Kids taunting kids, verbal assaults, harassment. Unfortunately, bullying is an all too familiar part of growing up. But experts are sounding an alarm about a new breed of bullies --skipping the school yard and attacking from the shadows -- with devastating consequences.
One such victim, is "Jennifer". She spends countless hours instant messaging with friends everyday after school.
"We talk about schoolwork, or our day, or anything."
Jennifer isn't her real name. She's protecting herself. Why? "I got a weird instant message from a screen name I didn't recognize. He would just make comments about my body on the field, dancing in a pep rally, so that told me that it was someone that had to go to my school."
Jennifer was the victim of a cyber bully. Harassers email mean messages, post cruel comments on websites, even taunt via text message. A recent survey shows it's an exploding problem.
Nancy Willard, Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use: "57% of the students in 4th to 8th grade said that someone had said mean or hurtful things to them online, with 13% saying that it occurred quite regularly."
Cyber assaults can be more vicious than face-to-face attacks because bullies can remain anonymous. Vericept Corporation monitors computer communication for schools nationwide.
Mike Reagan, Vericept Corporation: "We have examples of students threatening other students in instant messaging saying that they're going to beat them to a pulp with a baseball bat."
Cyber bullies can type their terror at school, home, virtually anywhere. Ted Feinberg, of the National Association of School Psychologists, says the results can be devastating. "We can have youngsters who have been bullied who have had no relief who consider suicide."
The U.S. Department of Education believes educators must take a tough stand now.
Bill Modzeleski, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools: "One of the roles for schools is to establish policies, which set out what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior."
No matter what schools do, parents need to get involved... checking chat rooms and looking for online diaries called weblogs. If a problem is detected, "one way to stop it is to file a complaint with the web site host or the internet service provider and get the material removed."
And, always keep a record of the messages. Ted Feinberg: "They should be getting printed copies of these offending messages, so that they can share them with either legal council or with the police or with the school."
It didn't take legal action to stop Jennifer's bully. Eventually, a friend revealed his identity, and her school took action. But Jennifer still had to face him everyday in the halls. "He would not look at me in the eye and I didn't want to look him in the eye."
If a cyber bully is harassing your child, you can block e-mails and I-M's from that specific screen name. But remember, bullies can easily change names. If harassment continues, contact your internet service provider.