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Cyberbullying a growing concern

Published: Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Joe McMahon said he believes the issue of bullying is so important that the Kane County state’s attorney devoted an entire media briefing to the subject. While many problems related to the subject have been happening for years, McMahon said there is a spotlight on something he never had to deal with while he was growing up – cyberbullying.

The word refers to harm that can be done through the Internet – such as a social media website, a message board, email or texting, among others. McMahon said this development has to do with the perception that bullying has become a bigger issue than ever before. He said it is almost as though the school day doesn’t have an ending.

“The school day used to be defined,” McMahon said. “Now, with all the Internet sites and Facebook, the communication is extended. I didn’t talk to my classmates when I got home [when I was a student]. They didn’t talk to me.”

At each level of schooling, administrators and counselors identify different challenges according to age. Cyberbullying is a particular challenge for those in high school, where students are known to be active in social media. Cindy Kovach, a counselor at Geneva High School, said that is an area of focus at her school.

“I would say what we talk about most among us is the cyberbullying,” she said. “And that often takes place outside of school.”

Geneva High School Principal Tom Rogers said it’s on the top of his list, too.

“The social media they are using is so incredibly popular,” he said. “I don’t see how it can be anything other than that.”

The DuPage County document “Best Practices in Bullying Prevention and Intervention” defines cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cellphones and other electronic devices.” It cites examples such as hurtful or threatening text messages, rumors spread using phones or computers, creating websites, videos or profiles to make fun of others or taking inappropriate photos and posting or spreading them online.

The document states that cyberbullying can be hurtful for many reasons. A large number of people can become involved very quickly and easily, it says. Also, it says that it’s easier to be cruel because those doing the posting can be anonymous. And parents might have a difficult time monitoring the use of technological devices.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser suggests if students are allowed to have social media profiles, parents closely monitor their Internet use.

“Cyberbullying is rampant because it’s easy,” Mosser said. “You should tell your children you are monitoring this.”

If such a profile is created, Mosser said parents should know their kids’ passwords and know their activity. There should be no secrets in this area.

“It’s being a part of your child’s life,” Mosser said. “If they ask for a Facebook account, say, ‘Let’s start it together.’ ”

And then, she said, parents should make sure it doesn’t get out of control.

“There are lots of kids in high school who have 700 friends,” Mosser said. “You don’t necessarily want to do that.”

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