Remote learning left millions of children feeling isolated and alone during the school year, and also led to difficulty in keeping up on their studies, but it had one unforeseen benefit: a drop in bullying.
According to researchers at the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, online searches for school bullying and cyberbullying dropped up to 35% as schools shifted to remote learning in spring 2020.
“The gradual return to in-person instruction starting in fall 2020 partially returns bullying searches to pre-pandemic levels,” they added. The study, released Monday, used Internet search data for real-time tracking of bullying patterns.
With approximately one-fifth of U.S. students reporting bullying each year, the researchers concluded, “This rare positive effect may partly explain recent mixed evidence on the pandemic’s impact on students’ mental health and well-being.”
Schools primarily depend on self-reporting of bullying incidents, the researchers wrote.
“In this context, Google Trends data provide a unique opportunity for real-time surveillance of bullying, while posing no risk to children and families,” they added.
So in addition to a rise in anxiety with more COVID-19 cases, there’s anxiety around threats of violence perpetuated on social media.
Across the nation last month, many parents kept their children home from school while police and educators tightened security in response to viral TikTok posts alluding to possible threats of violence at schools. The social media posts said schools would face shooting and bomb threats.
One Philadelphia public high school principal sent out an email last month to parents to inform them that “we have been experiencing multiple incidents where students are creating Instagram accounts and posting negative things” about its students and staff. The principal said that “the nature of these posts is causing students to feel harmed and at times harassed, causing an unsafe environment in this community. ... This is causing students to feel unsafe and uncomfortable at school and creating a toxic environment.”
The principal implored parents to monitor students’ use of social media and make sure that their children know that there can be long-term negative effects to posting inaccurate and harassing material.
The principal continued to say “we strive toward being an inclusive environment where we are open to hearing students share whatever they need. However, when we learn of unreported incidents on social media our hands are tied. It is impossible to address concerns in this way and causes more harm.”
It is important that everyone follow the “if you see something, say something” slogan in order to keep our children and school communities safe. And to that end, the School District of Philadelphia has a website as well as a hotline to report bullying and harassment: www.philasd.org/bullying/ or call 215-400-SAFE.