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States Passing Laws to Combat Cyber-Bullying

The real thrust of the state cyber-bullying laws, Croyle said, is setting a clear expectation for students and educators. "It takes a lot of the guesswork out," she said.

Cyber-bullying occurs when a minor is targeted in some form -- threatened, humiliated, harassed -- by another, and it is not to be confused with cyber-stalking or cyber-harassment, which involves an adult. Not limited to the Internet, cyber-bullying can spread by cellphones or other digital devices.

Four in 10 teenagers report that they have experienced some form of cyber-bullying, according to a 2006 study commissioned by the National Crime Prevention Council. It is more common among females than males, and most prevalent among 15- and 16-year-olds, according to the study.

Champions and critics of the laws agree that preventive education is a more powerful deterrent to cyber-bullying than discipline. That notion is supported by Patricia Agatston, co-author of "Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age" and a counselor at Cobb County School District's Prevention-Intervention Center in Georgia.

"A lot of it can be prevented if we can just teach kids to think before they put things out there," Agatston said.

John Halligan, whose son Ryan took his life in Essex Junction, Vt., after many years of bullying, some online, applauded the national movement to enact cyber-bullying laws. But, he said, laws alone cannot stop the problem.

"I don't think a law would have prevented what happened here, quite frankly," said Halligan, who spends his time telling his son's story to schools.

"Even though what happened to Ryan happened online as well, it really started in school. I think that's the first step that a lot of states are missing."

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