Beat a cyberbully: How parents can help

The website for Jehovah's Witnesses offers free family resources on topics including how to combat cyberbullying. Go to jw.org.

SALISBURY — 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.

“Bullying is something we worry about, as many children are very much into texting and communicating electronically,” said Lauren Longaker of her family of four in Cordova in a news release from Jehovah's Witnesses.

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, according to 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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.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 Laura and her husband Paul, that has meant being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for their two boys, ages 11 and 7.

“We try and communicate every single day; that way, we can notice changes they have in behavior or mood,” said Paul.

Lauren said that knowing what scares them, what makes them happy or what they are really into helps them be aware of what dangers to warn the kids about.

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 sons grow older, the Longakers have found that talking less and listening more works best.

“We try to keep the lines of communication open; if anything happens, we make sure that we are available so they can express how they feel. We focus on being approachable and listen without overreacting,” Paul said.

Beyond talking, listening and observing their kids, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.

The Longaker’s boys are allowed to play online games, but the parents use a timer to monitor their usage. They also have "video game free days," so they can keep a balance with other activities.

“We reassure the boys that we’re not trying to prevent them from having fun, but we have to set boundaries in order to protect them,” Lauren said.

During the time that they are given, the boys are able to engage in approved online activities, but the parents use a family app that lets them manage the boys’ contacts and alerts them of behaviors that could indicate abuse.

“If there’s a new game or app that they want to download, we discuss it to make sure that it is something appropriate for their ages,” Paul said.

The Longakers 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 Longaker’s sons especially recommended one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.”

“I love the whiteboard animations, because they explain what you are thinking, but in a better way that you can say it,” he said.

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