JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --When we were kids, we knew who the bullies were, but today your kids face a different kind of bully. It's hidden in a maze of technology.
We've added the word cyberbully to our vocabulary over the last few years. In the last few months, we've seen several cases of children taking their own lives because of the behavior. Now local schools are taking a stand to cut off the cyberbully.
Bullies and mean girls have been around for decades, but now bullying has gone beyond just the school playground. It's in your neighborhood and on your kids cell phone.
Technology has given bullies a whole new platform. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have taken bullies from the school yard to a 24 hour fight for kids. It's a fight all too familiar to 12-year-old Courtney Hyde and her dad, Zane Berry.
"She [the bully] was texting me, sending me messages on Facebook about how she was going to meet me after school and beat me up and she got her friends to call me and try to cuss me out," said Courtney.
"It was rather out of control. It's not just simple name calling. It's, they're going to harm them. They're going to cut their child. We've had those kind of threats," said Berry.
Courtney was just in 5th grade. Her bully was one of her close friends.
"I'd come home crying because she was such a close friend," Courtney said.
Courtney isn't alone. Action News found 42 percent of kids in 4th to 8th grades across the country are being bullied online. Fifty-eight percent of kids have been threatened online. Sixty percent say they don't tell their parents.
From coast to coast, it's making headlines. Experts like Dr. Sameer Hinduja say some of the worst cases of cyber-bullying have ended in tragedy.
"We've seen about 7-8 suicides since I've started dealing with this problem," said Dr. Hinduja.
This year, Massachusetts teen Phoebe Prince committed suicide after relentless cyberbullying. Thirteen year old Megan Meier also took her own life; her suicide linked to internet bullying by a neighborhood mom posing as a teen boy. And in 2005, Cape Coral student Jeffrey Johnston killed himself because of a bully.
"We tend to see it tied to school deliquency, violence and cutting," said Dr. Hinduja.
As for Courtney, her parents stepped in to protect her. New state laws have schools putting plans in place to deal with bullies. School districts across Florida have to have a cyberbullying policy in place.
In Nassau schools, they have a paper kids can fill out and turn in if they're being cyberbullied. There's also a proposed federal law to stop the bullying.
Social networking sites like Facebook are also trying to do their part. If you have been cyberbullied, they allow you to report the person through their site.
There are more kids everyday who are bullied online. So Action News is asking you to take the "Megan pledge." Under the pledge, you agree to take a stand against cyberbullying. It says you'll report cyberbullying and won't turn to suicide as an option.
There are other websites we've found to help you talk to your children about cyberbullying. The links are posted along with this story.
Dr. Hinduja has been studying the trend for eight years and runs a cyber bullying research center in South Florida. He says now parents need to ask more than just how was your day at school.
"We shouldn't conceptualize the internet as part of students' lives. It is their life. They are tethered to technology 24/7."
Dr. Hinduja says you need to ask them questions like, "Have you ever received an unpleasant message, or something that made you feel uncomfortable, or have you ever been threatened?"
Courtney's father agrees.
"For parents that remember being bullied, and that's just about everyone at a given point in their lives, it's different now. It's anonymous and it's serious," said Berry.