Beat a Cyberbully

Beat a Cyberbully
Beat a Cyberbully

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

Juan Carlos Figueroa, of Brooklyn, New York, and his wife, Ivette, know the pain that bullying and cyberbullying can inflict. Their 14-year-old daughter faced both types of aggression from the fourth to the seventh grades related to body shaming. “When our daughter was younger, she was fearless, very confident to try new things and interact with people,” Juan Carlos said. “When the bullying started, we saw her self-esteem and confidence plummet.”

Like many bullied children, the Figueroas’ daughter did not immediately reveal the extent of the bullying or her feelings to her parents. “I felt stuck because I couldn’t change the way I look,” she said. “So, I felt like I was doomed for life.” After enduring years of negative comments about her physical appearance, she resigned to feeling that “it didn’t matter who I was or what I was: this is me, this is what I amount to. And it’s not enough.”

In the meantime, her parents were disoriented and frustrated as they noticed worrisome changes in their daughter’s behavior. “I couldn’t put my finger on it. We were always very close,” Ivette said. “Then that started to disappear. It made me feel like I was missing something or not seeing what I should. I was second-guessing everything. I wanted to connect with her and could not. For me, it was heartbreaking.”

“The bullying infiltrated us as a family,” Juan Carlos added.

Juan Carlos and Ivette Figueroa, of Brooklyn, at home with their daughter. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Figueroas have found that family time spent with Bible-based study aids has helped them to cope with the realities of cyberbullying. – PHOTO COURTESY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

Efforts to increase bullying awareness, such as National Bullying Prevention Month in October, have expanded to include the threat of cyberbullying. Technology’s ever-greater presence in children’s lives allows cyberbullies to taunt, harass and threaten relentlessly with just a click. Cyberbullies can remain anonymous and even reach into their victims’ homes 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.

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.

The Figueroa’s persisted through the uncertainties and confusion they felt as their daughter’s grades dropped, her eating habits and style of clothing changed, and she withdrew socially. “We learned even when you are absorbed with daily activities and chores, you need to make time to talk,” said Ivette. “Try to dig deeper and just listen. You may not like what you hear, and you may want to react to it, but you have to stay calm.”

“I’ve learned to apply the Bible’s counsel to ‘be quick to listen, slow to speak.’ I had to learn to talk less and ask more questions because if we don’t listen, our kids may feel, ‘they aren’t going to listen to me, so why bother talking?’” said Juan Carlos.

As Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Figueroas make it a priority to schedule regular family time each week. When they began to realize what their daughter was struggling with, they focused their discussions and efforts on how they could best help her overcome the effects from the bullying. “We used a whiteboard animation from jw.org that discusses the potential dangers of social media: ‘Be Social-Network Smart,’” said Juan Carlos. “And we try to set the example for her by not being on technology too much ourselves.”

The Figueroa’s daughter said she also benefited from practical advice from the Bible as she coped with her trial. After viewing a children’s video from jw.org that showed characters who didn’t retaliate when being treated badly, she resolved to follow that same course with her bullies.

“I tried to be kind no matter what people said, I just let it be. I was happier that way, and I think it made me a stronger person,” she said.

Other tips and free resources are available at jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as a short animated video “Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.”

For More Information Watch the animation: Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists

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