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Back to School 2020: Preparing for a Safe and Successful Academic Year

Preparing to return to school is always a busy time for students and families, this year, the back- to-school season may be more stressful than past years. There are so many questions and uncertainties with COVID-19. Understandably, many parents and caregivers may have more anxiety about sending their children back- to-school. While these fears are warranted, it’s important to remember that children are watching the adults around them and will likely react and cope, based on what they see. The best way to help your children, and keep them safe, is to keep an open, age appropriate conversation going about the situation.

COVID-19 Safety Considerations

Below are some tips to communicate and help make your child feel more comfortable with COVID-19 and the upcoming school year:

● Keep information age-appropriate while ensuring that it is still honest and accurate.

● If your student is required to wear a mask at school, have them practice wearing it around the house, while out, and while playing before the first day of school. This allows them to become more comfortable with wearing a mask. Make sure their mask fits well and is as comfortable as possible.

● Reassure your child that their school is doing what they can to keep them safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel scared or uncertain. You may share how you deal with your own uncertainty so that they can learn from you.

● Make sure your child knows they can talk to you. Answer their questions honestly.

● Try not to minimize or avoid their fears or concerns. This helps validate that their feelings are normal.

● Remain calm, children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They can pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues such as body language during conversations you have with them and others.

● Teach them about ways they can help protect themselves and others; washing hands, sneezing into a tissue or elbow, avoid touching their face and eyes and letting an adult know when they don’t feel well.

● Maintain a normal routine as much as possible.

● Pay attention to what your child sees in the media and how they understand it. Children may misinterpret what they hear or be frightened about what they don’t understand.

More tips and resources may be found here.


Online Safety Issues

Now that summer is winding down, many activities will begin to move indoors. The amount of time that children spend online may increase. As if the challenges of raising kids during the COVID-19 Pandemic are not enough, parents are faced with many challenges and fears regarding online safety. Technology is ever changing and growing and so are online threats. Being educated and alert is the best line of defense to protect youth online.

According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, 45% of teens say they are “online near constantly” (https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2007/06/27/cyberbullying/). Additionally, the Center for Disease Control reports that 15% or high school students were electronically bullied in 2017. Electronic bullying, often referred to as cyberbullying, occurs on phones or other connected devices and is usually repeated harassment and some type of power imbalance. Most cyberbullying involves somebody getting put down or excluded. It is important to pay attention to what your child does online, asking non-threating question and not over-reacting can help keep communication open. Consider these tips:

  • Being a supportive adult can minimize the impact of cyberbullying if a child does become a bystander or target of cyberbullying.
  • The initial response to bullying might be to retaliate, but it’s best not to respond. You may consider blocking the person and save the evidence in case it’s needed.
  • The most important step is to talk to your child about what is happening, help them think through the situation, how they feel about it and what you can do about it together.
  • Try not to take over the situation, but instead involve your child in the process and problem solving. This can help them regain dignity and control over the situation.
  • Any response to cyberbullying needs to be well thought out, acting rashly can make things worse.
  • If the cyberbullying does not stop, advocates are available to discuss online safety planning as well as possible no contact orders.
  • Most cell phone companies have an app to restrict children’s online activity.
  • Know what type of apps your children are using, and what their privacy settings are.
  • Keep open lines of communication with your children so they know they can talk to you if someone has tried taking advantage of them.
  • Be aware that your children’s classmates and peers might also engage in unsafe online behaviors.
  • Keep an eye out for any major changes in behavior, as this may indicate that something more is going on.

Online Exploitation

As teens and children increase their online usage, they increase the risk of encountering a predator. Predators use the knowledge of current trends, and their ability to speak child/teen online lingo, to lure young people into conversations that can lead to dangerous relationships. Direct access to unsuspecting children/teens through online games, social media platforms, instant messaging, email, and chat rooms may simplify the predator’s efforts.

When kids are online, they may be approached by predators with grooming behaviors. The predator may pretend to be another youth to gain trust. This grooming may lead to online sexual solicitation. Grooming includes asks for any personal information (name, age, where the child lives, how old they are, where their parents are, if there are other kids in the house, etc.), adding them to friends lists, asking for contact information other than through the current platform being used. Once a relationship is established the predator may ask for photos, that seem innocent at first and then over time escalate for requests of photos or videos of a sexual nature.

Parents may add safety software to their family’s devices that limit access to social media, games, websites, apps, email, text messages, and other online communication methods.

More information can be found at https://internetsafety101.org/trafficking or https://www.connectsafely.org/

If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying, online exploitation, or other crimes, please contact Someplace Safe at 1.800.974.3359. Visit www.someplacesafe.info for more information.


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