AUSTIN, Texas — October is National Bullying Prevention Month - a chance to raise awareness about the effects of threats, teases and taunts. Texas teens this year have been learning that the state is serious about cracking down - not just in hallways and schoolyards, but in cyberspace as well, where attacks range from sending cruel text messages to posting photos or videos on public Internet sites for the world to see.
Dr. William Hansen, staff psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, says bullying is a problem that has risen exponentially in the wireless age.
"The Internet, Facebook, Tweeting, Myspace - it's so available that, certainly, high schoolers today face this and have to make choices about how they use the Internet wisely."
Bipartisan Texas legislation went into effect this year requiring school districts to institute policies for dealing with cyberbullying and to incorporate prevention into school codes of conduct.
While cyberbullying is often anonymous, Hansen says, the consequences can be very public - and that can magnify the damaging effects on the victim.
"Negative effects include - but they're not limited to - fear, shame, insecurity, heightened anxiety, depression and potential suicidal ideation or suicide."
Texas law enforcement agencies are taking the matter seriously, as well. This summer, two Granbury middle-school girls were arrested and charged with third-degree felonies for allegedly creating a fake Facebook page in order to impersonate a girl whose reputation they allegedly wanted to harm.
Preventing cyberbullying can begin at home. Hansen recommends that parents pay very close attention to all their kids' online communication. He adds that friends - and anyone who views cyberbullying - can also play a vital role.
"Don't stand by. Do something - even face the chance that you might be wrong or misinterpreting the situation. It's very important to understand that the devastation of bullying in any form is potentially catastrophic."
He says health care providers can be a resource for families. In addition, since harassment is a crime, he advises victims of cyberbullying to notify law enforcement to determine when that line has been crossed.
The Texas Education Agency cyberbullying guidelines and resources are available at www.tea.state.tx.us.