Homeschooling has, since long ago, transitioned from moms simply teaching every subject around a kitchen table to parents holistically managing their children’s education. Homeschool students routinely take courses online for advanced math and science, meet in each other’s homes or at a co-op for writing classes, and video call teachers in other countries to learn foreign languages.
It’s likely that if the term “homeschool” was coined today, it might instead be called “mobile school,” “telecommuting your education” or “multifaceted learning.” But with our group activities, friendly gatherings, volunteer opportunities, field trips, tutor sessions, and co-ops abruptly stopping, the COVID-19 quarantine has been almost as disruptive for home educators as for public school students.
Many parents were excited to embrace online solutions to complete the 2020 school year. Free resources and trial classes are popping up throughout social media, and homeschoolers are joining with public school families to explore these new opportunities. Many homeschooling parents who work from home now need quiet during times that were once scheduled with outsourced learning activities for their kids. The natural solution for many is more screen time for their children.
Online bullying: Taking parents and kids by surprise
Unfortunately, many homeschoolers are unaware of the real threats to their children from online predators and bullies. The number of reports to the Bullied Broken Redeemed team about bullies targeting students online have increased—double or even
triple our normal volume!—in recent weeks as widespread social isolation resulted in kids spending a lot more time online.
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is repeated and includes a power imbalance. Bullies are addicted to the adrenaline rush of controlling other students. When taken away from school, groups, or other in-person social activities, bullies seek their rush online, and they commonly prey on children whom they perceive as weaker.
Empirical studies indicate that bullies and predators groom their victims for weeks or months before attacking—often befriending a child in what seems to be a safe online environment, such as a video game, app, or online class. The initial interactions can seem friendly and last several weeks before the real agenda of bullies and predators becomes apparent. Unfortunately, this plan can align with the timeline of many parents, who tend to monitor communications in their child’s new online environment at first and then slowly relax when nothing seems to be amiss.
But this relaxation is often replaced by shock, as bullies move out of the grooming period and begin to target their victim. This can happen in several ways.
Multiplayer video games, for example, are some of the most fertile grounds for bullies. Many parents are not aware that their children are vulnerable to bullies while playing video games, as gamers can quickly band together to target one player.
Sometimes this pattern repeats itself in online classes, where classmates can quickly turn into predatory bullies.
70% of children do not tell their parents about being bullied.
The Bullied Broken Redeemed team regularly receives calls from parents who are shocked that their children, while simply playing a video game or taking an online class, received messages from bullies telling their kids that they should harm themselves—and it is common for other players or classmates to see a message to another child and jump in on bullying. Within a short period of time, sometimes even within an afternoon, a child can be inundated with a succession of degrading messages that lead them to self-harm.
Today’s bullying: Unrelenting and potentially life-threatening
Many parents assume that the bullying they experienced as a child in school is similar to what their children experience today. This is simply not true—the around-the-clock online dynamic of social media apps, gaming, and even texting has allowed the power imbalance inherent to bullying to exponentially shift to a soul-crushing level. Today’s bullying has become increasingly dangerous and can easily move from manipulating victims into superficial self-harming actions, all the way to bullycide.
Bullycide is the term used when a child commits suicide after being bullied. To bullycide another person is a badge of honor for many students, and the problem is exacerbated through the internet. Bullies routinely recruit others to target a victim, making it impossible to alleviate the problem by blocking a single account. Once a bully is identified, the bully will change accounts, add additional names, or find other ways to victimize their target.
Sexting is another form of bullying that is relatively new. Bullies demand their targets send inappropriate pictures and then threaten to send the pictures to others or post them online.
The solution: Not that simple
Seventy percent of children do not tell their parents about being bullied. Bullying can be confusing to kids, and many lack the vocabulary to express what is happening. Students may question if the bullying is serious or think they can redeem the relationship. As the harsh words and aggressive behavior continues, the bullied students may feel shame, worrying that telling their parents will only make their situation even worse.
Some victims try to appease their bullies by stepping outside of their parents’ moral boundaries, trying to fit in by using words or taking pictures of themselves that would be considered taboo in their household. Bullies can take advantage of this behavior. As they persuade their targets to continue these actions, they simultaneously make it harder for bullied children to open a conversation with their parents because they fear their parents’ reactions.
Once bullying has begun, it is almost impossible for children or teens to stop it on their own. The target’s self-esteem is destroyed, limiting their natural ability to refute the horrible words being said about them. These kids’ moral improprieties and low self-esteem add fuel to the fire, empowering their bullies and opening themselves up to even more aggressive behavior. Many children find themselves in a spiral of self-hatred, inappropriate actions, and failed attempts to stop the bullying.
Keys to stopping bullying and starting your child’s healing
Parents who are successful at helping their children are the parents who realize that their child has been systematically and purposefully attacked.
When parents suspect their child has been bullied, it is imperative to remain calm and practice forgiveness. As you discuss bullying with your child, explain that it is common for bullied students to sometimes act inappropriately. Tell your child that God forgives those who ask for forgiveness and that you are not there to judge them but to help them through the situation.
The best prevention: Family awareness and having a plan
It is crucial that parents become aware of the dangers of online predators and formulate a plan to combat them with their children. You can use resources like those available through Bullied Broken Redeemed (see Resources below) that equip you in family meetings to explain grooming, bullying, and ways to stop it before your child becomes a target.
Are you being bullied?
If you are a kid reading this and you think you are experiencing bullying, here are things you can do:
- Tell a trusted adult.
- Document your experiences—take a screenshot, if you can. Every last record helps.
- Never engage in online or in-person bullying yourself.
Candice’s website, bulliedbrokenredeemed.com, offers resources (like the resources guidebook found here), guidance, counseling, and now one-on-one support for students, parents, counselors, and teachers who are trying to deal with the hard issue of bullying. HSLDA members can use coupon code HSLDA to receive 50% off ebooks on the site.
Here are some additional resources to help you and your family.
- Candice recently appeared on a podcast with authors Hal and Melanie Young, digging deeper into the topic of how parents can help their kids who are experiencing bullying. Find it here.
- To read more official statistics, data, and analysis from the US government on the topic of online bullying, visit stopbullying.gov.
- Do you know a student in traditional public or private school who is experiencing bullying? Defeatthelabel.com promotes programs to help students of all educational and religious backgrounds overcome bullying and harassment.