screenshots or proof of any violations of your rules and expectations.
  • Set a precedent, if possible, and be a positive role model and influence on your students.
  • Make sure to reinforce any and all positive peer interactions that occur in online settings.
  • Most importantly, continue to be there for your students. Especially those who may require a deeper connection, words of encouragement or more strict attention.

Bullying, Mental Health and Substance Use

A combination of chaos, uncertainty, and a changing reality can cause children and teens to feel powerless, anxious, lonely and out of control. It’s important to keep a close eye on your children and understand the internet because so much of their new normal takes place in a virtual landscape. What makes this age of cyberbullying especially high risk is that those being bullied may hesitate to reach out and parents or educators may not witness or be present for the bullying.

Bullying victims are six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke regularly, or develop mental health issues. This can lead to substance use to self-medicate or forget about the problem. If you think your child is bullying or is the victim of cyberbullying, communication and intervention is critical.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.