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Beat Cyber-Bullies at Their Own Game

July 27, 2008

By Laura Morales, The Miami Herald

Jul. 27–What Everyone Should Know

at Cutler Ridge Middle School

Bullies have been taunting and roughing up victims since the beginning of time. The difference today? Now they’re tech-savvy.

“With the introduction of electronic communication, kids have been able to expand the ways they can hurt one another,” writes Meline Kevorkian, executive director of academic review at Nova Southeastern University, in her new book 101 Facts about Bullying: What Everyone Should Know ($32.95, Rowman & Littlefield Education).

Today’s cyber-bullies can send hurtful and threatening text messages on cell phones and create websites dedicated to vilifying certain classmates. They also can post nasty comments and humiliating photos on social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook.

TRAGIC LOSS

In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier of Missouri became the face of cyber-bullying victims by hanging herself after receiving cruel messages, which she thought were from a cute boy, on her MySpace page. Adult neighbor Lori Drew is accused of ordering an employee to send the messages. The case caused outrage across the country.

In April, Lakeland police arrested eight teens who filmed themselves viciously beating another girl into unconsciousness. Their excuse: The girl had been posting insulting and threatening messages on the others’ MySpace pages. The victim’s father accused the teens of making the video because they wanted to get famous by posting it online.

GROWING PROBLEM

“So many students go online now that it’s becoming

much more of a problem, and fast,” said Robert Loupo, a TRUST counselor at Cutler Ridge Middle School. “Sometimes they think what they’re posting online won’t be seen by anyone except their friends.”

He added that sensitive information, such as passwords and screen names, can be used to “frame” others by sending negative messages in their names.

YOUNGER VICTIMS

Kevorkian, whose book is scheduled to be published by Bryson Taylor Publishing in September, said children engaging in — and being hurt by — cyber-bullying are getting younger and younger.

“I’ve heard as early as kindergarten, kids are becoming victims. Often little kids know a lot of things about technology and the virtual world that their parents don’t,” she said.

“Parents need to educate themselves on how to monitor their kids online.”

The Miami-Dade and Broward school districts both have anti-bullying policies. Groups that tackle the issue have expanded into offering solutions to cyber-bullying.

“It’s a serious problem that’s getting worse because doing it online allows a perpetrator to remain anonymous,” said Anne Rambo, who works with SUPERB, an anti-bullying program approved by Broward’s school district. “They feel free to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise.”

NEW LEGISLATION

Governments also are trying to do their part. In May, state lawmakers passed an anti-bullying measure, the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, named after a Cape Coral boy who killed himself after being bullied in 2005.

That makes Florida the 36th state to enact such legislation.

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