By Ezra Smith, Public Information Desk, Jehova’s Witnesses United States Branch
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.
“With the prevalence of technology and social media, you’re forced to be concerned. Now kids can be bullied in the privacy of their own home,” said Tomas, a father of three who lives in Oakley.
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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what is happening on their device.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 Tomas and his wife Leticia, that means being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for three teenagers, ages 13, 14 and 17. “I can see by their body language or their mood if they had a good time [at school] or not,” Leticia said.
“It’s so important that we take time with our children,” Tomas added. “If we don’t take time, we won’t be able to know our kids and we won’t be able to know how to help them if they are going through something like cyberbullying.”
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 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.
Tomas and Leticia take a similar approach. While they use an app to monitor their kid’s screen time, they recognize that balance is important. “As my kids are getting older, you do have to respect their privacy,” Tomas said. “They are rewarded as they build that trust. That shows that they are responsible.”
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.
One of Leticia and Tomas’ daughters especially recommends one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists”.
“If being bullied, we don’t want to fight fire with fire,” she said. “Instead of being angry and fighting back, we can just give a calm response and leave the issue instead of making it even worse.”
Victims of cyberbullying can feel helpless and may not know what to do. Free resources on jw.org help children, teens and parents successfully deal with bullying.
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