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Cyberbullying: Are parents part of the problem?

Cyberbullying: Are parents part of the problem?

CREATED Feb 8, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- It is a new phenomenon with deadly consequences -- and no easy solutions. Cyberbullying is behind a sudden rise in teen suicides -- nationwide and here at home.

In Tucson alone, four teens have committed suicide since the beginning of the school year. Schools, courts, police and parents have been trying to address this growing problem, but KGUN9 found out it's not easy reaching the source of the problem -- the bullies and their parents.

Experts say that most cyberbullies believe they're not doing anything wrong -- they'll deny being a bully. Generally, bullies are trying to get attention -- to become popular -- or they might be upset that a relationship went sour. They want a larger audience so they turn to the 24/7 world of social media. And often the online abuse spirals out of control until the victim can't take it anymore. But experts, who are taking a closer look at the causes of cyberbullying and teen suicides, say the solutions are closer than you might think.

Raquel Ramirez, the clinical youth supervisor at the Marana Health Center said, "Kids learn it from somewhere" -- often at home. PSA's are popping up all over the internet to address cyberbullying -- mainly showing kids how to stop the online abuse. However, a critical component is missing: the parent. "This is an old saying -- you can't treat a kiddo, unless you treat the family and it's very, very true," said Ramirez.

Times have changed considerably. Rameriz says too many parents do not have the parenting skills to handle bad behavior. They can be in the dark about their child's behavior, but they are often in denial. "We have parents who have kids who are bullies that really believe that their kids are bullied so they advocate for the kiddo and in truth it's someone the kid is bullying and that makes it very, very difficult." So no one then takes responsibility -- neither the parent -- nor the child.

And schools are often caught in the crossfire. Sahuaro High School's principal Sam Giangardella said cyberbullying escalates when parents themselves are not good role models -- especially online. "It's meaner. It's nastier. I mean you can look at Facebook. You see adults on there doing the same thing as kids are doing. You can say, that's bullying. Actually it's threats, harrassment. It's a societal thing."

Rameriz said, "There are not a lot of pro-social behaviors in some families. They don't know how to model the pro-social behaviors. So if kiddos are being raised by a family who uses violence, who uses horrible disrespect, then that's what the kiddos going to reflect."

Ramirez says since cyberbullying is a new phenomenon, it will likely take some time before society catches up with times. She said the community needs to ramp up efforts to provide parenting skills to adults whose children are involved in all forms of bullying.