The Lance family, of Puyallup, Washington, has taken steps to prevent cyberbullying, including reviewing helpful articles and videos from jw.org with their children that discuss how to deal with online bullies. Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Public Information.
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.
“I'm very concerned about cyberbullying because it's such a huge blow to a young person's self-esteem,” said mother-of-three Amanda Labrucherie, who lives in Mead, Washington. “I want to do everything I can to protect my children from any form of attack.”
In Puyallup, Chad Lance’s daughter, who is a senior in high school, understands the effects of online bullying. “When someone hurts you, it can almost make you feel like you're less of a person,” she said.
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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.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 Amanda Labrucherie and her husband, Joel, that has meant being determined to stay aware of what “normal” looks like for their three children, ages 7, 8 and 14.
“When I see a change in my child's mood, or attitude, or his actions, it sends up a red flag for me that I need to go check their history,” said Amanda, referring to her children’s online activity.
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.
“I think a key to being an approachable parent is first of all spending time with your children in all sorts of activities and engaging them in conversation,” said Joel.
Parents of older teens may find it especially challenging to keep the lines of communication open. Chad and Rennae Lance have found that their response to what their children say also has an impact. “We’re always encouraging them that they can speak with us about anything,” said Chad, “that we're not going to judge them just because they brought something to us.”
Beyond talking, listening and observing their kids, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.
The Labrucherie children are allowed to play online games but have a set limit for screen time, and all their online connections are individuals known by their parents.
Joel and Amanda Labrucherie use apps to limit their children's online activity and to be able to monitor it. “We’re not always looking over their shoulder,” said Joel, referring to his children's electronic devices. But, he added, “We have access to those and can check them.”
“We have an open communication after school,” said Rennae. “We usually ask both kids how school went, what happened during the day. We also check their phones. We have check-ins and monitor their laptops, their electronic devices, just to protect them.”
“Sometimes it can be harder than other times because you feel like you're getting older,” commented one of Rennae’s children. “But I do understand the dangers and why they set these restrictions.” She acknowledged, “For your physical and mental health, it's good to have that balance.”
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.
“I feel like when you're going on social media or websites, it can be hard to differentiate what’s real and what's not,” said the Lances’ oldest child. She especially recommended one of the website’s short animated videos, “Be Social-Network Smart.”
“As parents, we don't always have all the answers,” admitted Chad. “We don't have the solutions to solve every problem. So having that resource of jw.org is