The counselors at Octorara Middle School (OMS) recently addressed an important trend happening in our society with parents of students -- the trend to bully via the web.

"More and more students are on-line," said Bev Rice, OMS counselor.

The Internet has introduced a whole new world of communication for the students, who use it to send e-mails, go on web sites, instant text messaging, and chat rooms to stay in touch. Young people have really embraced the Internet and other technology to interact with one another.

And, because of that, it has also increased the chances for bullying via threats made or name-calling over the web, especially if students making the threats think they're doing it anonymously.

While Rice and Judy Turzi, also an OMS counselor, said there weren't specific cases happening to students at Octorara, they have seen an increase in cyber-bullying in the area.

"[It is a problem] not unique to our area," said Rice.

So, at last month's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting, the two counselors discussed with parents safety issues. Both Turzi and Rice have attended programs and workshops about cyber-bullying. The information they received, they in turn distributed to parents and community members.

"We really try to take a pro-active approach," added Rice, "teaching our students about how to conduct themselves in not only school, but on-line as well."

"[Cyber-bullying] is hard to monitor," noted Turzi. "It's a different kind of threat."

Turzi said they had a good response from parents to the information they distributed.

An informal survey done nationally reports that 50 percent of students surveyed say they are online most of the time and only 16 percent say they talk to their parents about what they do online.

With the advent of text messaging, kids are even bullied through cell phones, which further challenges the ability of adults to appropriately monitor and guide children.

In addition to making parents aware, Turzi said they want to review their policies so they can be better equipped to handle such an incident if it arises.

"The trick is to identify the problem and get help before the student gets in over their head," said Turzi.

There is a bullying policy already in place at the middle school. Bullying is addressed in a variety of ways, and guidance counselors also enter the classrooms providing character education and career/goal setting lessons.

Cyber Bullying and the Law

Students and parents need to know that online bullying is considered a criminal act. It is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if what you are communicating causes them to fear for their safety or the safety of others. It is also a criminal act to publish defamatory libel that damages a person's character or reputation.

It is important to also know that even though one may create havoc and fear through the "anonymity" of the Internet, they can be traced through the Internet service provider. Cyber-bullying is everyone's responsibility and the best response is a pro-active and preventative one.

What Parents Can Do

* Get involved and beware. Learn everything you can about the Internet and what kids are doing online.

* Talk to your children about their Internet activities and what is acceptable use.

* Encourage them to tell you when they come across anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

* Teach them what is responsible usage and not to post anything they would not want you to read.

* Place the computer in a visible location such as the kitchen and monitor how they are using the computer.

* Report incidents of online harassment. If your child is being bullied through a mobile phone, report the problem to the parents of the bully, the police or school officials.

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