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When Kids Are Not #SafeAtHome: Cyberbullying Is An Increased Threat During COVID19

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Last week, COVID-19’s impacts spread from the nightly news to the daily lives of millions of parents. With people in states across the country facing stay-at-home orders, employees transitioning to new work-from-home lifestyles and school buildings shuttered, Americans are trying to adjust to a new way of life that doesn’t appear likely to change any time soon.

Teachers and staff are doing their best to keep up productivity with the help of technology. At the same time, their job descriptions have expanded to include the duties of de facto school IT people, classroom aides, lunchroom monitors, principals and custodians, all while praying their kids don’t burst into their Zoom meetings.

And at the same time, in many households schedules are still in flux and in many cases, rules about screen time have been relaxed as a matter of survival in the struggle to balance parenting and work-from-home responsibilities. And at a time when kids are being forced apart from their friends, apps like FaceTime and group texts are not only being tolerated but encouraged. Social and emotional learning must continue, after all.

At the expense of adding one more worry to parents’ and teachers’ minds, the spike in online socializing carries the potential for a commensurate increase in cyberbullying. Dr. Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, spoke of the looming challenge in a blog post.  

“Some of it will be mild, and some of it will be severe,” Hunduja said. “Some of it will be what they’re used to and won’t bother them, and some of it will be brand new—and a jarring, wounding experience. This may be especially true for those not used to learning and interacting in this way (and we are seeing how socio-economic inequities are being magnified because of the coronavirus).”

The FBI issued an alert on March 23, advising educators and caregivers to be vigilant for signs of online sexual exploitation and predatory behavior at a time when kids are particularly vulnerable. This view was echoed by Purdue University Polytechnic Institute Associate Professor Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, an expert in cyberdeviance, who cautioned it may not be easy to detect the problems.

“Kids are usually not forthcoming with issues of cyberbullying because they’re afraid of losing their technology,” she said. “Some teens would rather be cyberbullied than have their Facebook page or Instagram account shut down.”

The threat of cyberbullying appears especially acute for students of Asian backgrounds: Authorities have reported numerous incidents of harassment and even violence directed toward Asian Americans, tied to the virus’ likely origin in China. Online, Asians are being scapegoated as the cause of the pandemic, mocked as belonging to cultures that eat bats and vermin, and even taunted by those who refer to COVID-19 in terms such as “the Chinese virus.” Some prominent Asian Americans have responded by sharing their stories on social media using the hashtag #WashtheHate.

A consortium of Asian American and Pacific Islander advocacy organizations last week launched Stop AAPI Hate, an online tool where victims or those who have witnessed anti-Asian violence, bullying or harassment can anonymously report incidents. The organizations plan to use the data to develop education and media campaigns, provide resources for impacted individuals, and advocate for policies and programs dedicated to curtailing racial profiling.

“We are currently providing support to a child who had to go to the emergency room after he was assaulted and accused by bullies of having the coronavirus, and so that tells us we may need to work with schools to address shunning and school bullying but we need to know how widespread it is,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, one of the groups that developed the reporting tool.

Anonymous reporting is a proven solution for dealing with cyberbullying, abuse and harassment issues in real time. STOPit’s easy-to-use app can serve as a critical avenue of information between students and school administrators at a time when young people are uniquely vulnerable. Tips submitted through STOPit will enable teachers to monitor, investigate, and take action against bad behavior in their virtual classrooms. 

Administrators can also use the app’s broadcast feature to share important resources with students that educate them on the threats and how to deal with them. STOPit’s own professionals can monitor the account during off hours to ensure that urgent reports are dealt with quickly.

Contact STOPit today to learn more about how anonymous reporting can help protect your student’s well-being throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Curious why over 5,000 organizations worldwide are using STOPit’s anonymous reporting software and 24/7/365 monitoring services?

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