While remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic lowered reported instances of bullying, some parents fear that, for some students, going back to school will mean going back to being bullied – even if they are taking their classes online.
“Bullying is something we worry about, especially with the beginning of each new school year,” said Keith Glover of his family of four in Mineral Springs, N.C. His two teenage daughters are both home-schooled and attend virtual classes via the internet.
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 does not necessarily require parents to become tech experts. Instead, the federal stopbullying.gov website advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.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 Keith Glover and his wife, Anita, that has meant being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for their daughters, ages 17 and 15
“Knowing my children’s moods is very important because I can then detect shifts or changes in their personalities that might signal something is going on,” said Keith.
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, Keith and Anita have found that talking less and listening more works best. “We try to focus on being approachable and listening actively without reaction,” said Keith.
Beyond talking, listening, and observing their kids, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.
The Glover girls are allowed to freely use the internet, 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,” said Keith.
The Glovers have taken a similar approach. “We aren’t constantly over the girls’ shoulders, watching their every move, but we use a family app that lets us know how much time they’re spending on their tablets,” said Anita Glover.
Both families cited the tips and reminders they’ve considered together with their kids from free resources available on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
One of the Glovers’ daughters especially recommended one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.” She related how attempting to break up an argument in a chat room led to her being attacked and bulled online.
“They will try to intimidate you by doxing you,” she said. “Doxing is when they find out your personal information, post it online and encourage others to pick on you. For example, if they get your address and phone number, they can order 10 pizzas in your name.”
“She added, I learned that if you’re being bullied, you should call someone you can trust, like parents, principals or counselors, They can get in between the situation and make it stop.”