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.
“It's definitely a concern because we know it can really affect people,” said Paul Lee, a father who lives in Coos Bay.
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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.
For Paul and Jennifer Lee, this means knowing what normal looks like for their 12-year-old daughter.
“It’s noticeable immediately when she's not her talkative self,” Paul said.
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.
Jennifer and her daughter’s shared interest in art creates a relaxed atmosphere for them to interact. Jennifer related, “We do sit at the table and we talk to each other and we have good communication.”
Paul added, “Of course, we just make opportunities to talk.”
Beyond talking, listening and observing their kids, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.
The Lees’ daughter has several devices, but she does not have carte blanche to look up whatever she wants.
“She does it with our supervision and approval,” Paul stated, referring to his daughter’s internet usage.
They teach their daughter to be cautious so she won’t need constant monitoring as she gets older.
“I can't sit and hold her hand,” Jennifer said. “She's got to be able to do these things on her own and I try to train her to be careful what she searches for.”
The family cited the tips and reminders they’ve considered together from free resources available on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Paul and Jennifer especially recommended one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.” Paul said of jw.org, “We don't have to worry about any of the content on there.”