Bullying. For many parents, the term may conjure up recollections of face-to-face altercations in school hallways or cafeterias. And those situations can still happen.
But in today’s climate where most teens, and many tweens, have unfettered access to smart phones and social media, bullying can easily spread outside of the school day to potentially threaten students around the clock, 365 days a year.
“One of the things that we try to get across to parents is that bullying doesn’t just happen from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. anymore. With social media, it can happen anywhere, anytime,” said Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS )and a former, longtime Fayette County high school principal.
Akers’ agency works with students and parents across the state to help reduce the risk of bullying, and the KCSS web site (kycss.org) offers a comprehensive list of anti-bullying information and resources.
During a recent interview, Akers discussed how courage comes into play not only for bullying victims, but also for bystanders and parents, when taking a stand against bullying.
It’s important to start a dialog with your children about bullying — what it is and the forms it may take. Encourage kids to have the courage to report any instances of bullying they are experiencing to you and to school officials. “Victims should report bullying right away,” said Akers, who is also a member of the Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force. “They shouldn’t drag their heels at all. They shouldn’t wait for this thing to go away.”
But, the message shouldn’t stop there. Talk with you kids about the importance of standing up to bullies when they witness bullying happening to someone else. In the midst of a bullying episode, “it’s essential that bystanders have the courage to speak up,” Akers said. “If we see a friend of ours being bullied, then we need to stand right next to them and tell the bully to stop. Research is very clear on this — if the bully sees two or three people step in to support that person, he or she will back off.” This goes for online or social media bullying as well.
Finally, parents have to have the courage to monitor kids’ phones in order to review the types of texts and social media messages they are sending and receiving. And this should happen daily, Akers advised.
“Parents need to look at their kids’ cell phones on a regular basis and not feel that they are intruding into their private lives. Now, kids may not like that to start with, but if they don’t like it, then maybe there’s something on the phones they don’t want you to see, and that could be a red flag,” Akers said.
Make a habit of charging kids’ phones in the parents’ bedroom each night -— both as a means of preventing kids from unsupervised texting late at night and to provide moms and dads with a chance to review kids’ messaging activity at the end of each day, Akers advised.
“It’s important for the parents to know what web sites and social media sites their kids are on,” Akers said.
Finally, if your child does come to you to report that he or she has been the victim of bullying, it’s important to respond appropriately, according to Pacer.org’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Don’t dismiss the situation or make your kids feel it’s up to them alone to stop the bullying. Assure them they aren’t to blame and that you’ll work together to help find a solution.
Find helpful anti-bullying resources online atkycss.org, StopBullying.gov, and pacer.org/bullying.