March 27, 2020
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.