CARY, NC (WTVD) -- Bullying and harassment incidents are surging in Wake County Public Schools, and students have a message for parents on how to help- just listen.
"Sometimes students just want to rant to someone," Aliza Jankowsky, an eighth-grade student at Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, told the ABC11 I-Team. "You want them to listen and to acknowledge what's going on, to say, 'Wow that's tough. Thank you for sharing.'"
With her mother Angela beside her, Jankowsky bravely goes even further, offering a warning to parents about the fine line between staying involved in their child's life and being too intrusive to push the child away.
"As a student, when you tell your parents something, you really hope it's confidential. If not, you're going to stop telling them things," she said.
Parents and guardians, of course, are hardly alone in trying to navigate a pubescent minefield of social media, social awareness, and emerging technology.
According to the Wake County Public School System, the district is investing more than $40 million in counselors and what's known as SEL - Social and Emotional Learning.
Scott Nielsen, a guidance counselor at Cary's Davis Drive Middle School, said bullying in 2018 can be summed up in two words- toxic communication.
"We need to help them understand and learn empathy, tolerance, accepting of individual differences and also self-advocacy," Nielsen said. "There is definitely a difference between bullying and rudeness and meanness. Bullying is much more severe and intentional."
Echoing Jankowsky, Nielsen also offers a warning to parents.
"It's important they don't just say, 'Let's sit down and talk about bullying.' A lot of times children will just roll their eyes and want to change the subject. If they're withdrawing, no longer finding pleasure in certain activities, if they're not communicating, you want to be mindful of that," said Nielsen.
Instead, by devoting more time to listening, Nielsen said parents can learn alongside their children and grow in five key skills:
"It's really important to build that independence," Nielsen said, "But they're not ready to fly yet. Watch their facial expressions, the non-verbal communication. That's the real connection."
For additional research and resources on youth behavior, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health conducts a Youth Risk Behavioral Survey.
The latest survey, in 2017, highlights Sexual Behavior, High-Risk Substance Use, Violence Victimization, and Mental Health and Suicide.
I-Team: Counselors, parents, students talk new trends in bullying