How to Prevent Cyberbullying During Distance Learning
Cyberbullying is the use of digital communication to harass or bully others. It can include threatening or hurtful text messages, embarrassing photos posted on social media, and mean rumors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, learning and socializing are happening online more than ever. The increased use of digital spaces makes students more vulnerable to online harassment. It is essential to do what we can to prevent cyberbullying during distance learning.
In addition, virtual lessons give students a unique look into their classmate’s homes and lives, which provides material for bullying. The pandemic has everyone on edge and can increase hurtful behaviors and misunderstandings. And since students aren’t with their teachers day-to-day, it’s easier for bullying to go unnoticed and unreported.
As students spend more time online, adults must take steps to prevent cyberbullying so they have safe, productive spaces to learn and connect.
Tips to Prevent Cyberbullying During Distance Learning
Clear expectations, modeling respectful behaviors, and appropriate monitoring from both teachers and parents can help prevent cyberbullying. By taking these steps, you’ll maintain a positive and safe learning environment for your students.
Set Expectations for Respectful Behavior
Set clear expectations and standards for respectful online behavior. Explain that rude comments, taking screenshots of other students and their homes, and other forms of harassment are unacceptable. Define consequences for inappropriate online behavior and consistently enforce them for students who choose to break the rules.
You can also use the acronym “THINK” as a checklist that students should use before posting.
Remind students that although you aren’t physically in the classroom, they should be just as polite, kind, and caring as they are in person. You’re all sharing a challenging experience, and it’s important to come together and support one another.
With older children, co-create a list of rules or norms. Post them in your online classroom or email a copy to all students and parents.
Directly Address Cyberbullying
Talk to students directly about cyberbullying. Explain what cyberbullying is, why it’s unacceptable, and what students should do if they experience or witness cyberbullying.
Offer guidance such as:
- Talk to a trusted adult, like your teacher or a parent, if you feel uncomfortable or hurt by someone’s behavior toward you online.
- Take a screenshot or a picture of the bullying to show an adult.
- If you see cyberbullying happen to a classmate, report it to a trusted adult. You can also stand up for your classmate or reach out to them privately to let them know you care.
Explain to students that bullying is never their fault, and they can come to you at any time for help.
Create a Safe, Connected Learning Environment
Just as you would in your physical classroom, create a safe and connected virtual environment. When students have a sense of safety and belonging, they are both less likely to bully others and more likely to feel comfortable reporting bullying if it occurs. Creating safety and connection is a simple, important way to prevent cyberbullying during distance learning.
Clear and consistent rules, expectations, and routines help children feel safe, especially during these uncertain times. We’ll all experience bumps in the road, but do your best to let your students know what to expect.
Model and promote positive interactions by treating students with kindness, respect, and empathy. If your students feel accepted and celebrated rather than judged, you’ll increase their sense of safety and comfort in your virtual classroom.
Maintain connection by taking a few minutes for greetings and goodbyes at the beginning and end of class. Let students share a “win” from the previous day or something they’re looking forward to doing over the weekend. Even virtually, remember to use students’ names, smile, try to make eye contact, and laugh together.
Encourage and celebrate even small successes. When possible, try to check in with students individually on occasion. Even a quick note that says, “Hi! I know things are tough right now, how are you holding up? Do you need anything?” will mean a lot to the children in your care.
Observe Student Behavior
Keep close tabs on the online behaviors that you can observe, such as interactions on discussion boards or in video meetings. Look for signs like a sudden lack of participation from a student who was previously active and engaged.
It’s more challenging to notice students’ emotional states virtually. Still, building relationships, occasionally checking in one-on-one, and keeping an eye out for changes in behavior and temperament can help you catch and prevent cyberbullying during distance learning.
Partner with Parents to Prevent Cyberbullying During Distance Learning
Parent involvement in student learning is even more important now than before. Keep parents informed about your curriculum, rules, and expectations, including your policies about cyberbullying.
Make parents aware of the signs of cyberbullying, and encourage them to inform you if their child experiences hurtful behavior online. Parents can look for school avoidance, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, decreased self-esteem, increased physical complaints (e.g. headache or stomachache), and declining grades.
Provide both students and parents with helpful resources about cyberbullying, such as lessons from the Common Sense K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum.
Other useful sites for cyberbullying resources include:
- Cyberbullying Research Center
- National PTA
- The Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying from ConnectSafely
- Walk Away Ignore It Seek Help (WITS)
- KidsHealth in the Classroom
With students spending even more time socializing and learning online, it’s important to take these steps to prevent cyberbullying during distance learning.