:( cyberbullying hurts.

Eighth grade. Mrs. Palinger’s American History. Our class was held in the auditorium at Nautilus Middle School. Maurice and Greg, two richie-rich, cute, popular boys and members of the exclusive “anyone who is anyone” clique, sat behind me and punched me in the back during the entire period. My crime: being an awkward, over-weight eighth grade girl.

I never once raised my hand to tell my teacher, nor did I turn around and ask them to quit. I figured that if I ignored them, eventually they would lose interest and leave me alone. Wrong. I knew that if I solicited help from my teacher, their retribution would be worse. So, I endured what can fairly be termed their “abuse” and cried about it later. Alone.

Sixth grade until sophomore year of high school do not rank as some of the best years of my life. The Maurice and Greg incident (which I would be willing to bet if I asked them today, they wouldn’t even remember) was the only one that involved actual, physical violence, but during this approximately five year period, I tolerated daily onslaughts of venomous verbal abuse.

Bullying — depending on the degree to which one was tormented — can have long-lasting impacts for those on the receiving end. Obviously, there is a time when we have to “grow up” and sort through our emotional baggage, but that is easier said than done. On a personal note, being called fat and ugly every day for years on end largely contributed to insecurities about my weight and appearance that I continue to struggle with 20 years later.

My experience is not unique. Countless others, I feel certain, have stories similar to mine. Bullying is not a radical phenomenon that popped up in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the advent of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, the cell phone texting craze and e-mail have transformed school-yard bulling into something more insidious and far-reaching.

That mystical universe we call “cyberspace” has given bullies a place to hide, veiled behind a computer screen or cell phone. The simplicity of face-to-face name calling or note passing in class are gone — replaced by technological advances that have given bullies a platform from which they can harass their intended target(s) in front of hundreds of thousands of online spectators.

Parents, if you have never heard of cyberbullying here is a basic 101 crash course, and, hopefully, the beginning of a candid and frank conversation that needs to take place with your child or children.

Cyberbullying Defined
I didn’t have a computer in my home until 1994 when I was a freshman in college. Today, computers are a “necessity” for school-aged kids, and many families have one, if not more, computers in their homes complete with Internet access. The Internet, when used properly, is a convenient and easy way for children to access information for school projects and homework.

With the dawn of social networking sites, the Internet has also become for many children and adolescents a huge part of their social lives. 94 percent of adolescents use the Internet on a regular basis, and e-mailing, instant messaging and chatting with friends are among the most common activities in which they engage.

Unfortunately, these cyber forums have created a virtual playground where children and teens can bully other children and teens. Cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, is defined as the willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

Two paramount aspects of cyberbullying, as defined by Cyberbullying Research Center, are the “willfulness” or deliberate act of an individual or group to participate in cyberbullying and the “repeated” nature of the bullying. Cyberbullying is typically not one isolated incident. Instead the harassment and harm are repeatedly inflicted upon the intended target or victim.

The Effects of Cyberbullying
Any time an individual is subjected to repeated name calling or public degradation, he or she is going to exhibit feelings of depression, anxiety and an inability to concentrate or focus on routine activities like school work. While victims of cyber bullying often experience the same effects as victims who are bullied in person, their feelings are magnified because they often feel like they are unable to escape cyber bullies. Their homes, a safe haven from being bullied at school, no longer feel safe because the Internet and mobile phones through which they are being bullied are in their homes.

One of the advantages of technologies like mobile phones, e-mail or the Internet is the ability to contact or be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For a victim of cyber bullying, this means being harassed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Bullying can occur in the victim’s home — sometimes even his or her own bedroom (if this is where the computer is located). Cyberbullying can be harsher than in-person bullying because bullies often say things online that they would not say in person. The bully is removed from having to see the victim’s hurt response or reaction. Bullies are prevented from being able to empathize or sympathize.

Recent surveys show that a third of teenagers have had mean, threatening or embarrassing things said about them online and 10 percent of teenagers have been threatened online with physical harm. No type of bullying is harmless. Because cyberbullying appears to be inescapable, the victim’s feelings of depression, anxiety and general hopelessness about the situation are magnified. Unfortunately, there have been several recent cases in the media where victims of cyberbullying have committed suicide because death seemed the only way for them to escape the constant torment and humiliation they felt.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of cyberbullying and you would be interested in telling your story (anonymously or otherwise), please contact