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Watch for cyberbullies at home

When I was in high school, it wasn't impossible to besmirch someone's reputation. But gossip could only take one so far, and really juicy details were the stuff of notes, as in "Write me a note in math."...

When I was in high school, it wasn't impossible to besmirch someone's reputation. But gossip could only take one so far, and really juicy details were the stuff of notes, as in "Write me a note in math."

It took too much effort to duplicate. Damage was typically constrained.

Meanwhile, parents were in the loop and at least knew who was calling their child and who their child was calling. Most often, one was limited to hushed discussions on the kitchen telephone -- corded, of course. Or maybe on Mom and Dad's phone in their bedroom, where they could, and would, walk in anytime.

Now "cyberbullying" -- from a surreptitious photo taken at a party to secret streaming sex videos -- can go live to millions in an instant. And it literally destroys lives just as fast, as we've seen in more than one suicide resulting from cyberbullying -- most recently in a tragic case at Rutgers University. Add harassment, via texting or on Facebook and other social-networking sites, and this is not anything like your father's school-yard-bully experience.

Bullying has always been with us. But the age of cyberbullying allows it to damage in a way never before experienced. School policies and parents are scrambling to catch up.

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There is a lot of good material available on how to help keep your child from becoming a victim. But what about the bullies themselves? Or better put: Are most parents as worried about having a bully in their home as they are a child who is bullied?

I wonder. Today's parents have egos that are so tied up in their kids. Couple that with popular parenting notions like "Criticize the behavior, not the child," and rather than the "My kid did what?" of my parents' day, now we are more likely to hear "My kid would never do that!"

Well, they are probably at least capable of it. Somebody sure is doing it, at any rate. While I found it easy to gather boatloads of information about how to know if your child is being victimized via cyberbullying and how to help, I found precious little on how to spot whether your child is a cyberbully, and what to do about it.

The cyberbullying phenomenon is not going to abate until parents again realize that "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child," as Scripture says. We have to be willing to see the fallen side of our child's nature. Most any child can be cruel. Our kids, even the "best kids," may sometimes be the victimizers, not just the victims.

When we talk to our kids about cyberbullying and how we can help them, we would do well to also warn them about the consequences of being a perpetrator. And our eyes should be open to that possibility as we peruse their Facebook pages, ask them about text messages and observe their interactions with friends.

As with my parents walking in on my phone conversations, I'm not worried about my children's privacy. Instead of just asking them whether they feel threatened, how about also asking: "Are you behaving in a way that is threatening to anyone?"

My dad used to say, "To be a good parent, you've got to be part cop." Parents of their generation seemed to know what fewer and fewer seem to recognize today -- that sometimes we are called first and foremost to protect our children from themselves.

Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting our Kids -- and What to do About It." E-mail her at

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hartmailbox-mycolumn@yahoo.com .

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