"Mean Girls" go viral

When I was in 6th grade, my best friend from elementary school "broke up" with me-apparently, I was too nerdy for her liking-which consisted of her spreading rumors to anyone who would listen. Mostly, she said mean things about me. Luckily, my middle school taunts were limited to the playground. Not so for today's tweens and teens as bullies have taken to the Internet, where their ridicule can be seen by anyone with an Internet connection and can last a lifetime.

Cyberbullying is so bad that Internet safety seems to be on the mind of every parent, politician, and media personality these days. Indeed, recent stories detail the horrific impact that online peer-to-peer aggression can have on the lives of young people. These incidents are terrifying for any parent and teen alike.

Take for instance the story of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old girl who moved to Massachusetts from a small town in Ireland only to commit suicide after several of her classmates harassed her about everything from her accent to teen love on Facebook and through text messages. Even after Phoebe's tragic death, her tormentors left disparaging comments about her on a Facebook memorial page.

Sadly, such incidents are not a rarity. Just last month, 15 middle school students in Oklahoma were suspended after joining "I Hate" groups on Facebook that targeted a particular sixth-grader at their school. In Washington State, 28 students were suspended in a similar case.

A 2008 study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that out of approximately 2000 middle school students surveyed, over 43% were victims of cyberbullying. So it's no wonder that parents and educators are desperate to help children navigate the Internet safely but often feel they lack the skills to do so.

New websites and publications have come to the rescue. CyberBully411.com is dedicated to combating cyberbullying and Internet harassment. Last week, SCP President Stacie Rumenap attended a forum about online reputations, in which Federal Trade Commission staffer Nat Wood talked about the affects on people's lives as they share more of their lives online through social networking sites, blogs and other online services, and how that phenomenon makes it more important than ever for parents to have the necessary tools to help protect their kids from cyberbullying and other online threats. Wood touted the FTC's newest guide, Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids about Being Online. A must-have resource for parents, Net Cetera includes information and advice about talking to children and teenagers about staying safe online, protecting their private information, texting, social network etiquette and more.

Remember parents, talk to your children about Internet etiquette-it just might save your 6th grader the embarrassment brought on by a would-be cyberbully.

About Stop Child Predators
Stop Child Predators is a national non-profit organization that brings together a team of policy experts, law enforcement officers, community leaders, and parents to persuade state and federal lawmakers to enact policies to combat the sexual exploitation of children, and promote and protect the rights of victims.