When students need support from their teachers, it isn’t always obvious, especially when it happens over the internet. This presents a problem for teachers, because they are expected to look after the injuries, both physical and mental, of the students in their care, under the in loco parentis law.  

What is in loco parentis? 

According to LawNow, loco parentis is a Latin legal term that translates to “in place of a parent”, and it “grants individuals caring for children the same rights and responsibilities as a parent”. The definition of this law has continued to evolve and varies depending on the country. In countries like Canada, individuals such as camp counselors, doctors, and teachers are expected to act in loco parentis. 

What is in loco parentis in schools? 

“The directors of education systems that you send your children to are under what’s called loco parentis – it’s part of their directorship – it means duty of care,” says Perry Roach, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Netsweeper. “So, while your children are in school, like recess, you have a monitor – they need to monitor your children while they’re on the internet, so they don’t get into trouble.” 

Let’s take the example of cyberbullying to help illustrate this. Unlike physical bullying (like stealing belongings) or verbal bullying (name calling and teasing), cyberbullying can be harder to escape for the victim, as negative content can follow a victim home, and can be left as a permanent reminder to the victim online, unless the service provider is willing to take the content down. There is a growing realization that there is much left to be done regarding the protection of students’ mental health while at school. 

In addition to the difficulty of identifying students in need, there is the scope of the problem — according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 6 US youth experience a mental health disorder each year. 

Why is in loco parentis important? 

In loco parentis is important because it means that teachers are responsible for both the mental and physical needs of their students, which can be quite challenging to accomplish, especially with the emerging problems the internet presents. When schools don’t sufficiently monitor students’ internet activity and students can access harmful content on topics like self-harm and suicide, it can contribute to tragic outcomes  

Students are spending more time online than ever before, and it is online that the warning signs of danger can be found. Educators can now support their student’s using technology like onGuard that looks for warning signs of bullying, self-harm, suicide, and other harmful subjects they may be engaging with.