Identifying Abuse In A Virtual World

The virtual world has become a regular destination for children. Easy access and affordable fees enable children of all walks of life to participate in virtual worlds. Games specifically appear to be a great attraction for young children in their use of the internet. While virtual worlds provide entertainment to many children, it also offers opportunities to abuse in children and allows offenders to contact vulnerable children. 

A student experiencing mental or health abuse and difficulties that affect his/her attendance, coursework, and grades may be put under close watch. All students can experience periods of stress-related anxiety and mood alteration, and early intervention can prevent these issues from worsening.
In a traditional classroom, setting faculty can visually observe students and interact face to face. This direct, experiential contact with students enables faculty to perceive Virtual abuse warning signs such as deterioration in hygiene, tardiness and absences, mood changes, bizarre behaviors, and altered levels of attention. In virtual educational settings, direct sensory contact with students is missing, and the student is often at a distant geographic location. Thus, virtual teachers need strategies for identifying virtual mental and health problems in their students, resources available to offer the distance student, and institutional policies addressing mental and health abuse and student performance.

How Virtual Teachers And Educators Can identify Virtual Abuse

Teachers have many jobs these days—educator, IT professional, custodian, and mentor, just to name a few. But arguably, one of the giant jobs for teachers in today’s virtual learning environment is providing a sufficient level of support for students’ social, emotional, and mental wellbeing. 

Children have been isolated from their peers and teachers, and many are in homes where there is trauma from one stress or the economic crisis. Firm, supportive relationships not only help keep students engaged and provide a foundation for building a classroom community where all children, including a child in need of help, feel safe and secure.

Safety and security are essential for children who may be experiencing the effects of violence, abuse, or addiction in the home. 

Teachers and coaches have traditionally been on the frontline of spotting signs of abuse and neglect—the move to virtual learning has undoubtedly contributed to the low numbers of reported cases.

While teachers’ training and protocols help manage difficult conversations, they continually learn about ways to help identify a child in need as a virtual educator. Here are five valuable strategies:

  1. Conduct regular check-ins: Check-in regularly with your students on their mood and well-being. Take note of feelings expressed by individual students and follow-up personally with those expressing certain emotions (i.e., distant, depressed, lost, hurt, overwhelmed, angry, etc.). Let them know you are open and available, and they can contact you. 
  2. Make it easy for students to contact you.: Give your students more than one method for reaching out to you privately. This can be done by email, phone, or even through an online tool–whatever process you think is best. Remind students about it often and make sure information on why and how to reach out is visible and easy to access.
  3. Encourage the students to be on the watch for red flags in themselves and others.: Show that their privacy and confidentiality will be respected while also giving them the confidence to reach out about a classmate they may have concerns about. But be clear on the protocols if it’s something you have to report. Emphasize their roles as helpers and listeners in your learning community.
  4. Use activities to bring emotions to the surface.: Design learning activities or parts of each classroom day that provide opportunities for students to engage in work around emotional wellbeing. Notice what they say and how they say it, and check in around any work that raises red flags for you. 

And remember: As educators, you already have the tools and classroom training to spot students that may be in trouble. Teaching virtually means adapting that training to a new context—one that isn’t naturally designed for care and support. Reminding yourself can give you the permission you need to fill in the gaps with your expertise. Your students—and all of us parents and community members—will thank you for it.

Consequences Or Impact Of Virtual Abuse On Children

  • Psychological Consequences 

 Virtual Child abuse and neglect can cause a variety of psychological problems. It can cause victims to feel isolation, fear, and distrust, which can translate into lifelong psychological consequences that can manifest as educational difficulties, low self-esteem, depression, and trouble forming and maintaining relationships. Disrupted brain development resulting from prolonged abuse can cause impairments to the brain’s executive functions: working memory, self-control, and cognitive flexibility (i.e., the ability to look at things and situations from different perspectives). Children who were abused also are at risk for other mental problems, including difficulties in learning and paying attention.


  • Behavioral Consequences

Victims of child abuse and neglect often exhibit behavioral difficulties even after the abuse ends. Physical aggression and antisocial behavior are among the most consistently documented childhood outcomes of virtual child abuse. Most studies report daycare settings. Some studies indicate that virtual abused children show higher levels of aggression than other maltreated although other studies suggest that neglected children may be more dysfunctional.

A prospective study compared preschool children classified as virtual abuse with those who were unabused found that children with a history of Virtual abuse were rated six months later as more aggressive by teachers and peers. These differences were not accounted for by the child’s demographic or family background. 

The following are other examples of behavioral consequences of Virtual abuse:

  • Delinquent behavior
  • Adult criminality
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Abuse behavior
  • Inappropriate behavior in relationships
  • Difficulty with social interactions