Classrooms should be safe spaces — but for far too many students, they’re not. Fear, anxiety, and insecurity make learning difficult, if not impossible.
But now, the vast majority of students are staying home. Schools around the country and the world have closed their doors in the ongoing effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Most won’t reopen before the fall.
It may seem there’s a silver lining to all of this: kids and teens who are harassed, taunted, and bullied now have the opportunity to learn in the safety and comfort of their own homes. But the shift to online distance learning may have an unfortunate consequence — an increase in cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is real. Like all bullying, it has devastating effects, from social exclusion to discrimination, from low self-esteem to suicide. But together, we can do something about it. That’s why we’re sharing these tips to stop cyberbullying during COVID-19.
These are stressful times for everyone. Now more than ever, we must unite in love and stand up against hate.
Cyberbullying is any form of bullying or harassment that takes place electronically — through social media, instant messaging, apps, texts, emails, online communities, games, or other virtual spaces. Cyberbullying may involve threats, rumors, hate speech, embarrassing or sensitive personal information, taunting, or sexual harassment. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn’t end with the school day or the school year.
And cyberbullying is a growing problem. In recent years, the percentage of students who have been cyberbullied has nearly doubled — by some estimates, to more than 50%. Yet in many states, there are no laws requiring schools to respond to it.
Because cyberbullying takes place outside of the physical classroom, it’s easy for teachers and other adults to miss. Online, people can say and do things anonymously, with little fear of getting caught. As a result, victims often suffer in silence.
Most schools have shifted to online distance learning, a change that will stay in effect at least through the end of the school year. For some, it’s a relief to no longer deal with bullying in the classroom. But the harassment may continue.
The global situation with COVID-19 has upended most people’s lives. Routines have changed, social distancing is the new normal, and anxiety has skyrocketed. People feel like they’ve lost control. Sometimes, they lash out.
Online, people can be very hostile — while remaining totally anonymous. Behind a screen, people say and do things they never would in “real life.” And others are tempted to pile on. As photos, memes, rumors, threats, and other toxic messages spread, harassment goes viral.
Victims of cyberbullying are overwhelmed by this onslaught of hateful and hurtful content. It’s hard to see a way out, because technology is with us 24/7. For better or worse, it’s part of everyday life. And during COVID-19, tech use is only on the rise.
When schools close their doors, students have less access to trusted adults like teachers, counselors, and coaches. It’s hard for adults to spot the warning signs of cyberbullying, and many victims are afraid to seek help.
This combination of stress, social distance, increased tech use, anonymity, and fear is a perfect storm for cyberbullying. But together, we can stand up to harassment and bullying and spread love instead of hate.
Always remember you’re not defenseless when it comes to cyberbullying. You have the power to mute, block, and delete inappropriate content.
Sometimes people are just looking for a reaction — any reaction. They’re trying to be funny, shocking, or controversial. Maybe they want to pick a fight or see who they can rile up. The best thing you can do is ignore them. Their behavior isn’t really about you. If they don’t get a reaction, they’ll find something else to do.
If the behavior continues or escalates, and you’re being targeted, intimidated, or harassed, don’t be afraid to get help from an adult.
Victims of cyberbullying are often afraid to ask for help. They worry they won’t be taken seriously, that telling will make things worse, or that someone will retaliate against them or their loved ones. They may feel embarrassed, or wonder who they can trust.
If you’re being cyberbullied, it’s important to get help. You don’t have to suffer in silence or solve the problem by yourself. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor, coach, pastor, or another trustworthy adult what is happening. They can help you take steps to protect yourself or, if necessary, they can intervene on your behalf.
Don’t respond to harassing or threatening messages. Take screenshots of them or print them out, then document when and how they happened.
Share this information with an adult or with your school. Report any harassment over social media, like Facebook or Snapchat, directly to the site. If someone is threatening, stalking, or sexually harassing you, contact the police.
The more information you can provide, the better. Most schools and online communities have zero-tolerance policies for harassment, hate speech, and bullying.
How would you know if a friend was being cyberbullied? The signs aren’t always obvious. But here are some red flags to be aware of:
When it comes right down to it, you know your friends. If they seem “off,” don’t be afraid to ask them if something is wrong. Even if it feels awkward, by opening the lines of communication you’re showing them you care. They’ll be stronger with someone in their corner.
If you see someone being cyberbullied, don’t look the other way. Stand with them. Let them know you’re on their side. Take the opportunity to show them kindness and to be their friend. There is strength in numbers, so encourage others to help you. Start a wave of positivity!
Love is stronger than hate. Your support could be the one thing that gets someone through a dark time. It could even save their life.
We are living through a historic event. Most of us have never seen anything like it.
Social distancing isn’t easy. Neither is learning from home, or feeling like we’ve lost control over our daily routines and activities. Most of us are on edge. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is lashing out at others.
In times of stress, we don’t always act our best. We make mistakes, say harsh things, and treat other people unfairly. There is a saying, “hurt people hurt people.” When we are hurting, we sometimes hurt the people around us — either accidentally or on purpose.
If you catch yourself hurting others, own up to it. Apologize to the person you hurt. Acknowledge that you made a mistake. Show them through your actions that you can do better. Forgive yourself and learn from the experience.
If you see someone hurting others, call them on it in a calm and non-confrontational way. Give them a chance to correct their behavior. They may be in pain themselves.
If you feel like you’re losing control of your emotions or behavior, talk to someone you trust. You may need help processing your feelings about current events. That’s normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s okay to be stressed out. Now is the time to practice good self care. Treat yourself gently and lovingly. We are all in this together.
Between school, social media, videos, gaming, and social interactions over text, Zoom, or Skype, we’re looking at screens more than ever. There are pros and cons to this. We’re able to stay connected while maintaining a safe social distance. We can continue our studies. People can work from home. But on the flip side, our news feeds quickly become overwhelming, and we can be exposed to a lot of negativity.
It’s okay to disconnect for a while, whether for an hour, an afternoon, or an entire day. FOMO — fear of missing out — is strong, but everything will still be there when you return.
Taking a media break gives you a chance to practice mindfulness, or to focus your attention on the present moment. Take the opportunity to move your body, feel the sun on your face, pick up a craft or art project, cook up some food, or write a letter. These kinds of activities give us a chance to clear our minds and change our perspectives.
Use this period of increased screen time to maintain and strengthen meaningful relationships with your friends and loved ones. Reach out by phone, FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype. Be a positive force in the lives of others — and allow them to be a positive force in yours. We can stay socially connected even while we are physically distant!
Art heals. Art allows us to be creative, to explore our identities and values, and to express our thoughts and feelings. And anyone can make art! You can write, draw, sculpt, sing, dance, craft, or do anything that makes your heart happy.
Need some inspiration? Join our virtual Free2BeMe art party! Just print out one of our heart templates or draw your own. Fill your heart with imagery and words that represent you — your hopes, dreams, strengths, fears, and feelings. There are no rules. Your heart is your own!
When you’re done, share your art on social with the hashtags #Free2Luv and #SpreadTheLuv. Tag your friends to get them involved. Tag us and we’ll share your creation. As a bonus for participating, we’re randomly giving out free merchandise and gift cards!
Join us in supporting healing, mental health, and self care through the arts. For more information on our Free2BeMe art party and to print out a heart template, click here.
Like you, we’re practicing good social distancing — but our virtual community is stronger than ever!
However you choose to get involved or support the cause, we welcome you with open arms and open hearts. Your Free2Luv family is always here for you!
At the end of the day, you are a human being with dignity and worth. No one can take that away from you. And no one has the right to threaten, intimidate, hurt, or bully you — in person, online, or anywhere else, during COVID-19 or at any other time.
We invite you to join more than 325,000 people in taking our pledge to stand up against bullying and end hate:
I believe LUV is STRONGER than hate
and BRAVER than bullying.
I believe that when we stand together,
we stand strong.
I will be a voice for the voiceless.
I have zero tolerance for bullying
or discrimination of any kind.
I am committed to being the best version of myself to create change.
We are with you. Together, we are stronger!
We respect your privacy. We won’t sell or share your information.