While remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic lowered reported instances of bullying, parents fear that, for some students, going back to school means going back to being bullied.

“If at all possible, we want to protect our kids from all forms of bullying,” said Tyler Shank of his family of five in Bloomington, Indiana.

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stopbullying.gov site advises parents to watch for subtle clues that something is wrong, such as their child becoming withdrawn, hiding their screen when others are nearby or reacting emotionally to what’s happening on their device.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 Tyler and his wife, Jana, that has meant being keenly aware of what “normal” looks like for their daughter, age 18, and their sons, ages 13 and 9.

“We know what normal is for our kids, so if something abnormal happens or there is a mood change, we are ready to address it,” said Jana.

The Shank family uses resources found at jw.org to prevent and effectively respond to cyberbullying.

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.

As their children have grown older, the Shanks have found that talking less and listening more works best.

“We’ve learned how to be good listeners and to be attentive to our kids,” said Tyler.

“We try to make opportunities throughout the day to talk with our kids without distractions,” said Jana. “We’ve come to know when each child is in the mood to talk. Even if it isn’t the best time for us, we are available.”

Beyond talking, listening and observing their kids, parents shouldn’t be afraid to make and enforce rules for online activities, experts say.

“We review our guidelines as a whole family so we can get the kids’ input,” Jana said. “They understand the rules are for their safety.”

Their daughter explained: “I may be 18, but I follow these rules. They are a protection for me.”

The Shank children put their devices away at bedtime and use apps to manage their screen time. Tyler and Jana also personally check in with each child and monitor their devices.

“We give them the freedom that they have earned by using their devices responsibly,” said Tyler. “But nothing is hidden.”

The parents 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 Shanks’ oldest son especially recommended one of the site’s short animated videos, “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.”

“I learned that if you’re being bullied, you should tell your teacher,” he said. “If you’re being cyberbullied, you should talk to your parents.”

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