Today's bullies are not restricted to cafeterias, gym classes and schoolyards. Our children now live in a high-tech world. It extends to every aspect of their lives -- including the ways they communicate, not only with their friends, but also their enemies.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, a startlingly 43 percent of teenagers report being victims of bullying by phone or Internet. And as technology improves, so do the opportunities for bullies to strike.
That was the case when 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington, of New York, took her own life this year in the wake of vicious online attacks. Her death echoes other recent suicides, including two in Massachusetts, those of 11-year-old Carl Hoover and 15-year-old Phoebe Prince.
Suicides are worst-case-scenarios, but they point to a growing and troubling trend, experts say.
Robin Sax, a legal and cyberbullying expert, said, "Now you put something online, and you have a YouTube video, and that gets spread and passed on, from not just within the schoolyard but from school-to-school to school. It's powerful and dangerous and really life-ruining for some children."
The harassment can happen online, or even on your child's cell phone. That's especially troubling because a recent study by the nonpartisan think-tank Pew Research Center shows that more than four-in-five teens with cell phones sleep with the phone on or near the bed. Add to that the fact that about 50 million teens ages 13-to-17 use Facebook worldwide, according to the site.
Parry Aftab, a legal and cyberbullying expert, said, "Too often, kids face cyberbullies all by themselves, in the dark, staring at the screen."
"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill said cyberbullying is a problem with no clear solution.
Sax said, "Everyone knows it takes many, many years to redo or repair your credit. The same thing happens with cyberbullying in trying to repair your reputation. It's almost impossible."
So what's a parent to do?
McCarthy suggested these parent control software programs on "The Early Show":
Monitor your teen's online activity:
1. SafetyWeb ("opposed to spying"), $10/month
SafetyWeb finds online accounts tied to children's e-mail addresses and monitors public online activity for signs of trouble - and semipublic activity if, for example, a child is friends with a parent on Facebook. The company is opposed to "spying," said its co-founder, Geoffrey Arone, so it focuses on alerting parents to potential problems by watching for profanity and red-flag keywords. (NY Times)
2. SocialShield (endorsed by the PTA), $10/month
SocialShield delves deeper into private social network content by having children add its Facebook, MySpace and Twitter applications. With this access, SocialShield monitors and distills what is happening for parents and alerts them to suspect content. (NY Times) Other functions include: Friends Engine. It tells parents who all of their kids' friends are and which of them are suspicious; Alerts Engine. It immediately notifies parents when discussions of violence, suicide, sex or drugs occur. It also lets parents know when suspicious people or adults try to become friends with their kids. Photos Engine. It lets parents view the photos of their children; Activity Engine. It reports to parents details of their kids' latest online activities. If they want, parents can read every word posted by their kids on major social-networking sites. The tools are endorsed by the PTA, which last week announced a partnering with Facebook to promote Internet safety through a set of tools and resources for kids, schools and parents. (USA Today)
Monitor your teen's smartphone activity:
1. Kid Phone Advocate, $5/month
(1) Monitor your kid's cell phones to keep them safe from online predators but also create responsible young adults. Alerts triggered by key words (sex, drugs, etc.) Kid Phone Advocate copies every incoming and outgoing call and text message along with the phone number and transmits that information to our secure server for storage and retrieval. We even make it easy to read through the "coded-language" used in text-messaging by translating these to readable text. (2) Parents will have the ability to oversee their teen driver's phone while they are in transit. The ability to call or text is disabled on the phone with the exception of 911 and two parent or guardian phone numbers. Parents can utilize this product along with Locate Pal to follow their child using the GPS technology available on the phone which will provide the location, capturing past and present routes along with their speed of travel. (company's website)
2. CellSafety, $5/month
Product Overview: Predators and online strangers call, text, and email young children by cell. And a new danger is cell stalking, where predators use chat rooms to find out about parties and "hook ups" where they prey upon young children and teens. This software busts them. Texting while driving is the #1 killer of teen-age drivers between 17 and 21. This software means fewer funerals. Cell phone cheating is the No. 1 form of dishonesty in test taking in our schools. This software establishes cell-free zones. Where are your children when they call you on the phone? Cell phones go anywhere. This software tells you where they are. (company website)
And what's a parent to do if you suspect cyberbullying? Click on the video below for Simmons' tips for parents looking for help.