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Social media leading to 'social assassination' among kids

cyber bullying (1)

LA QUINTA, Calif. - It's not just Facebook and Twitter anymore, social media has become the new way to communicate and the increasingly popular way to bully.

Between smart phones, tablets and computers and so many social media platforms to choose from, poking fun at a classmate has become too easy and those on the other end are feeling the amplified affects.  

So what can you as a parent do to stop it? Here is what one Valley school district is doing. 

"I was on Instagram," said 6th grader Nathaniel Kirby. "He was just making fun of people and bad stuff, spreading rumors about people just making them feel bad about themselves."

Experts are referring to it as "social assassination," bullying in the cyber age.

"Why would someone do that to another person?" asked high school sophomore Lance Arrieta 

Varying degrees of it happening to children in the Coachella Valley. Nationwide, one in four students admit it's happened to them, according to the Cyber Bullying Research Center. 

"Real extreme behaviors of kids telling other kids to go kill themselves, I wish you were dead," said anti-bullying expert Theresa Campbell. 

"I think it does hurt people's feelings," said Kirby.

An embarrassing moment at school used to be just that, a moment, but now with cell phones people can record video and play it over and over, even post it on social media sites for hundreds or thousands to see and comment on.

"I think it's harder for our kids because when we were young it was just the gossip around the schools and things like that and now there is so much more a target for kids now, because there are more ways to be attacked, it's not fair," said parent Crystal Lopez. 

So many ways, it's hard for parents and teachers to keep up.  That's where Theresa Campbell comes in.

Founder and President of Safer Schools Together, Campbell travels the country and Canada training educators about bullying prevention.  We caught up with her during an all day training session with Desert Sands Unified School District. 

"The whole image of self takes a pretty significant hit, if you will, when in fact they've got multiple people commenting on their appearances," said Campbell.

The first step, Campbell says, is knowing what sites and apps your kids are on beyond Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"I'm quite concerned around the number of kids we are seeing at the age of even 10 and 11 using Snap Chat, starting to share those inappropriate images," said Campbell.

It's a smart phone app that lets you send pictures messages that disappear after a few seconds.  Ask.fm lets users have conversations anonymously.  Whisper, also anonymous, advertises as a place to express yourself online.  These are all sites kids in the Coachella Valley currently use.

"You'd be surprised how many parents don't look at the device to see what applications your children are using," said Campbell. 

That's not all parent's don't know about, Campbell says most parents don't even know their child is being bullied.

"What we've heard from kids over the years even when they are targeted, they are afraid to tell their parents because they don't want to have their device taken away," said Campbell. 

That's why Campbell is training teachers to look for changes in student behavior and Desert Sands Unified School District is monitoring social networking sites.

"It's our job to investigate it even though it's happening outside of school.  It's affecting the well-being of the student which affects their ability to learn," said DSUSD director of security and safety Jeff Kaye.

Through anti-bullying programs the district hopes changing the culture at school will stop bullying before it starts.

"It would be just as nice to see more kids step up and remind kids that it's a good time to be respectful of each other," said Campbell. 

That is exactly what Nathaniel did. 

"I started going on my network and telling people that wasn't true," said Kirby.

Also tell an adult or report it anonymously online through the district's website, so far this year 42 reports have come in.

"Just last night we had a friend of a girl send in a report that the girl was feeling suicidal.  We immediately took action on that through the school and through law enforcement, they made contact with the parents and yeah, the girl needed some help.  If we can intervene in something like that we've done our job," said Kaye.

"Why be mean to someone you don't even know," said Arrieta 

For strategies on how to talk to your kids about cyber bullying or deal with a bullying situation click here, also visit stopbullying.gov.


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