Social Distancing Measures Encourages Cyberbullying Among Children

Anti-Bullying Awareness Week runs from the 11-15 November 2020. In this article Need2Know Books looks at the effects that social distancing and lockdown measures have had on children as social media dependency and online screen time increases, creating more opportunities for cyberbullying. For further information the Essential Guide to Bullying by Jennifer Thomson is a great resource.

Enhanced anxiety and stress are not the only conditions parents and caregivers need to be careful of in this world of ‘new normal.’  A recent multidisciplinary researchreport found that the consequences of quarantine and social distancing measures are themselves key risk factors for mental health issueswhich includes cyberbullying among children.

There is no question that bullying numbers will rise in 2020 as many school’s moved classes online during the Spring and Summer months. This Increase in online screen time has created more opportunities for cyberbullying and harassment. Unfortunately, one of the darker sides of COVID-19 is the rise of racial issues and cyberbullying among children. Recent research has found that because the virus originated from Wuhan, China and has largely been referred to as the “Chinese virus”, this has increased bullying among children of Asian descent who are at a greater risk of racial bullying than their classmates. Bullying has largely been done through private and text messaging in a ‘virtual’ environment.

More than 1.5 billion children worldwide have been affected by school closures. As a result, children have been forced to go online for learning as well as for hobbies and social activities.

  • it has been reported that 82% of parents said that their children’s screen time has increased during lockdown
  • 30% said that their children were having an extra four hours or more of non-school related screen time per day
  • Children, especially adolescents and teens, are spending a greater amount of time on apps such as such as Zoom, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

Prior to the pandemic parents have been extremely concerned about their children’s screen time and have struggled to limit this. The problem that has always faced parents is that they cannot always protect their children from cyberbullying, grooming and inappropriate messages online.

Cyberbullying in the virtual world

Despite some of the positive benefits of online learning research has found that the darker elements of school life transitioned online.

  • Cyberbullying has been on the rise before lockdown – some reports suggest that just 20% of bullying takes place at school now.
  • Cyberbullying incidents increased by 70% between March and April this year when lock down was at its peak.
  • The strain placed on mental health caused by being confined to the home for weeks at a time could be making matters worse.

The UK government has published guidelines online titled “Coronavirus (Covid-19): support for parents and carers to keep children safe online” which is available to view.

Tips and Advice

  • Have the ‘talk’ open the lines of communication between yourself and your child. Discuss what cyberbullying is and what to do when it happens.
  • Don’t be afraid to set guidelines and take control of what your children see and do online.
  • The applications used by schools all have tools for reporting abuse. Show your kids where to find the abuse reporting tools and how to fill in the forms. 
  • Keep any evidence of inappropriate messages and report it to a school official ie. teacher, headteacher or school nurse.
  • Use your parental controls. Androids, Apple and Windows all have built in parental controls These allow parents to block inappropriate content, control access to apps, and limit screen time.

We enter an uncertain future with lockdown restrictions continuing into the winter months. It is important that parents find positive ways to curtail the ‘pandemic effect’ and find a balance with online screen time to help avoid cyberbullying. If you are concerned about a child’s mental welfare or notice worrying behaviour, please seek professional advice.

For more information and advice on cyberbullying visit:  bullying.co.uk and childline.org.uk. To learn more about Need2Know Books visit: www.need2knowbooks.co.uk.

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