For most parents, dropping kids off at school is an act of faith. We leave our kids in the hands of teachers and administrators, who, for about eight hours each day, serve as the primary caretakers of our children. Keeping a close watch on 20 or more children is a teacher’s duty, but there are times—like recess or lunch—when their students aren’t in their classroom or their care. And those instances may be ideal times for bullies to target their victims.
Bullying and cliques are often the big worry that parents have when their kids are at school. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s “Student Reports of Bullying: Results from the 2015 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey,” more than 20 percent of preteens and teens (ages 12-18) reported that they had been victims of bullying.
While parents may assume that typical recess bullying—like pushing, teasing or even ostracizing—are the prominent forms of bullying, cyberbullying has become one of the most prevalent forms of peer-to-peer torment. And this abuse often doesn’t happen at school…but at home. With the majority of kids and teens having access to computers and digital devices, the internet and social media are always available. And some apps may allow bullies to hide behind pseudonyms or post anonymously. According to DoSomething.org, more than 40 percent of kids have been targeted through cyber channels.
Parents may not be able to completely assure that their child will never be bullied; they can take measures to proactively empower kids to know what to do if they are targeted. Of course, parents also need to teach their children the actions that define bullying, so that their child doesn’t become the abuser.
Parents should sit down with kids—yes, even young children—to talk about how to treat others. Teach kids that pushing, shoving, name calling or intentionally excluding others are cruel and unkind behaviors. Parents also may engage kids in role playing games to help children understand how they might feel in a situation. Also, teach kids that it is ok to tell on bullies. If they feel threatened or hurt in any way—or if they see another child being targeted—empower kids to tell a teacher.
Since the internet is the biggest playground for bullies, set boundaries on social media apps. For younger teens or tweens, make sure that they only friend close friends or family members. Make sure teens understand that they don’t have to friend everyone in their class…just individuals whom they trust. Also discuss what information may or may not be shared online, including photos (and educate teens about what photos can and CANNOT be snapped!). Ideally, computers and devices also should be used in the open…not behind closed doors.
Parents should become educated about social media apps their teens or tweens use (or may wish to use). Review the app, and always read the Terms of Service. Adjust privacy settings to limit what the public may see or view.
Encourage Extracurricular Activities
Kids who are busy outside of school have less free time to engage on social media. Extracurricular activities like sports also boost self-esteem and help kids maintain good health. However, activities for kids and teens aren’t limited to sports. Encourage kids to participate in 4-H, scouting or research social emotional learning programs that help kids learn how to positively manage their peer relationships. SEL programs focus on emotional intelligence—or EQ—and also can help teach kids how to deal with difficult social situations (like bullying or even peer pressure).
Parenting requires letting go, especially when kids head off to school. But letting go also means entrusting kids with other caregivers and thrusting kids into a world that sometimes isn’t so kind. While parents cannot guard kids from bullies, they can help kids learn how to handle bullying situations…and teach kids how to treat others with kindness. The lessons in empathy and friendship begin at home, but parents also can take proactive measures to help kids stay safe and respect others./
Guest post by: Hilary Smith
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. @HilaryS33