Increased stress and isolation, more time online, and limited availability for adult monitoring during the COVID-19 global pandemic create a ripe context for youth cyberbullying – defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as bullying that occurs through technology – also known as electronic bullying.1
“Many kids are also bored and when kids are bored, they don’t just spend more time online, but can also get into mischief online,” says Dr. Sue Limber, professor in the Institute on Family & Neighborhood Life at Clemson University.
Cyberbullying is a serious public health concern that occurs through online settings such as text, apps, social media or gaming.2 Both cyberbullying perpetrators and victims have increased risk of low self-esteem, 3 depression, social anxiety, and substance use. 4 Both are at higher risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.5
In 2019, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey 6 indicated nearly 16% of high school students had been cyberbullied in the previous year 7 The problem has increased with more youth on social media and with personal phones and tablets 8. The COVID-19 crisis has the potential to push cyberbullying into a crisis of its own.
Parents, teachers, schools, and Title V agencies all have a part to play in preventing cyberbullying – especially during this unique time.
Parents are spread thin managing remote learning, childcare, and work. Dr. Jennifer Leonardo, director of the Children’s Safety Network and mother of four, says, “it is more difficult than ever to monitor screen time and hold the ground on pre-pandemic screen time rules.”
Parents can monitor screen time by:
- using parental control software
- limiting the amount of time kids spend online
- limiting the types of social media and apps kids use
- ensuring computers, phones, and tablets are used in shared spaces such as living rooms
Parents can make kids feel safe talking about their experiences as a victim or bystander and talk with kids about appropriate online behavior and consequences for inappropriate behavior.9
Teachers are under enormous pressure to pivot to virtual learning environments while delivering the same high-quality education and creating a familiar classroom community. Those “school communities are founded on developing trusting relationships in a classroom. A remote learning environment can create barriers to fostering those relationships.” said Mr. Seth Baker, a fifth-grade teacher in Oak Park, Illinois.
Teachers can work to create safe communities in their virtual learning environments by:
- being vigilant in virtual environments to ensure the safety of students
- fostering the community and trust needed to ensure students feel comfortable reporting cyberbullying
- focusing attention on social and emotional learning
Schools are encouraged to continue existing bullying safety plans previously in place for individual youth10 and provide bullying and cyberbullying prevention programming and social emotional learning curriculum. Dr. Jan Urbanski, director of Safe & Humane Schools at Clemson University, indicates the core components of bullying prevention programs can be translated to online settings.
Title V Agencies
Title V Agencies play a unique role in providing evidence-based and evidence-informed support and resources to schools. “Bringing in Community Mental Health Agencies to supplement schools with resources and support may be the type of support schools need now during COVID,” says Limber.
The good news is bullying and cyberbullying are preventable. Parents, teachers, schools, and Title V Agencies can take action to reduce cyberbullying and provide supportive environments for children to thrive.
2020 CSN Bullying Prevention Resource Guide
CSN Factsheet: Bullying Victimization among U.S. Youth, August 2018
CSN Webinar: How Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Can Help Prevent Bullying, August 2018
1 Preventing Bullying |Violence Prevention| Injury Center |CDC. (2020, October 23). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/fastfact.html
2 What Is Cyberbullying. (2020, September 15). Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it
3 Kowalski, R. M., & Limber, S. P. (2013). Psychological, Physical, and Academic Correlates of Cyberbullying and Traditional Bullying. J. Adolesc. Health, 53(1), S13–S20. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.09.018
4 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools. (April 2014). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf
5 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools. (April 2014). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf
6 What Is Bullying. (2020, September 15). Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/what-is-bullying#frequency
7 What Is Bullying. (2020, September 15). Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/what-is-bullying#frequency
8 Tween Statistics (9- to 12-year-olds) - Cyberbullying Research Center. (2020, December 21). Retrieved from https://cyberbullying.org/tween-statistics
9 Cyberbullying During COVID-19. (2021, January 01). Retrieved from https://www.stompoutbullying.org/blog/Cyberbullying-During-COVID-19
10 J. Urbanski, personal interview. (December 4, 2020).