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For school children, there have been a number of unfortunate consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these, of course, has been the documented loss in school learning that has occurred over the past two years. Another has been the worrisome increase in online cyberbullying. Forced into quarantine, social isolation and online learning via Zoom, young children are now becoming the unfortunate victims of cyberbullying at an alarming rate, according to a new study from researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
The rise of cyberbullying as a result of COVID-19
The study, published in the Journal of School Health, tracked cyberbullying incidents nationwide in children aged 13 to 17 over a multi-year period. In the years leading up to the pandemic, approximately 17% of children reported a cyberbullying incident. In 2021, though, that percentage had jumped to 23%. That means that, on average, nearly one in four kids are now being cyberbullied, and the trend appears to be just getting worse.
Of perhaps more concern, cyberbullying can now be linked to the politicization of the COVID-19 crisis. In other words, kids are suffering for the sins of their parents. Amidst all the rancor and debate over mask mandates, quarantines, lockdowns and “super-spreaders,” kids are learning how to bully other kids online in new ways. The new social norms of the pandemic are providing fertile ground for new cyberbullying threats to emerge.
This threat is most noticeable amongst Asian-American kids. According to the researchers, young Asian-American children comprised the one demographic that appears to be receiving a disproportionate share of the cyberbullying. The researchers hypothesized that this might be due to the “Wuhan lab leak” theory that some people believe (but others do not). And it would certainly be consistent with the claims of the “Stop Asian Hate” movement, which believes that Asian-Americans have been unfairly stigmatized for China’s perceived role in the start of the pandemic.
How to stop future cyberbullying
While the researchers behind this study did not specifically point out how to stop this rise in cyberbullying, there are a few well-known steps that parents and kids can take to stop future harassment or abuse. One of these, quite simply, is a better understanding of how kids are using social media. In the pre-pandemic era – the time when kids were physically going to school each day and approaching within six feet of each other – it was a lot easier for parents to understand what their kids might be talking about online. They were dropping off and picking up their kids from school each day, and knew who was hanging out with whom, and what kids were talking about when they got out of school each day.
Now, in an era of Zoom calls and social distancing, parents might not have any idea of what’s going on. When your daughter tells you she has been talking with a classmate online, parents might not have any idea if this friend is some sort of Queen Bee who might be a future cyberbully. If your son tells you that he has been hanging out with a classmate, parents might not know if this classmate is the kid who’s causing trouble all day with the teacher.
So, if you really care about the mental and psychological health of your child, take time to recognize signs of cyberbullying (such as unexplained sadness), and to understand what’s happening online. Know where your kids are hanging out online, and if need be, set very firm guidelines about which sites they can visit, and for how long. COVID-19 has changed a lot in society, and the people who are most vulnerable now are our kids. We need to take steps to protect them.