School Bullying in 2021: What Parents and Schools Need to Know

Haley Zapal | October 23, 2018 | Cyberbullying

School bullying image on computer screen

**This blog post was updated on August 10, 2021.**

The word “cyberbullying” has been around for a while, but at Bark, we’ve stopped using it. Instead, we just use “bullying,” because for kids today, the distinction between the digital world and the real world is gone. What happens online is no less real — or hurtful — as what happens in person. 

For older generations, this can be kind of hard to understand. It may be easy to dismiss a mean Instagram comment or not understand the big deal about getting kicked out of a group chat. For Gen Z, though, the insult is all too real. School bullying hasn’t changed, it just looks different. Because of this, it’s still a very serious threat to a lot of students. In this post, we’ll get you caught up on what to know about this common danger. 

School Bullying: What It Looks Like Today

Bullying used to happen in between classes, on the playground, or while riding the school bus home. Now, with smartphones, it can happen anywhere a kid goes. This makes it infinitely more troubling, because being away from school is no longer a temporary refuge. A child’s phone can ping with aggressive messages at the dinner table, in the backyard, or even in their own room.

There are so many ways for kids to taunt each other online. Active ways include sending aggressive and demeaning texts, emails, chats, and comments. Passive ways are things like posting a mean photo on Snapchat, for instance, that can be seen by hundreds of other kids in a matter of minutes. Virtual learning during the pandemic led to new forms of bullying, including Zoom bombing.

Bullying by the Numbers

Bullying is one of the most prevalent issues a child will face online. Last year, we found that 76.7% of tweens and 82.0% of teens have experienced bullying as a bully, victim, or witness. What did it look like? Examples ranged from mean-spirited teasing to hateful threats and provocations. It can also include creating fake accounts, impersonating someone, and even spreading nude photos. 

It’s not just kids and parents who are worried about bullying, however. According to a recent Google survey, bullying is the number one online issue teachers are concerned about in the classroom. Sadly, only 46% of bullied students let an adult at school know what’s happening. While teachers can’t always see online bullying happen, (it can occur on private social media accounts) they can be witness to its after-effects. In students, this looks like moodiness, absenteeism, and even in-class disputes. 

The Tragic Results of Extreme Bullying

Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They also are more likely to be lonely and want to avoid school. And tragically, bullying can also lead to fatal consequences.

Megan Meier, a 13-year-old in Missouri, fell victim to a scheme when a fake profile of a teenage boy was created to give her false hope of a relationship. This type of online impersonation is called catfishing, and it can be devastating. Before long, the profile became a public forum for even more abuse toward Megan. It ultimately led to her death by suicide. Something similar happened to Phoebe Prince, a high schooler in New England. Six classmates were convicted for the roles they played in bullying her online.

There is no federal law regarding cyberbullying, but most states have made some sort of effort to address this growing issue. Laws vary between states, but charges for online bullying can include civil law violations like defamation and harassment. Some states have explicit criminal laws against it, while others require school or district policies to be in place. At the end of the day, it’s important for students, families, and schools to know that bullying isn’t a harmless joke. It can seriously impact a child’s life for years to come.

How Schools Can Stop Bullying

Stopbullying.gov recommends the following steps that teachers can take to help stop bullying:

  • Speak privately with students who show signs of being bullied online, and collect proof if they have it.
  • Report cyberbullying to parents and facilitate discussion between them, their children, and other school officials.
  • Increase digital awareness to understand how students might abuse school-issued accounts.
  • Develop activities that foster empathy, reflection, and self-regulation.
  • Model, reinforce, and reward positive social behaviors.
  • Encourage peer involvement in prevention strategies.

Manually sorting through every chat and email can be a daunting task for schools. That’s why we launched Bark for Schools, our community giveback program that’s used by more than 2,800 districts nationwide. Bark for Schools provides free monitoring of student accounts to help schools identify problems before they happen and reduce the dangers posed by school bullying, online predators, and more. Schools and parents receive timely alerts if something concerning happens so they can make sure everything’s okay and intervene, if necessary. 

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.

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