Online School and Bullying – Know the Signs and How to Prevent It - Nemours Blog


Online School and Bullying – Know the Signs and How to Prevent It

Online School and Bullying – Know the Signs and How to Prevent It

Many children have gotten used to going to school and learning virtually since the beginning of the pandemic. But now, some students are facing a new form of cyberbullying via the chat functions on Zoom, Google Media, or whichever tool their school district uses for online learning. School administrators, teachers, and parents should know the signs of this type of bullying and work together to prevent and stop it.

When the Chat Becomes Mean

Virtual meeting and classroom tools have become useful to educate children during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, parents and teachers are seeing that some students are using the chat function to make fun of other kids, taking screenshots or photos to ridicule their looks, social status, and what they have or don’t have in the background. Unlike an incident that happens in school and is often quickly dealt with and then forgotten, shared photos and messages can last forever, or at least feel that way for a child.

When one child begins making snarky remarks about another, it can often become like a landslide of teasing. Kids’ brains are wired for reward. With cyberbullying, kids are looking for a reaction, and getting one may give them a thrill or attention and this may encourage more of the same.

Boundaries are definitely looser in online learning situations. Many times, teachers are encouraging kids to use the chat features so they can still socialize even while they are distanced. Teachers are watching chats during class when they can. But it’s difficult for them to catch everything that flies by on the chat screen while they’re also trying to hold class.

Parents are likely also unaware, since they’re typically not at their child’s side continuously throughout the school day, especially if they are also working from home or in meetings.

Know the Signs of Cyberbullying in the Virtual Classroom

Everyone is trying to figure out how life operates during this new normal, but both parents and teachers should check in with kids from time to time to see how things are going.

If you notice any signs that your child may be getting bullied, talk to them about what’s going on. The following behavior changes could be a hint: 

  • Loss of interest in school
  • Unwillingness to log on to class
  • Not sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Refusing to put their camera on when they log in

Prevent Cyberbullying in Online School

Both parents and teachers can also prevent bullying with several strategies.

  1. Remind kids that whatever they say can be seen by both the teacher and the principal, even if it is in the chatroom.
  2. Coach kids in “small talk” so they don’t immediately go to whatever gets a laugh or a reaction.
  3. Encourage social interaction with peers outside of the school day. A lack of socialization or “social buildup” is happening much more often while kids are isolated and not spending time with peers in an in-person classroom. This may still be remote, but one-on-one one activity with friends online helps with socialization during times of quarantine or isolation. They can play a digital game together, build Legos over Zoom, or simply just hang out via a Zoom chat.
  4. Discuss flexibility for school time, like meeting outdoors with a teacher and a few classmates, or one-on-one time with teachers.

In the end, it’s important to remember that everyone is learning how to cope with new challenges, especially when it comes to teaching and learning. This is a challenging time for everyone. Keep in mind that it’s no one’s fault and to give both teachers, your kids, and yourself some grace.

Karen Wohlheiter, PhD

Karen, Wohlheiter, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist in the Division of Pediatric Behavioral Health at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Del.