Parents must be first line of defense

Monday’s front-page Mirror article about schools’ efforts geared at curbing cyberbullying acknowledged the difficulties and limits inherent in that mission.

Among the school district superintendents quoted in the article was Portage Area’s Eric Zelanko, who expressed the importance of raising awareness about the problem.

“Parents need to know what could be happening with their children,” he said. “They could be victims or the bully. All too often these kids say nothing until it is out of hand.”

In fact, parents, not school districts, should be the first line of defense, not only regarding cyberbullying but also “traditional” forms of that unacceptable conduct.

The challenge for parents needs to be to develop open communication with their children. Parents must instill confidence in their children that nothing is too sensitive or troubling to bring to their attention.

Once that dialogue begins, parents have the obligation not to brush off the problem as “just part of growing up,” or otherwise laugh off the issue as being trivial.

If a situation, in the eyes of a young person, is serious enough to be troubling him or her, it is serious enough for a parent to want to know about, and to have the opportunity to offer guidance or otherwise address properly.

News accounts in the past about young people who have taken their own lives because of their inability to cope with what was being directed their way should instill determination in parents not to have that happen within their own family.

At the same time, bullies, whether in “traditional” ways of making life miserable for someone else, or now with the added “vehicles” of social media, must be made to understand that they face a potential lifetime cost or mental burden if they become responsible for another person’s death.

Parents always need to watch for the possibility that their own children might be responsible for hurting other children through bullying and, like parents of young people being bullied, need to be a guiding light toward bringing that horrible conduct to an end.

Parents, and whole families alike, are harmed when one of their own is responsible for a young life being snuffed out.

Another way to look at the situation is that all parents need to “grow up” to their important responsibility of dealing with this increasingly widespread issue.

As Monday’s article noted, a 2015 state law made cyberbullying a third-degree misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania school districts have policies dealing with the problem, but the issue remains mostly a matter for police, although Altoona Police Sgt. Ben Jones says reports dealing with bullying are few.

Many young people are fearful of “fallout” for having discussed bullying directed at them with their parents or school authorities.

Such fears must be discouraged.

At the start of every school year, every school district should hold an open forum allowing parents to hear about and discuss the bullying problem, especially signs to watch for.

For many parents, an hour or two spent at such a session could help avert heartache that could live with them forever.

Curbing all forms of bullying — allowing young lives to remain happy and productive rather than tormented — is as important as anything else in the educational experience.