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Bullies Go High-Tech

You can now add bullying to the list of things made easier by technology. Teens today live much of their lives on the Internet. Online bullying, also called cyberbullying, can involve using the Internet, cell phones, or other devices to send text or images that are intended to embarrass or hurt the other person.

Cyberbullying affects almost of all American teens, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Online bullying has been used for the following purposes:

  • Pretending to be someone else in order to trick someone

  • Telling untrue stories or rumors about another person

  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images

  • Posting someone's picture without his or her consent

  • Sharing private or sensitive information about a person

So the bullies bent on malice have new weapons. Their nameless nature can make the bullies bolder. The victim can be reached anytime, anywhere. A child can flee a school-yard bully just by leaving, but that won't work in cyberspace.

Parents often don't know of the problem because children hesitate to report it. Awareness is the first step, and education about preventing and managing cyberbullying is key.

So what's a parent to do? It may not be possible to make a child bully-proof, but here are some ideas:

  • Remind your child: Don't open e-mail or accept instant messages from unknown senders.

  • Block communication with the cyberbully. Delete email messages without reading them. Share your concerns about the bullying with a trusted friend, or better, a parent.

  • Don't share your phone number, password, or e-mail address.

  • Don't reply to any bullying or disturbing message.

  • Take a picture of the screen of the e-mail or message and save it as evidence, especially if the message is threatening to you. It will help the authorities in their investigation.

  • Never meet anyone in person that you have only known online.

  • Tell an authority figure at once if a threatening message shows up.

  • Report threatening contact right away to the service provider.

  • Educate yourself about Internet safety and how to deal with cyberbullying at Web sites such as Stopcyberbullying.org and Wiredsafety.org

A good rule of thumb to remember is that is you wouldn't say it in person, you probably shouldn't say it online. Parents need to watch for changes in a child's behavior that can signal problems like bullying and talk with their parents about their online activities. Keep the Internet a fun and safe environment for your child.