Beat a cyberbully – here’s how parents can help

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.

Antioch couple shares their approach

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.

Adrian and his wife Nalana, who live in Antioch, understand the threat bullying may pose to their children.

“As parents, it can be a pretty big concern. It can be a big worry that if your child is on some social networking site, they can be targeted,” Nalana 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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what is happening on their device.

For Adrian and Nalana, that means being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for their two teenagers, ages 16 and 18.

“Watching for different body language or different characteristics in your children is important as parents,” Adrian said. “So, if we feel we see something, we’ll converse with one another. That way, we are able to head it off better if there is a problem.”

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.

Adrian and Nalana take a similar approach. While they do have full access to their children’s devices, they do not feel the need to constantly monitor their children’s activity online. “The more trust they earn, the less reason we have to hover over them as much, because we see them living by our guidelines,” Adrian said.

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.

Adrian and Nalana’s 16-year-old daughter especially recommends one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists”.

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