In this technological age, computers, email, and text messaging have made our lives easier. But for teenagers and their parents alike, these advances can also make life a little more stressful. High school is a difficult time for many, especially when trying to navigate the social aspects that go along with the academics and extra-curricular activities. Many teens agonize over being accepted by their peers, and many teens fall prey to spreading gossip and rumors in order to be part of a certain crowd.

Peer pressure, gossip, and teenage angst are nothing new to high school. But technological advances, like the computer (MySpace, Facebook, and the like), email, and text messaging, have introduced a new term: cyber-bullying.

Last week, the AssistantState’s Attorney discussed this term with our juniors and seniors (freshmen and sophomores saw a slightly different presentation that focused on internet predators and computer scams). Cyber-bullying is harassment via electronic devices. This phenomenon has become quite a problem with some teens. In fact, Chicago Public Schools has its own policy covering cyber-bullying, which outlines that any instance of it can result in a 10-day suspension and possible expulsion.

It is a fact that cyber-bullying, which often takes place outside of school, can still disrupt the school environment. When rumors are spread, via email, texts or by things posted on websites, no one benefits. Victims of cyber-bullying often cannot concentrate, and school performance can decline. Students are not treating one another with dignity and respect (one of the values I discussed in last month’s article) when they partake in cyber bullying of any kind, no matter how benign it might seem.

What can you do as parents? Talk to your kids about this topic. Ask them what they remember from the assembly. Ask them if they have ever been harassed. Ask them if they have ever received an insulting text or email, or if they have ever seen a posting on a website that has made them feel inferior. Often, students retaliate in kind, and we need to discuss with them one of our other values: react with class. No student should allow him or herself to be bullied, and one part of my job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Encourage your student to talk to someone he or she trusts: a counselor, a teacher or the social worker. If adults don’t know it is happening, we can’t begin the process of stopping it. Of course, you can always call or email me with any questions or concerns.

What if your child is the one doing the bullying? We will explore this topic a little more next month, as I explain our harassment policy and the disciplinary consequences that can occur in cases of bullying.

So parents, if you haven’t already, you need to jump into the techno league, too. At the very least, be aware of the pitfalls of technology and continue to be positive role models for your kids. Without your guidance, they may not even know that cyber-bullying is an offensive act that no one should be subjected to at any point. Thanks in advance for taking to time to talk to your kids.