Behind The Screen
Face masks weren’t the only masks people hid behind during COVID.
As the pandemic swept over the world, entrapping more and more countries in its vicious grip, people were compelled to stay indoors and carry out all work from inside their homes. With most of the work taking place from behind screens, the number of cases of cyberbullying rose alarmingly by over 70% in just a span of a few months, according to L1ght.
Owing to their ubiquitous presence on social media platforms, children and teenagers are more vulnerable to cyberbullying. Online platforms have not only become the sole mode of camaraderie for them in the pandemic, they also serve as a conduit for profanities and hateful comments. As classwork shifted online, so did bullying.
Akin to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is often carried out by people with esteem issues and insecurities, who are now further fueled by the lack of punishment as a consequence of anonymity.
“What used to be a face-to-face encounter that occurred in specific locations is now able to occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” – Dr. Susan Swearer, University of Nebraska
The pandemic exposed us to adversities none of us fathomed, causing constant distress and worry which led to people lashing out at others and indulging in violent arguments. The increased levels of isolation, accompanied with a dreadful sense of emptiness, served to aggravate the stress and engender feelings of loneliness and monotony. As a result, many children resorted to cyberbullying and making cruel comments online, sometimes simply out of sheer frustration or boredom.
Such invective on online platforms, coupled with the fear of uncertainty generated by the pandemic, has adversely affected the mental health of millions of children in the world today. According to MaryVille University, children and teenagers who are victims of cyberbullying commonly experience an underlying sense of frustration, insecurity and a dreadful feeling of being trapped, usually concealed behind withdrawn attitudes and aloof behaviour.
However, the ‘Work from Home’ culture has served to present parents with the opportunity to supervise their children’s online activity and be there to guide them in case of any misbehaviour online. They should be mindful of any behavioural changes and other indications that point to cyberbullying. A deviation in eating habits or sleeping patterns, often accompanied with mood swings or withdrawn behaviour can be a corollary of cyberbullying. Any unexplainable injuries should be given instant attention. A waning self-esteem or a loss of interest in favourite hobbies may adumbrate online harassment.
It is crucial for parents to devise effective coping strategies to give succour to their children and help them endure the menace of cyberbullying. The simplest of conversations between parents and children, with the sincere intent of sharing the affliction can go a long way in helping them weather the storm. Most of the time, children refrain from opening up to their parents about any online harassment that they may be experiencing out of the fear of having their phones or computers confiscated, which may result in online interaction coming to a complete standstill. They should be made to feel comfortable and encouraged to share any incidence of cyberbullying, with the assurance that they would still be allowed to keep their phones and interact online.
Since it’s hard to gauge a person’s reaction to comments or posts online, teens may not realise when they go too far. Thus, parents should try to imbue a sense of honesty and forthrightness in children, so that they don’t resort to online platforms to anonymously make spiteful remarks that they would never have said to someone’s face.
Equally important is the supervision of children’s online activities and keeping phones and other electronic gadgets out in the open. Limiting screen time and occasionally devoting leisure time to family activities or new hobbies can effectively help children in taking their mind off of things for a while.
Such simple measures can go a long way to curtail cyber bullying and assuage the pain it inflicts upon victims.