Protecting Children in Virtual Learning Environments: Warning Signs of Abuse for Teachers

Guest Post By Noah Rue

As a teacher, it’s not necessarily difficult to pick up on obvious signs of abuse when you’re in the classroom. You may have even gone through training to look out for the warning signs. If a student has obvious physical symptoms, complains about being hungry, tired, or even confides in you about problems at home, you can take action.

But, those signs of abuse are even less prominent or obvious when it comes to virtual learning.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of learning over the last year. In the early stages of the pandemic, 45 states ended up closing schools for in-person learning. Even some childcare centers were forced to shut their doors. K-12 students had to learn to use technology and transition to virtual learning. While some have gone back to in-person school, many parts of the country are still under strict rules to keep everyone safe, so virtual learning is likely to be in place for a while.


You already know teaching your students through a webcam or looking at them on Zoom isn’t the same as guiding them in-person. There are several hurdles to overcome. But, one of the biggest is recognizing potential problems. So, what can you do in a virtual learning environment to notice any warning signs of abuse?


Limited Access

Children who are struggling with problems in their home may give off a variety of warning signs when they’re coming to school virtually. Neglect, for example, is often considered a form of abuse. There are different types of neglect, including:


● Physical

● Psychological/Emotional

● Medical


There is also educational neglect, which refers to a caregiver not being there to ensure their child is attending school, getting homework done, or engaging in their classes. Neglect could also be due to unreasonable expectations put on the caregiver, so they don’t have “time” to give the child what they need. If you notice that one of your students seems to have limited access to a computer, or the Internet, they may not want to bother their caregiver for fear of what may happen.


It’s also important to look at concentration habits. Children who are victims of abuse often have a hard time staying focused. They might also struggle with general learning and applying the concepts you’re talking about in class. While you might not be able to see any physical marks on a computer screen, if they don’t seem fully “present” or they’re struggling more than they ever did in-person, you may want to consider it a red flag.


Frequent Absences

It’s not uncommon for students to be a little late to virtual classes or to have Internet issues from time to time. But, if you start to notice frequent absences adding up, it could be a sign of something more going on at home.


Abusive caregivers are typically all about control. They may not be allowing the child to sign on or even use the computer. That isn’t just a case of “unplugging” from too much screen time. It’s an exercise in abusive power.