Living

Local parents help beat a cyberbully

HOULTON, Maine — When Jadian Smallwood’s oldest daughter told her about being bullied for the first time, the northern Maine mom was stunned. 

“It was so stressful for her,” Smallwood said. “She didn’t know what to do.”

With millions of children back to school this year, more than one in five of them will experience bullying, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And in a national study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, nearly 21 percent of tweens said they had been a target, aggressor or witness to bullying online or by other electronic means.

Sixteen years after the inception of National Bullying Prevention Month in October, technology’s 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. 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, said the National Parent Teacher Association

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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.

Smallwood and her husband, Jesse, have learned that taking a proactive approach is key. 

“You don’t want it to progress,” she said. “You want to stop it before it becomes a huge problem.” 

Educating themselves and their two daughters, ages 5 and 8, about how to handle any type of bullying is a family priority. 

“We can’t always be there to swoop in and protect them,” said Jesse Smallwood.

The more parents talk to their children about bullying, the more comfortable they will be sharing if they experience bullying, according to UNICEF’s online tips for parents. Beyond talking, listening and observing, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities.

The family said they found tips and reminders to share with their kids from free resources available on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

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