Home & Family
COVID-19 continues to sweep through the nation, resulting in the closing of many schools, including pre-K all the way through college. What was once a normal day in a school building suddenly became at-home learning environments. Much of this at-home-learning meant students spending an increased amount of time online. In this environment, students that were prone to bullying at school, may have resorted to cyberbullying instead.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying, usually conducted by teens, is harassment using technology. It involves posting rumors, threats, sexual remarks, a student’s personal information, or other insults. Today, bullies hide behind social media sites now more than ever. Cyberbullying is more prevalent and harmful because victims can read undesirable texts and emails at home during any time of day. In addition, victims feel greater dishonor since the Internet has the potential of reaching millions of online viewers.
With the onset of COVID-19 and safer-at-home restrictions, America continues to conduct many routine activities online. That means that more students access the Internet for social, as well as educational purposes. Naturally, cyberbullying is on the rise with more people online. An estimated 81 percent of organizations that monitor cyberbullying activities reported an increase in the number of incidences during the past six months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System also reported that nearly 15 percent (14,595) of surveyed Alabama youth are being bullied online. As cyberbullying incidences continue to rise, there are signs that parents and guardians can look for to determine whether kids are being bullied online.
Symptoms of Cyberbullying
Approximately 20 percent of bullying incidences are not reported. Children may try to resolve the issue on their own first before coming to an adult. However, children who are bullied may exhibit one or more of the following signs:
- increase or decreasing use of digital devices
- falling grades
- change in eating and sleep habits
- complaints of being ill
- withdrawn behavior and signs of depression
- self-destructive behavior and suicide
What to do if Bullying Occurs
In addition to keeping communication open, consider the following actions to put a stop to cyberbullying:
- Be aware of what your children are doing online.
- Don’t ignore cyberbully. Immediately address the situation. Ask questions to learn who is involved and what happened. Keep a record.
- Report the incidences to the service provider. If it involves a student who attends the same school as your child, inform the school. If necessary, contact the police.
- Help children understand what bullying is and the adverse effects it has on other people.
The Alabama 4-H at Alabama A&M University also offers a program designed to reduce bullying in schools and communities called the Helping Youth Promote Empathy (HYPE) initiative. The HYPE program promotes empathy as a method of bullying prevention for school-age children 5-18. The sessions identify the four types of bullying (verbal, social, physical and cyberbullying) and practice strategies to stop bullying when it occurs.
Contact Angela Williams, Alabama 4-H and youth development specialist, at (256) 372-5713 for more information about HYPE or other Alabama 4-H youth programs.