Special to the Mirror, submitted by Ryan Rentschler Public Information | United States Branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
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.
“We are extremely concerned about bullying, especially since children tend to be very trusting,” said Rhonda Montgomery of her family of five in Accomack County, Virginia.
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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.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 Rhonda and her husband Jason, that has meant being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for their younger son and daughter, ages 15 and 13.
“We spend a lot of time with our children, and have come to know their distinct personalities. Knowing our children’s moods is very important because we can then discern if something is wrong,” said Jason.
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.
Now that their children are teenagers, the Montgomerys have found that talking less and listening more works best. “We try to be extremely approachable; the children know they can come to us,” said Jason.
Beyond talking, listening and observing their kids, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.
The Montgomery children are allowed to use electronic devices, but are expected to respect the parental controls and time limits that are in place. “We reassure the children that we’re not being nosy, but that people are not always what they appear to be. We help them understand that we are just trying to protect them,” said Rhonda.
The family 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.
The Montgomery’s son especially recommended one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.”
“I really like the whiteboard animations, which are very relatable,” he said. “They don’t pull any punches when giving advice; the information is plain and simple.”