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  • Writer's pictureKirra Pendergast

The Escalation of Online Aggression Among Teens and Tweens Post-Covid

A Guide for Parents and Guardians (schools please feel free to publish part or all if you choose)

The post-Covid era seems to have delivered a significant escalation in online aggression and cyberbullying among young people. In fact, it seems to be affecting all people - not just the kids. For this post, I am only talking about reports and cries for help submitted to Safe on Social by schools and parents. These private messages, emails, and Zoom meetings indicate a disturbing trend of intensified hostility, marked, in some cases, by violent threats and the use of horrendous language by children as young as 9-10 years towards each other (calling each other c-bombs etc.), and the proliferation of hate speech in online interactions involving teens and tweens.

I could compose an extensive and alarming essay on the effect global occurrences online are having on our kids, along with my perspective on why addressing many of these issues proves to be challenging and why they often elude regulatory measures.

A close friend poignantly summed up the online overwhelm yesterday in one simple sentence,

"Our humanity is bleeding out?"

I have been thinking about that all night. How do we do better? what else can we do? can we collectively say stop and choose to share kindness so our kids are flooded with posts about kindness, empathy and helping one another as much as we can during such troubled times?

We are glued to our devices, watching all sorts of atrocities unfold globally, daily. It is almost unavoidable. I think we may have forgotten that the young people in our lives have experienced trauma after trauma, both online and offline, over the past few years, and it is quite clearly having an impact.

So, this is meant to give you an understanding of the current landscape as reported almost daily to me by people frustrated and scared and not getting the support that they need anywhere else. I have also coupled this with practical guidance to start navigating and addressing these challenges.

Trends and Observations in reports to me:

Increased Violence in Online Interactions

There has been a noticeable increase in the severity of threats and violent language used in online conflicts among tweens/teens. Reports include instances of explicit threats of physical harm, contributing to heightened anxiety and stress among victims.

Late-Night Group Chats

A significant number of aggressive interactions, including the exchange of violent threats and derogatory language, are occurring in late-night group chats. This trend is particularly concerning due to its impact on adolescents' mental well-being and sleep patterns.

Impact on Sleep and Mental Health

The presence of mobile devices in bedrooms and participation in late-night online interactions have been associated with disrupted sleep and increased stress levels among teens and tweens, affecting their overall mental health and well-being. They are literally lying awake all night stressing over what is being said and refreshing over and over to see if more is being added to the chat. Every beep of notification is interrupting their sleep.

Use of Derogatory and Hate Speech

The use of racist slurs, homophobic comments, and other forms of hate speech has been prevalent in reported instances of online aggression, reflecting a broader societal issue that needs urgent attention and action.

Concerning level of inaction

The increasing prevalence of online aggression and cyberbullying has unfortunately been met with a concerning level of inaction by various online platforms and regulators. Users, particularly those who have faced harassment or have reported inappropriate conduct, find their pleas for help and intervention often overlooked or inadequately addressed. This lack of responsive action has led to a significant erosion of trust particularly among teen users, leaving many feeling disillusioned and unprotected in their online lives. The seeming indifference exhibited by these platforms not only perpetuates the cycle of online aggression but also discourages victims from reporting, as faith in effective resolution diminishes.

Guidance for Parents and Guardians:

Validation and Support

It is crucial to validate the experiences and emotions of tweens/teens who encounter online aggression. Offering a listening ear and expressing understanding and support can make a significant difference in their coping process.

Promoting Open Communication

Encourage open and honest communication, allowing your tweens/teens to express their feelings, concerns, and experiences related to online interactions and aggression.

Exploring Reporting Mechanisms

Be informed about the various reporting mechanisms available on different online platforms and guide tweens/teens in accessing and utilising these resources when necessary. If there are threats of harm, immediately report to law enforcement.

Advocating for Professional Support

Consider the option of professional mental health support, such as counselling or therapy, to provide your child with additional coping strategies and emotional support.

Device-Free Bedrooms

Promote healthy sleep hygiene and mental well-being by keeping mobile devices out of bedrooms during the night to minimise exposure to disruptive online interactions.

Educational Initiatives

Support educational initiatives that promote online safety, digital citizenship, and the development of coping strategies to navigate online aggression and cyberbullying provided by the school. Attend all the talks (they are all different). Schools and families should work together to educate students about responsible and respectful online behaviour. Please do not just expect the school to do it for you.

Where does a school's duty of care end and parenting begin

A school's duty of care is to keep the child safe while they are at school. If the aggression/bullying comes from another student at the school, let the school know so they can keep the child safe on school grounds. The school’s duty of care pertains to actions that impact the school environment, student safety, and well-being. Parental responsibility involves supervising and guiding their child’s online activities and behaviours at home and outside of school, instilling values and setting boundaries. Please be across every aspect of your child's online life. I recently wrote a post about how you may even be responsible for what your child says and does online. You can read that here:

And finally - don't forget to share the good stuff.....and lots of it. Humanity needs it more than ever right now. Please start right now below this post. Share something beautiful/kind/funny/happy please.

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