Mike Moen

MINNEAPOLIS — Distance learning is the new norm right now for many American students. And a Minnesota-based group encourages parents to remain vigilant about detecting online bullying.

October is National Bullying Prevention month, and experts say it’s a good reminder for parents to check in with their kids, since most are getting amplified screen time during the pandemic.

Julie Hertzog is the director of PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center. She said despite more awareness in recent years, online harassment among peers still is an issue. She said kids often know how to spot physical bullying and are aware of its consequences, but technology can allow bullies to more easily get away with targeting a fellow student.

“A student can be sitting in a classroom with their phone, and maybe they just got a text message from a group of kids saying, ‘You’re such a loser. Nobody wants you here.’ And they pick up that phone and they read it – and no other adult knows that that just happened,” Hertzog said.

She said parents need to take a delicate approach, since kids might not associate the word “bullying” with what’s happening, and they can be reluctant to provide details. And she said it’s important for parents to work on a solution with their child.

2019 survey of Minnesota students found 9% of 11th graders reported being the target of cyber-bullying weekly. And that number jumped to 14% among 5th graders.

Whether it’s online or in person, Hertzog said bullying not only has short-term effects on a student’s well-being, it can have long-term impacts as well – including chronic depression and substance abuse. And in some cases, the results can be tragic.

“Unfortunately, we do hear a lot about young people still in those situations where they have suicide ideation or are taking their lives,” she said.

She said even if a child is trying to hide a bullying problem, parents can still pick up on subtle behavior changes that might indicate their child is struggling.

This Wednesday, the Center is holding its annual Unity Day, which promotes kindness and inclusion. People are encouraged to wear orange or include it in their social-media posts to spread the message and raise awareness.