Special Report: Cyberbullying
MONTREAL - Camille Vaugeois learned that her home offered no refuge to the painful schoolyard taunts that plagued her school days. Once on the internet, she quickly realized that personal cruelty can easily sneak down a computer connection into the home.
The same cruel children who mocked her at school felt it was their privilege to taunt her online on the MSN chat program.
Rather than friendly chit-chat, the children used the communication device to transmit cruel words.
"Why do you even have MSN?" they would ask. "No one wants to talk to you. They would say things like that," said Vaugeois.
When Facebook gained popularity, the cyberbullies followed her there and distributed their hurtful words beneath her photos.
"They were talking about my weight and telling me how big I was," she said. "It's hurtful because, I know I had a problem with my weight, you don't need to rub it in. It's not necessary."
Camille's mother Anne Vaugeois saw her child's academic performance suffer. "She was sad all the time, so she wasn't concentrating," she said.
CTV Montreal found that one doesn't have to go far to find a child who had been affected by the issue of cyber-bullying.
"Everyone can see it if it's on Facebook, everyone can see someone calling you names and stuff," said 16-year-old Yasmine Sabelli.
"We feel that bullying has evolved and it's become more of a problem," said Julian Serrato, 17.
A recent survey of Canadian parents revealed that about one in five children had either been bullied or participated in bullying.
But it could be higher, as not all parents know what goes on in their children's on-line lives.
"I think most teenagers don't want to talk about it because their parents might go to the school and then the bullies will think, 'tattletale!'" said Nika Naimi, whose group Digital Respect attempts to stem the growing problem. "It just gives me chills to imagine being in their shoes."
Naimi, who is behind the Digital Respect site, believes the best counter-strategy is to recruit the young habitués to spread the message of a humane netiquette.
"We need the involvement of the digital natives, the youth who were brought up in this digital generation," said Naimi. "They are the ones that are living their lives online, they are very tech savvy. We need their involvement in terms of developing awareness programs."
Another who has studied the issue and believes it to be a serious problem is McGill's Shaheen Shariff.
"The problem with cyberbullying is that it is available to an infinite audience and what happens is the victim not only gets victimized once, but it's repeated," she said.
"They're growing up immersed in it," said Shaheen who has launched an anti-cyberbullying website Define the line. "Their whole perspective on it is different."
The experts recommend that parents set rules with their teens to steer them away from the world of cyber-bullying.
The advice includes such tips as:
-Talk to them about their online friends and activities
-Encourage them to speak up if something online makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened
-Talk to them about ethical behaviour, let them know that gossip and threats are not acceptable.