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Parents, educators warned to take precautions against cyberbullying

Keep up to date on the technology your children are using, and learn the language they use on line and texting.

That was some of the advice that Jeffrey A. Tricoli, supervising special agent of the FBI's Buffalo office, gave parents and educators Wednesday night in Depew High School during a program on cyberbullying and sexting.

In a program sponsored by the school's Parent Teacher Student Organization, Tricoli advised monitoring children's computer and cell phone usage.

"You need to know how your kids are accessing the Internet and monitor it. Find out if your kid has another profile on line other than the one they show Mom and Dad," Tricoli said.

The average Facebook user, for example, has 130 friends, he noted.

"Do you parents and educators know all 130 of those friends?" he asked. "Your child doesn't know all of them."

Tricoli outlined several aspects of cyberbullying: flaming (verbal argument); harassment, impersonation, denigration and outing, which includes revealing a "victim's" secrets and posting embarrassing photos.

Cyberbullying can be handled without involving law enforcement if it does not threaten violence, he added.

Sometimes challenging a bully to stop the activity works. Other times, a victim's parents might need to contact the bully's parents or an attorney.

Law enforcement should be called in, Tricoli said, any time there is a threat of violence or any other activity that goes beyond the limits of "normal bullying."

He also noted the state's passage last May of the Dignity for All Students Act, which penalizes bullying motivated by any bias, from weight and gender to sexual identity.

The law, he said, gives schools a tool for providing a safe environment and allows school officials to take action against students even for actions off school grounds.

Tricoli also said that educators should use news stories of actual events, some of which have resulted in the suicide of victims, in talking about the repercussions of cyberbullying.

He briefly outlined some devices including access timers and software programs that can curtail and/or monitor computer and cell phone use.

Detective Michael Hockwater of the Cheektowaga Police Department, a member of the FBI's Cyber-Crime Task Force, chronicled a case of a 48-year-old Cheektowaga man who posed on line as a 20-year-old and enticed girls and women to send him photos.

The man is serving 17 1/2 years in prison on child pornography charges.

Stay up to date on what children are doing on line and with their cell phones, Hockwater said, warning that parents have no way of knowing for sure a child's contacts.