Cyberbullying webinar reveals dangers children may face online

It is an unprecedented time in history as millions of Americans are stuck at home and going online has become their primary outlet to the world.

While the internet has become a remedy for social connection, it has also become an increasingly dangerous environment for cyberbullying, especially among children.

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall invited the Arc of Greater Prince William, Office of Special Education and the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center, a statewide nonprofit organization, to host a seminar on cyberbullying May 20. The PAETC “empowers families, with a focus on children with intellectual disabilities. Additional targeted outreach initiative areas included bullying awareness, early childhood, military outreach, family engagement, Latino outreach and transition to adulthood,” according to Keri Peko, military outreach specialist at the PAETC. Family engagement specialist Tina Norris presented an overview of cyberbullying and tips for parents.

A United Nations study reported in April that the world has an estimated 4.57 billion internet users, up 7.1% from just a year ago.

“Our children are online daily, now more than ever, because of these uncertain times that we currently find ourselves in,” said Norris. “It’s important as parents to understand the dynamics of cyberbullying so that we know how to protect our children while they are online.”

Cyberbullying is defined as sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else, causing embarrassment or humiliation which can cross into criminal behavior on digital devices, according to stopbullying.gov. Unfortunately, children with physical, social or environmental disabilities may possess greater chance of experiencing cyberbullying, said the PAETC. Depending on the condition of the case, cyberbullying may be categorized as a criminal violation. Secret acronyms or “codes” are used virtually, insidious motivations of perpetrators, some warning signs of cyberbullying and tips to protect children from cyberbully attacks, according to the nonprofit organization.

As children may spend most of their time in the educational system and now virtual learning due to the pandemic, schools need to be vigilant about cyberbullying.

“School officials can be held liable under civil rights laws if they are deliberately indifferent to harassment of which they have actual knowledge, that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities provided by the school,” said the PAETC.

Therefore, it is recommended that educators have active plans to “assess cyberbullying cases and evaluate implemented therapeutic response programs,” the nonprofit organization suggested. Ultimately, it is essential that parents, educators and counselors stay vigilant and work together to protect children from cyberbullying.

It is not uncommon that parents must bring up concerns of cyberbullying despite a “contentious relationship” with the school.

“Cyberbullying is a whole other realm,” explained Norris. “The difficulty or contention between parties has to be put to the side, and the immediate need should be addressed — and that is the safety of our kiddos.”

Parents are suggested to address the problem where it took place, such as with the teacher of the classroom (or virtual class) in which cyberbullying occurred, and If that is unsuccessful, parents may ask for intervention from the guidance counselor or principal. The PAETC urged that “collaboratively working together is how we are going to solve this widespread epidemic.”