With online learning, class bullies fade to the background

Online school has created an environment that in some cases has simplified social dynamics for students, providing relief from class bullies and social media pressure.

(CNN)When she was in brick-and-mortar school, many girls, and some boys, taunted Angelina Fusco. Her "friends," as she thought of them, told her she was clingy, annoying and rude.

They made plans in front of her, without inviting her. They'd ask her, "Why do you read so much? Why do you dress like that?"
"I would typically let people walk all over me and say what they wanted, and even if they hurt me, I wouldn't confront them," Fusco, 14, said. She liked her actual schoolwork, but navigating the friendship scene was painful and overwhelming, and teachers who tried to intervene proved ineffectual. Finally, in January, she'd had enough.
    Even before the pandemic shuttered most brick-and-mortar schools, Fusco, with the help of her parents, enrolled in an online school called Western Christian Academy. There, she's able to learn at her own pace, with no bullying kids to distract or upset her.
      The rapid transition to online school — for those who hadn't made that choice themselves — has come with many downsides, from increasing inequity to the "Covid slide," in which children lose some of this year's learning, becoming less prepared to advance.
      But after millions of schoolchildren suddenly transferred to cyber school, some are finding a surprising upside: Complicated social dynamics can simplify, sometimes evaporate, as they learn online.

      A decline in digital drama

        Online school may have less of what psychologists call "digital drama," when exclusive and unkind behaviors, like those Fusco experienced, transfer to the cyber world.
        This can include things like posting pictures on Instagram of parties, making those who weren't invited feel left out. It's not cyber bullying, in which a child is targeted for a sustained period of time, but it's behavior that causes a child to feel excluded, bruised, sad and confused.
        Such behavior may be in decline simply because kids aren't in the same spaces, creating drama in person that they upload to the virtual world.
        "Digital drama is often an extension of what happens at school," said Diana Graber, author of "Raising Humans in a Digital World" and founder of Cyber Civics, which teaches digital literacy to kids in 44 states and 7 countries. "Because they're not experiencing that during the school day, it's not drifting over into their online life."
        "During this pandemic, I have heard countless examples of good behaviors occurring, children exhibiting increased empathy for others," Stacey Kite, a professor in the College of Arts & Sciences at Johnson & Wales University, and an expert on bullying, said.
        "Moreover, children who did not want to go to school because they were bullied are now flourishing with the online learning. They are also finding ways to connect with their peers through this mode, which may transfer into real friendships."
        One reason: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. "Kids are craving their peers and they're missing people they weren't even that close with before," Graber said.

        Pruning your contacts

        Graber has observed and heard about kids being less exclusiona