Cyberbullying in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crisis
Due to school closures, children are spending countless hours online. In addition to virtual learning throughout the day, they have more time to peruse their social media accounts, play online games, participate in social media challenges and explore new online content. A cyberbullying expert from Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Sameer Hinduja, cautions that these circumstances may lead to an increase in cyberbullying among youth.
The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberbullying as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices. Their 2019 national study of 5,000 middle- and high-schoolers found that more than 36% said they had been cyberbullied during their lifetime, while over 17% said they had been cyberbullied within the previous 30 days.
Cyberbullying is unique in that it happens outside the view of adults, can be anonymous, can reach a large audience and is easier for the perpetrator since they are at a greater physical distance of their victim.
Adults should be aware of the warning signs for cyberbullying among children:
- Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting
- Emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on the device
- Hiding their screen or device when others are near, and avoiding discussion about what they are doing on their device
- Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear
- Avoiding social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past
- Becoming withdrawn or depressed, or losing interest in people and activities
How Adults Can Help Stop Cyberbullying
- Ensure children are visible when they are using their cellphones/tablets for long periods of time. Monitor their usage.
- Learn how various social networking apps and sites work. Become familiar with Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Discord, Dubsmash, Snapchat, Whisper, Kik, etc. Ask your children to show you their profile pages.
- Talk regularly and specifically with your children about online issues. Let them know they can come to you for help if anything is inappropriate, upsetting or dangerous.
- Build trust with your children. Set time limits, explain your reasons for them, and discuss rules for online safety and Internet use. Ask your children to contribute to establishing the rules; they'll be more inclined to follow them.
How Kids Can Stop Cyberbullying
- Protect your accounts. Don’t share your passwords with anyone – even your closest friends - and password-protect your phone so no one can use it to impersonate you.
- Don't respond to any emails, app messages or text messages sent by cyberbullies.
- Don't be an accomplice by forwarding any of the messages to other kids.
- Save, screenshot and print out all the messages as proof of cyberbullying.
- If you are being bullied, tell a trusted adult immediately to get help.
- Use the account and privacy settings within each device, app or network to control who can contact and interact with you, and who can read your online content.
- Pause before you post. Make wise decisions with what you are sending, sharing or posting online, considering the possibility that anyone and everyone may see it (including adults in your life).
If Cyberbullying Is Occurring
- Tell your children not to respond to any cyberbullying threats or comments online. However, do not delete any of the messages. Instead, screenshot and save the messages. You will need the messages to verify and prove there is cyberbullying.
- Don't overreact by blaming your children. If they are being bullied, be supportive and understanding. Find out how long the bullying has been going on and assure them you'll work together to find a solution. Let your children know they are not to blame.
- Don't underreact by telling your children to "shrug it off" or just deal with the bullying. The emotional pain of being bullied is very real and can have long-lasting effects. Don't tease them about it or respond with a "kids will be kids" attitude.
- Don't threaten to take away your children's phone or computer if they come to you with a problem. This only forces kids to be more secretive.
- If possible, contact your school's guidance counselors for further guidance. Or refer to Broward County Public Schools resources:
- Complete a “Bullying Complaint Form.” Click here to access one.
- Call Silence Hurts Tipline at 754-321-0911
- Text to CRIMES 274637 (message must begin with “SBBC”)
- Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- If it is occurring on a social network site with an unknown individual, check the social networking site’s Safety Page. Report the cyberbullying to the social networking site. Block the person who is cyberbullying your child.
- If there are threats of physical violence or the bullying continues to escalate, get law enforcement involved.
Cyberbullying is one of the many important issues addressed by Choose Peace/Stop Violence, a collaboration between United Way of Broward County, Broward County Public Schools and Children’s Services Council of Broward County. For more information, visit their Facebook page.