Group shows how to avoid cyber bullying

May 19, 2009 2:55:01 PM PDT
Some students are learning how to protect themselves against bullies who use the Internet to attack. As social networking Web sites grow, so do cyber bullies. A group of kids is now trying to change that:

"Kids tend to think online is safe, but it's really not," student Maura Feeney said.

A group of six students and one teacher is small in size, but mighty in strength. And they are mapping out their plan of attack to stop cyber bullies dead in their tracks.

"I don't think it will ever stop unless people start noticing what it's doing to other people," student Evan Fischer said.

The students are from George Washington Middle School and are part of the international organization Teen Angels. They are kids who are committed to keeping other children safe on the Internet.

Over the next three weeks, they'll travel to six elementary schools in Ridgewood, New Jersey, giving tips and offering the do's and don'ts of cyberspace and the potential risks out there. They'll talk with kids as young as 8, who despite their young age, own very sophisticated devices.

"They can chat with people across the country and across the world," technology teacher Mary Lou Handy said. "And most parents have no idea. And all of that can mean trouble, in inexperienced naive hands."

In fact, 40 percent of teens with Internet access say they've been bullied online in the past year, but only 10 percent told their parents. And what's being exchanged isn't exactly child's play. Feeney's best friend encountered stinging remarks from a 13-year-old boy.

"Things like no one likes you, you shouldn't be alive, you have no friends, why are you even here," Feeney said.

Lawmakers are paying attention. Senator Robert Menendez plans to introduce a bill calling for millions in federal funding for Internet education and safety, as well as the formation of a central task force.

The kids point out that bullies choose the Internet to send hateful messages rather than doing it face to face because of the personal disconnect. But emotions have no boundaries, something Handy knows all to well. Her own daughter was cyber-bullied.

"So much so she got ulcers, dropped out of school," she said. "Grades suffered. Real words do hurt."

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS

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