LAKELAND, Fla. - A lecture from Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd to parents about how to deal with increasingly dangerous cases of cyber-bullying drew a crowd of several dozen at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland.
"The first line of defense is at home," said Judd, who has garnered national attention after his arrest of 12 and 14 year old girls for their alleged role in a bullying case that led to the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick in September.
"Bullying's not against the law. But if you stalk somebody, if you harass, intimidate someone, I can tell you this: you're violating the law and we will arrest you," Judd said.
The sheriff said his agency is working to educate parents that in the information age of Facebook, instant messages and hand-held electronics, sitting on the sidelines when it comes to a child's cyber-life is unacceptable.
"I've had people say, 'Well, I like to give my child privacy,'" Judd said. "Where's that written in the Constitution? You're supposed to be all up in their business if you're a good parent," said Judd.
The message hit home with Melissa Hazlett, 47, who has a child close to the age of Sedwick, whose suicide has shaken the community at Crystal Lake Middle School.
"Whether it's to teach our kids not bully, or to teach our kids what to do if they are bullied," Hazlett said.
Kim Ryals' daughter is the same age as Sedwick, and she said after seeing what happened, the bullying issue suddenly became very real.
"It scares me," Ryals said. "We didn't have all the technology and the cell phones when we were kids. It's a lot to learn."
Ryals' husband Shannon said he was motivated to follow Judd's advice and get more involved with his daughter's life on the internet.
"As parents, we just have to be engaged with our kids and not let our electronic devices be the babysitter," Ryals said.
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