How to Prevent Cyberbullying in a Virtual Learning Environment

Bullying is not a new occurrence. It’s something that has occurred in schools and amongst children and even adults for centuries. However, what is new, is the virtual environment that has led to cyberbullying. Therefore, in an online school, children can experience cyberbullying instead of the typical form of bullying that is experienced in traditional schooling environments. 

In this article, we’ll unpack the concept of cyberbullying as well as discuss how parents can help prevent cyberbullying and help their children. 

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a form of harassment or bullying that occurs through electronic communication. Typically this will occur on social media platforms, instant messaging, emails, or other digital means.

In an online schooling environment, this can occur in school forums, online messaging platforms such as Discord, as well as on social media platforms and personal messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp. 

Typically, cyberbullies make use of technology to target, intimidate, humiliate, or harm another individual. Cyberbullying can take various forms, including sending threatening messages, spreading rumours, sharing embarrassing photos or videos without consent, or impersonating someone to cause them harm.

What sets cyberbullying apart from traditional bullying is that digital content can spread rapidly and may be difficult to remove entirely from the Internet, leaving a lasting impact on the victim. This form of bullying can also reach a vast audience, making it even more distressing for the victim.

Is Cyberbullying Illegal?

The legality of cyberbullying varies depending on the jurisdiction and local laws. In many countries, cyberbullying is recognised as a form of harassment and is subject to legal consequences. Laws related to cyberbullying typically fall under broader harassment, stalking, or cybercrime statutes.

Therefore, in severe cases, cyberbullying may encompass harassment, stalking, or even defamation if false and damaging information is spread, which can then be criminally charged. 

In the case of children, there are certain laws that have been specifically tailored to deal with cyberbullying towards minors, as certain legal systems have recognised that they may require different legal measures and rehabilitation programmes.

As laws surrounding cyberbullying differ according to region and/or country, it’s important for parents to familiarise themselves with the laws in their country. 

Facts About Cyberbullying

There are a few facts about cyberbullying that every parent should be aware of and take into consideration if their children are experiencing this. 

  • It’s a prevalent problem: cyberbullying is a widespread problem, affecting individuals of all ages. According to various studies, between 9% and 40% of young people have experienced cyberbullying at least once in their lives.
  • It can impact mental health: cyberbullying can have severe psychological and emotional consequences for victims. It has been linked to increased levels of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and even suicidal ideation in extreme cases.
  • It has a 24/7 nature: in contrast to traditional bullying tactics exercised at school, cyberbullying can occur at any time, day or night, and reach the victim when they are at home. This constant exposure can lead to a sense of helplessness and insecurity.
  • It can have long-term effects: unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying leaves a digital trail that can have long-lasting consequences for victims. Content shared online can resurface and continue to harm the individual years later.
  • Bystanders can contribute: in many cyberbullying cases, there are bystanders who witness the harassment but choose not to intervene. Therefore, bystanders may unknowingly contribute to the problem by not reporting or standing up against cyberbullying.

Examples of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying in its most trivial form can be something as simple as a child being excluded from certain online groups, chats, or social circles, which can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness.

However, it can also be more severe with children being sent repeated offensive, threatening, or derogatory messages to the victim through social media, or messaging apps.

It can also progress to cyberstalking where a cyberbully consistently monitors the victim's activities online. This can include tracking their movements, sharing personal information, or making threats.

For example, cyberbullying can start as a child being excluded from certain virtual social groups. This can then progress to a child receiving offensive messages in public groups and via private messaging. It can then turn into a situation where anything that the child posts online is bombarded with negative and/or threatening responses or with the child’s private information being shared online without their permission. 

How to Stop Cyberbullying

While cyberbullying is dangerous and can happen without parents having knowledge of its occurrence, there are ways in which parents can prepare their children for its effects and prevent it from taking place

Establish Open Communication

The foundation of any effective parent-child relationship is open communication. The key to stopping and preventing cyberbullying from becoming concerning and damaging to a child is for them to inform their parents of what is occurring. The parents can then help a child cope with what is occurring and potentially help them stop this from continuing. 

We suggest that parents encourage their children to talk freely about their online experiences, including any incidents of cyberbullying they might encounter. Assure them that they can confide in you without judgement and that you are there to support and protect them.

Educate Your Child on Cyberbullying

The first step to prevention is education. It’s therefore important for parents to ensure that their children are aware of what cyberbullying entails and its potential consequences. Take the time to educate them about responsible online behaviour, the impact of cyberbullying on victims, and the importance of treating others with kindness and respect in the virtual world.

It can also be useful to educate children on certain management strategies that they can implement should they ever experience cyberbullying. Children should know their value and realise that bullies operate from a place of fear and feelings of inadequacy

Set Up Boundaries

If parents are concerned about their children bullying or being bullied in an online schooling environment, it can be useful to set up clear boundaries. Try to establish rules for the use of technology during virtual learning. 

Set time limits for online activities, and discuss appropriate websites and platforms. Explain the importance of not engaging in or supporting cyberbullying behaviour and the repercussions of violating these rules.

Monitor Online Activities

While monitoring a child’s online activity and whether or not this is a healthy practice is a topic of debate, it can be helpful to do so if parents are worried about their child being involved in such activity. Monitoring will help parents detect any signs of cyberbullying early on. 

Parents can monitor their child’s online activity by regularly checking their social media profiles and communications. Parents should also familiarise themselves with the platforms their children use for virtual learning and social interaction. It’s also advisable to stay informed about potential risks and safety measures.

However, it should be mentioned that it’s important to still respect a child’s privacy and still provide them with a sense of freedom and autonomy. 

Teach Responsible Social Media Usage

Social media is one of the spaces in which cyberbullying occurs most frequently. Therefore, it’s important for parents to guide their children on how to use social media responsibly and safely. 

Advise them against sharing personal information with strangers and the importance of reporting any cyberbullying incidents they encounter or witness. Remind them that it’s okay to block or unfriend individuals engaging in harmful behaviour.

Encourage Empathy and Kindness

In order to stop cyberbullying from occurring or to prevent a child from unknowingly being a bystander, we suggest that parents promote empathy and kindness in their children’s interactions, both online and offline. Teach them to stand up for others who may be experiencing cyberbullying and to support their peers in creating a positive and respectful virtual learning environment.

We at CambriLearn do take as many precautions as possible to prevent cyberbullying from occurring. We do keep an eye on all of our public forums and the Discord server. However, we cannot protect our students and prevent cyberbullying from occurring in a personal capacity. Therefore, it’s important for parents to monitor whether their children are being bullied via WhatsApp, Instagram, and any other personal communication platforms.

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