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In an instant-messaging conversation, you might respond with "lol" (laugh out loud) or "brb" (be right back) . . . but what about SOS, a cry for help? Bullying is not a new problem, but what about when bullies use the Internet as a tool to hurt someone? It's called cyberbullying.

You don't have to be physically pushed around to be a victim of bullying—you could be sitting safely in front of your computer at home. Cyberbullying is when the Internet is used to harass, embarrass, or threaten someone. It's become an issue in the last few years, and many parents still aren't even aware that it goes on. Police forces are still figuring out how to deal with cyberbullying, and how to find the real identities of bullies who hide behind Internet identities.

Cyberbullying is just as painful as any other bullying. It may not leave any physical scars, but it can be emotionally damaging. There is no way to escape cyberbullying—the threat can now come into you own bedroom.

The Star Wars Kid

Last year, a teenage boy in Canada became a victim of cyberbullying in front of an audience of millions. A Star Wars fan, the heavyset teen made a home movie of himself using a golf ball retriever as a light saber. He made his own sound effects for the video, which he intended to keep private.

Some classmates got their hands on the video and posted it on an online file-sharing system, where people swap information, music, and videos. Huge numbers of people downloaded the video. Other versions were made that digitally placed the boy's figure into films like The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings. A number of television programs played the video, and the teenager had to deal with the embarrassment of having his homemade movie shared with an audience around the world.

The boy was so bothered by the situation that he has been under the care of psychiatrists. He even left his school to study at another location. His parents filed a lawsuit on his behalf.

How to Respond

Officer Dave Cavedon knows a thing or two about making a difference in his community. As a member of the Connecticut's West Hartford Police Department, one of the things he does is educate parents about cyberbullying, and how they should respond to it.

"We are finding that it is a larger problem than parents believe," says Officer Cavedon. "Parents need to be talking to their children about bullying itself, and that the Internet is another medium for people to carry it out."

One of the best precautions is for parents to monitor what their children are doing on the Internet. Any computer with an Internet connection should be in a public part of the house, where parents can keep an eye on computer use. Parents should also communicate with their kids.

"Parents should set the computer to log all IM's and chats," says Officer Cavedon, "as well as personally getting to know everyone on their child's buddy list."

So what should kids do if they find themselves a victim of cyberbullying? If a threatening message is received, and the computer has not been instructed to save all messages, do not erase the message. It can be used as evidence that cyberbullying is taking place.

Whether someone is directly being bullied, or even witnessing bullying online, the first step is to talk to an adult about it. No one deserves to be picked on, and no one should suffer silently.

"Parents and children need to remember," says Officer Cavedon, "no one wakes up in the morning and says, 'Geez, today I want to become a victim.' "

Find out what Officer Cavedon's son, Matt Cavedon, is doing to put a stop to bullying.

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