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As children return to school next month, they will meet their new teachers and meet new friends. Unfortunately many children may also meet a bully. One in six children is bullied on an ongoing basis. The word "bully" may conjure up images of a child stealing another's lunch money in exchange for not harming his or her victim. But bullies have a new face, a new line of attack.
The latest type of bullying occurs not on a playground or at school. This threat could be right in your own home, on your very own computer. We worry about viruses invading our computers and one has: cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is defined as the use of technology, such as cell phones and the Internet, to harass or humiliate another person or group of people. The number of children on the Web is also increasing. Eighty percent of students in grades 5-8 are online at least one hour per week.
In a recent study conducted by I-Safe, a non-profit education association dedicated to Internet safety, 42% of children in grades 4-8 polled experienced bullying online. A cyberbully may be a person the target knows or an online stranger. Sometimes, a victim is harassed by another student in school and comes home, only to confront the same bully online. Although cyberbullies hide behind their computer screen or cell phone, they can create as much havoc in the lives of those they threaten as if they were face to face with their targets.
"Cyberbullies do not use their fists. Technology is the weapon they choose to prey on their victims," explained Melody Powell, Director of Prevention Services at PEI Kids. PEI Kids is dedicated to promoting and maintaining a safe environment for all children and offers a wide range of programs throughout Mercer County, including "No More Bullies, No More Victims," a bullying prevention program, developed by the New Jersey Child Assault Prevention (CAP) Project. "We provide students with the tools they need if they are confronted by a bully," added Powell. "Our goal is that children stay 'safe, strong and free,' whether they are in school or home on their computers."
In another survey conducted by I-Safe, 47% of parents felt that their ability to monitor and shelter their children from inappropriate material was limited. Parents, however, are instrumental in preventing their child from being exposed to a cyberbully and should view the Internet as they would any stranger who enters their home. Below are some prevention tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Stop Bullying Now! Project:
PEI Kids also offers a parenting and caregiver workshop as part of the ACT-Adults & Children Together-Against Violence program. PEI Kids conducts 5-session parent/caregiver courses at no cost in conjunction with other local organizations. Shorter presentations or workshops focusing on early violence prevention skills have been developed based on segments of the ACT curriculum, including one on cyberbullying and Internet safety.
Earlier this month, Governor Jon Corzine moved to expand Internet safety programs in New Jersey. Beginning this new school year, school officials are expected to better educate students, parents and community groups about ways to recognize and avoid Internet threats from pedophiles and other predators.
For those who believe that bullies are "kids being kids," think again. A quarter of a million children report on a monthly basis that they are physically assaulted by other children and160,000 children miss school each day because they feel intimidated by their peers. And in a report conducted by the Secret Service on school shooters, several of the attackers had experienced bullying and harassment that was long standing and severe.
We live in an age where MySpace.com pages are almost as commonplace as bicycles in our children's lives. Webkinz, stuffed animals that come alive online in a virtual world, are the rage with younger sect of our society. And cyberbullies are the rage too.
PEI Kids was founded as a private, non-profit organization in 1985 to meet the growing need for education, intervention and training programs relating to children's personal safety and child sexual abuse. Today, PEI Kids offers a comprehensive array of children's services in Mercer County. PEI Kids can be reached at 609-695-3739 or through the organization's website at www.peikids.org.
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