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.
“Because of technology, there’s much more danger now. We have to stay up to date with what’s going on with our kids,” said Joe of his family of four in Lindsay.
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, says the National Parent Teacher Association.
This interest doesn't 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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what's happening on their device.
For Joe and his wife Jennifer, keeping an eye on any changes in their kids’ behavior is vital.
“We watch for attitude changes,” said Jennifer of her son and daughter, ages 10 and 13. She finds “secluding themselves in their rooms or not being talkative” are telltale signs something isn't right.
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 says in its online tips for parents.
As their two daughters enter their teens, Houston parents Thiago and Auboni have found 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 shouldn't 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're 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.
Joe and Jennifer use similar strategies for keeping their kids safe. “We set limits on how much they play every day and which games they can play,” Joe said. “On one app, we can see their conversations,” Jennifer said. “We don’t monitor each conversation, but it’s there just in case.”
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.
“I like that the video gave examples of what you could do — like thinking of what could happen and trying to avoid that situation,” Joe's and Jennifer's daughter said. Her brother remembered this piece of advice from the web article: “Don’t talk to a bully. Ignore them and block them!”