For many adolescents and teens, social distancing and remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic means that their primary interactions with peers are happening online rather than in person. And that fact may be leading to more instances of cyberbullying – an increase of as much as 70%, according to some initial research.
With or without a pandemic, however, online bullying is a large and growing problem. More than half of U.S. teens have reported some type of experience with cyberbullying, defined as aggressive online behavior that includes harassment, insults, threats, or spreading rumors. Nearly 20% of U.S. high school students report being personally cyberbullied at some point.
According to the CDC, young people who experience bullying are at increased risk for anxiety and depression, sleep difficulties and problems with school, among other issues.
Complicating this situation is the fact that teens’ support networks are currently more limited; many can’t visit a guidance counselor, teacher or coach to talk about what may be happening online or ask for help. In many cases, they may not want to talk to their parents either, out of concern that their technology use will be restricted.
However, parents do play a key role in how their kids interact with others online. A recent New York University study showed that adolescents who perceive their parents to be loving are less likely to engage in cyberbullying themselves. Other types of emotional support, including how strongly teens feel that their parents help and understand them, also contributed to the likelihood of whether young people engaged in cyberbullying behavior, the study found.
It is especially important now for parents to understand how children are cyberbullied so action can be taken to stop it, the NYU researchers said. They pointed out some of the most common cyberbullying tactics, which include:
• Posting comments or rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing.
• Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to hurt themselves.
• Posting a mean or hurtful picture or video.
• Pretending to be another person or creating a false profile online in order to solicit personal information about someone.
• Posting mean or hateful names, comments, or content about someone based on race, religion, ethnicity or other personal characteristics.
• Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone.
During October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month, anti-bullying organizations around the country focus on bringing awareness to the important issue of bullying. StopBullying.gov, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also provides resources to help parents prevent, respond to, and take action against cyberbullying.