Fall 2020 is well underway and most students have returned to some form of schooling. Whether your child has returned to in-person classes, is being homeschooled, or is doing a hybrid program (a combination of in-person classes and virtual classes), everyone is adjusting to a new way of instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some students are sad that they don’t get to spend more physical time in the classroom, other students are relieved to be able to complete their studies virtually at home. Students who have experienced bullying at school in the past may be especially grateful that they do not have to go to school and face their bullies. Bullying tactics like hitting, pushing, etc., are no longer a threat to those who have suffered from its effects. But do online classes eliminate bullying? Do students who are more vulnerable to being bullied have a safe haven in virtual classes?

Bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Though taking online classes does curb some traditional forms of bullying, cyberbullying can still occur through online classes. Students now have more liberty to utilize technology during online classes, which can be used to bully their peers. One example is that students have used private messaging, in platforms like Zoom, to pick on students in class with them. It is nearly impossible for a teacher to know if and when this is occurring. Furthermore, as teachers are adjusting to virtual platforms, they may be overwhelmed with instructional needs and not recognize bullying when it occurs during online classes. Social media also becomes more accessible during online classes, making it easy to post cruel words and images of peers in real time without any immediate consequence.

If we look at bullying through the lens of power imbalance, students who were bullied in school for not appearing as wealthy and popular as their peers may be more vulnerable as their offenders now have a small glimpse into the homes of their victims. Bullies who feel they need to show they are more powerful than the peers they harass will more than likely still have that need in virtual classes. With online classrooms providing bullies their undivided attention, it may be more tempting for bullies to say and make gestures to antagonize their peers.

No student should have to live with the anxiety caused by bullies in their online classes. Luckily, as many students are now under the supervision of parents and guardians at home, we have the power to help decrease cyberbullying on virtual platforms. Here are a few tips to assure that your children are both benefiting from and promoting a safe space for themselves and their peers in online classrooms.

Kindness Starts at Home

As we have shifted back to spending more time with our families at home, make sure that you are modeling kind behavior in the home. Teaching your children about the beauty of different cultures and customs can help them understand their peers, rather than criticize them. If your child is being bullied in class, teach them the proper steps to have the behavior decreased. Retaliating may feel good to your child in the moment but helping them to understand kindness in the midst of cruelty is a lesson they can carry with them for years to come.

Check In with Your Children About Bullying

Do not assume that because your child is at home that they are not experiencing bullying in school. Ask them about their school day. Get details about their classes and how they felt during instruction. Being bullied can cause feelings of shame for children. They may feel like it’s their fault that they are being harassed and don’t want to bring more attention to the actions, fearing it will cause more bullying to occur. Checking in with your child and giving them the space to talk about how they feel, though it may be difficult for them, can help them process their feelings and identify bullying. Even if your child is not being bullied, having conversations around how they interact with other peers in their online classroom introduces accountability to your child, which can prevent them from bullying others in the future.

Have Open Communication with Your Child’s Teacher

As previously mentioned, teachers are adjusting to a new way of instruction and may not always notice bullying within virtual platforms. Developing an open line of communication with your child’s teacher can help everyone stay on the same page and prevent bullying. Find out what the school’s protocol is for cyberbullying and how it’s being enforced in online classes. Does the teacher have any insight on how your child interacts with others? Do they see any signs of depression or anxiety in your child during virtual instruction? Informing the teacher that your child is experiencing bullying can also help them keep an eye on interactions in the home. The more we are able to communicate with one another, the better chance we have of tackling bullying in online classrooms.

Seek Counseling For Your Child

There are some things that children, no matter how much the offer is presented, simply do not want to talk about with their parents. Bullying can be one of those things. As a school-aged child, it’s hard for them to grasp that their parents are able to understand what they are experiencing. Parents, don’t be offended by this. We were all once children who thought our parents had no idea how to understand our problems. Sometimes it is helpful to allow your child to talk to a professional about being bullied. Having a counselor who can help your child navigate their feelings and provide them with coping skills can help your child get through the academic year. There have been so many transitions this year. Providing your child with counseling services may also help them have a better grasp on all of these changes as well. Though we may not be able to eliminate bullying from online classrooms, providing our children with the tools to process these experiences, while surrounding them with support, can make a world of difference. If you feel your child would benefit from counseling, contact Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program. Discovery Mood also provides online and in-person support groups for individuals who need additional support.

April Cox is a permanency specialist II at Professional Family Care Services in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She is passionate about the mental health of individuals and families and prides her work on providing practical ways to promote mental health wellness. April has a BA in sociology and has worked as a therapeutic staff support, family-based counselor, and drug and alcohol counselor before transitioning to child welfare, where she helps foster children and foster families process past traumas. April is passionate about the arts and spends her evenings teaching dance classes to all ages.

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