Q&A: How can parents handle tech and bullying as kids head back to school?

According to a 2022 Pew Research Center Report, 46% of U.S. teens ages 13-17 report experiencing some kind of cyberbullying - and how it manifests can vary

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Bullying is not a new concern for parents, but in today’s age of social media, there’s an added risk that it could happen as children sit at home. According to a 2022 Pew Research Center report, 46% of U.S. teens ages 13-17 report experiencing some kind of cyberbullying - and how it manifests can vary.

With kids more plugged in than ever, NBC10 Boston’s JC Monahan sat down with Dr. Elizabeth Englander, a professor of psychology and researcher at Bridgewater State University, to discuss what parents should know as students head back to school this season.



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The key takeaway - teach them to be resilient.

“There's no way you're going to set up the world that no one's ever going to be mean to them. It's not going to happen,” Englander said. “So the trick is to help your kids be resilient. That's the trick. And the way you do that is you make sure they really understand that they are likable and lovable, that people like them, that they have friends who like them and that they have family who loves them.”

Phones, tablets, social media and other tech have become a normal part of childhood. Englander says that means parents need to respect that their children are using it, and try to have open conversations about it.

“Telling kids things like that, their social media is all dumb or pointless that you think they shouldn't do it, that, you know, you're thinking of just taking it all away from them is a really good way to make sure they'll never talk to you about it. So if you want them to talk to you about it, really the best strategy is to ask your kids what they're doing. Ask them what they enjoy doing. Ask them what they and their friends are up to online. Ask them to show you the games they play or their activities online,” she said.

Englander said it’s hard to research exactly how much bullying actually happens online, in part because different people may interpret things differently. She believes a lot of hurt feelings can come from kids being careless in nature or ignorant of the impact of their actions, rather than being openly malicious.

But what can parents do if they discover their child is a victim of bullying?

“If it's a situation where somebody is, you know, being mean to your child and you're it's very upsetting - first of all, very upsetting when that happens. And that's a totally natural reaction. But what I would really encourage parents to do in that situation is really ramp up the support that they give their child. So, you know, the way the best way to combat kids being really deeply impacted by bullying and cyberbullying is to show them that most of the world isn't like this,” she explained.

Englander says a combination of friend time and family time can help.

“Friends are the single most powerful weapon that we have against bullying,” she said.

It’s also important for parents to spend time with their children simply doing fun things together.

“You don't have to talk about the situation at hand. That's not the goal. The goal is just to spend some time connecting. How's life going? How are you feeling about the fourth grade? It's a change from the third grade. You know, Those kinds of things are really, really important for kids, and it makes them more resilient and better able to cope when somebody is being mean to them,” Englander said.

Englander’s other tips include knowing the rules your child’s school has surrounding the use of tech and following them. If you’re opposed to a certain policy, she suggests working with the school district or PTO to change the rules, rather than trying to undermine or circumvent them.

For more resources on bullying, click here.

Learn more about Englander and her research here.

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