While remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic lowered reported instances of bullying, parents fear that, for some students, going back to school will mean going back to being bullied.
In Susanville, Anthony and his wife Maria understand the serious consequences bullying may have on their children.
“We’ve seen in the news how the suicide rate is going up especially with young teenage girls, so we’re really concerned about that,” Anthony said.
Now 15 years after the inception of National Bullying Prevention Month in October, technology’s ever-greater presence in children’s lives has given bullying a new outlet. With just a click, cyberbullies can taunt, harass and threaten relentlessly, even reaching into the home via cellphone or computer. As a result, victims report feeling hopeless, isolated and even suicidal.
What can parents do to protect their kids?
Taking an interest in their children’s online world can make a difference, said the National Parent Teacher Association.
This interest does not necessarily require parents to become tech experts. Instead, the federal stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what is happening on their device.
For Anthony and Maria, that means being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for their two girls, ages 18 and 10.
“We pay close attention to see if there’s any change in behavior,” Anthony said. “Getting to know them has been really helpful.”
Talking with kids openly — and often — helps too.
“The more you talk to your children about bullying, the more comfortable they will be telling you if they see or experience it,” UNICEF said in its online tips for parents.
As their two daughters enter their teens, Houston parents Thiago and Auboni have found that talking less and listening more works best.
“We try to focus on being approachable and listening actively without reaction,” Thiago said.
Beyond talking, listening and observing their kids, parents should not be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.
Thiago and Auboni’s girls are allowed to play online games, but they are expected to turn off the live chat feature to limit interactions with strangers.
“We reassure the girls that we trust them and respect their privacy, but they have to stay within the boundaries we’ve set,” Auboni said.
Anthony and Maria have taken a similar approach.
“It’s completely different for an 18-year-old and a 10-year-old,” Maria said. “It’s got to be age-appropriate. Throughout the years, the controls we had in place for our oldest started going away.”
Both families cited the tips and reminders they have considered together with their kids from free resources available on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Anthony and Maria’s 18-year-old daughter especially recommends the section on the site entitled, “Help for Teenagers.”
“There is a worksheet about cyberbullying,” she said. “Going through it and sending a link to friends who are being cyberbullied could help them out.”