Missouri has responded effectively to cyber bullying via web sites and text messaging; has your state?

After the Lori Drew case in Missouri, in which a MySpace account was used to bully 13-year old Megan Meier, who committed suicide, Missouri legislators passed laws criminalizing cyber-bullying, harassment and abuse, and schools created zero-tolerance policies.  School authorities and police are determined to enforce these laws.

Last week, a ninth-grade girl was arrested for creating a cyber bullying web site to attack another teenaged girl.  In addition to photos and sexually explicit statements, the online poster stated that the target “would be better off if she just died.”

It’s one thing to say those things in the heat of an angry face-to-face exchange and a very different thing to create a web site that can spread those statements throughout the world.

The ninth-grader has confessed and the case has been turned over to juvenile authorities.  The school has also instituted disciplinary action.

Lori Drew got off because previous statutes were “constitutionally vague” and not specifically directed at cyber bullies.

The law went into effect August 2008 and by December Missouri prosecutors had filed charges against seven people accused of violating the statute.  Hopefully, the new laws are written well.

Although we all want to protect free speech, I think the more important value here is tightening laws in order to protect kids from vicious, false and often anonymous attacks by other disgruntled kids or adults.

There will always be people in angry spite-fights with each other.  And every society draws boundaries about what can be said or done, privately and publically, in these fights.  By trial and error, we’re drawing those lines now concerning the use of new media like cyber space and text messaging.

Part of the message to parents is to check on our children.  Are they engaged in cyber bullying?  Are they being harassed and abused by cyber bullies?  Do you know how to find out?  Do you know how to respond most effectively?

Good for the Missouri’s legislators, school officials and police who are spearheading this effort.  Good for the parents who took effective action.

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Resource cited: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/10/bully/

Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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