Research shows that one in four middle- and high-school students are cyberbullied -- a trend that society has become more aware of in recent years.
With the increase in awareness, more children and teens are coming forward about being intimidated or harassed online, said Justin Patchin, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claie and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
High-profile cases in the media also have drawn attention to the problem, he said.
Cyberbullying is formally defined as willful and repeated harm through the use of computers, cellphones and other electronic devices, and is done to harass, threaten and humiliate others, Patchin said.
Examples range from mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, to embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles, according to StopBullying.gov.
Patchin and co-director Sameer Hinduja have conducted seven formal surveys in the past decade on students experiencing cyberbullying.
Only a quarter of those who have experienced online harassment tell an adult, Patchin said. And although it can be difficult to pinpoint if or when cyberbullying has led to suicides among children or teens, Patchin said those who have been bullied online or in person were significantly more likely to report suicidal thoughts.
Although they do see bullying and cyberbullying linked to suicide in many cases, he said, a suicidal case "could be a wide variety of things going on."
Clearly, most children who have been cyberbullied don't commit suicide, he added.
At Morris Community High School, officials are focusing on preventing cyberbullying, rather than just reacting when a case becomes evident.
"I wouldn't say it is a big issue (at Morris High School). I think we have educated our students enough recently that they realize the seriousness of getting involved with that," said Assistant Principal Jeff Johnson.
Last school year, School Resource Officer Steve Huettemann held numerous presentations and events on bullying, including having Detective Rich Wistocki of Naperville police come to the school to talk to students. Wistocki deals with Internet crimes on a daily basis, said Huettemann.
Wistocki really opened up the students' eyes, Huettemann said.
He taught them about keeping their Facebook accounts safe by setting the account to private and discussing what is appropriate to post on social media sites and what is not.
"The most common (issue) we deal with is Facebooking and texting inappropriate things to each other," Johnson said. "Whether it is names, threatening comments, or going back and forth on Facebook and other people getting in on it (on Facebook)."
What Huettemann is seeing recently is derogatory things on Facebook that don't necessarily have someone's name, but friends of the poster know who the post is regarding and then chime in.
"Then the kid feels isolated," he said. "It can stop them from coming to school and then Mr. Johnson gets involved because it affects attendance."
Youth who are cyberbullied often report feeling angry, hurt, embarrassed or scared, which can cause children to seek revenge on the bully, avoid friends and activities, or perpetuate cyberbullying.
Some teens feel threatened because they may not know who their tormentor is. Although cyberbullies may think they are anonymous, they can be found, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
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