Cyberbullying Rates Rise Due to Pandemic

Samantha Scott, Staff Writer

All around the world, students begin their days with craned necks and aching eyes as they spend countless hours attending to the demands of online school.Their minds become cluttered with stress towards managing relationships and keeping up with academics. Amidst the chaos and feeling as if there is nowhere to escape to, they take to Instagram and let these buried feelings spiral out in a sudden cruel comment under a classmate’s post.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in kids and teens using digital platforms, not just for personal use, but for educational purposes as well. For many young people, social distancing guidelines mean the only contact they will have with their peers will be done virtually. This shift to online school and online interaction has brought an increase of online bullying and harassment as well. As a result, there has been a 70 percent increase in cyberbullying since the start of the pandemic according to L1ght, an organization that tracks online harassment. Aside from the increase in technology use, there are other factors contributing to this rise in virtual bullying such as increased stress, isolation, and boredom.

“For some people, getting a rise out of others is entertaining. They know it is hard to be tracked down online making the chances of getting caught slim to none. To stay safe online I would suggest limiting your time spent reading comments and or interacting with people who are just there to troll. They feed off of responses, if you don’t give them one they have less to go off of. If the bullying is beyond ignoring you should report the incident to a trusted adult or your school’s administration team,” Miramonte Wellness Center Intake Specialists Savannah Rose said.

The pandemic has been highly stressful for everyone, and oftentimes when kids feel stressed or confused, they may lash out at others. This lashing out includes making hurtful comments online towards friends or complete strangers. Mandatory stay-at-home orders due can cause feelings of loneliness, which can lead to fragmented relationships. Limited access to the internet can also make kids feel further isolated. In return, they may make mean comments out of frustration, especially if they feel like they are out of the loop within their friend groups. 

“Cyberbullying is terrible because the bullying tends to be worse than that in person because the bully can hide behind a screen or behind a username. Greater social contact online due to COVID-19 may have led to a rise in cyberbullying because of greater opportunities for a bully to act out,” junior Kate Sinha said.

Now that most parents are working from home, they are able to spend more time with their kids than ever before. Parents have the unique opportunity to be especially mindful of what their kids are doing online and how their interactions on social media may be affecting them. One step that parents can take is limiting their children’s screen time and allocating time for offline activities, such as board games or exercise. Parents can also initiate honest conversations with their children to talk about stress brought on by the pandemic and what this feels like for them. This can be followed by discussing how the stress can be addressed. Finally, not being able to see friends is especially difficult for children and teens, as they need those connections to develop. Parents can encourage them to use video chat platforms to stay connected with friends, provided it is in a healthy way. 

“I make it a point to check in regularly on my kids, to make sure they don’t feel like they are falling behind, but more importantly to see how they are feeling overall. I address the uncertainty and make sure that we discuss the reasoning behind staying home and how it is a group effort to bring the spread of coronavirus under control. Screen time is rarely brought up though, because a little extra screen time to allow my kids to safely socialize with friends is definitely important right now,” mother of a Miramonte junior Elizabeth Friend said. 

“Parents can be more restrictive in light of the higher incidence of cyberbullying…While it’s important for parents to have discussions about cyberbullying and what their children can do, teens won’t necessarily share with parents when they are receiving harmful, nasty comments. Besides limiting use of screens for social media purposes, parents can encourage texts, FaceTime and phone exchanges for their children so that communication is personal and safe,” licensed marriage and family therapist Margie Ryerson said to Lamorinda Weekly in an article about adolescents and cyberbullying.

As many emotions build up within the minds of students, they make an attempt to redirect their energy towards activities like sports and time with family. They are wary of the consequences of taking to the internet when stressed or angry and know that directing their emotions elsewhere prevents potential outbursts online.