Legislators and school officials fight cyberbullying


A string of recent suicides and other tragedies across the nation has parents and experts concerned about the devastating impact of cyberbullying on our kids.

A study by the National Crime Prevention Council found that 43 percent of teens were bullied online in 2009. Technology such as e-mail, text messages and social networking sites make it easier than ever for children to intimidate their peers without actually coming face-to-face with them. Victims may be targeted with rumors, lies, threats and altered photos.

Some states are taking specific legal action to prevent more cases. A new Missouri law took effect in August requiring schools to specifically address cyberbullying in school policies and to treat it the same as face-to-face bullying. Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, a former schoolteacher and principal, sponsored the legislation.

“The whole issue has become important because of all the technology available,” said Wilson. “We need to pay more attention and look for signs of stress among our young people.”

The warning signs of a cyberbullying victim aren’t always easily recognized. Parents should keep an eye out for reluctance to use a cell phone or the Internet. Other signs for concern include depression, mood swings, quickly closing Internet browser windows or an unwillingness to talk about online activities.

Parents should also be alert to any bullying their own children might be instigating. Young people who are not necessarily physically violent may find it easier to initiate conflict online.

Experts say parents should establish guidelines and have discussions with their kids about appropriate online behavior to prevent cyberbullying from starting or escalating.

Zeke Long is the director of customer care and fulfillment for Socket, a Missouri-based telephone and Internet provider. He recommends keeping the computer in a common area of the house—such as the kitchen or family room—rather than in kids' bedrooms.

"As parents, we communicate with our kids as best we can," said Wilson. "Let [your children] know that you are there. Create a dialogue, and let them know you are aware of what is out there."

“The best weapon against cyberbullying is good parenting,” Long said. “You won’t be able to eliminate a teen’s online presence, but you can help them be smart about managing it.”

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