ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Jennifer is like many kids her age. The 11-year-old is rocking blue nail polish, wearing jeans and even sells her own line of lip care and soap products around her neighborhood.
A fifth-grader who many would agree has a lot to live for. Only some of her classmates don't agree.
"You're annoying," read a message on Jennifer's iPhone. "You're lame. You're a nosey jerk."
The messages only get worse. In one Instagram exchange, Jennifer is told to 'go kill herself' and that she is 'ugly and fat.'
On a day when she was sick, Jennifer received a message telling her, 'Yay! I hope its breast cancer!'
"It tears me down. I told my mom I know it damages my self-esteem," Jennifer explained.
The fifth-grader is dealing with what thousands of other kids are trying to cope with, cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person, often done anonymously.
Jennifer told ABC Action News she did nothing to provoke the cyber bullying and can only point to an incident where she posted another student's phone number to Instagram.
Jennifer's mother noticed a change in her daughter's behavior and took her concerns to the principal of Perkins Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
When Jennifer is in class with her online bully, they are seated at desks far apart. The principal has even offered to sit both girls down and have them hash out their problems. But, this is all district leaders could do to solve the problem.
According to district spokesperson Melanie Marquez, any bullying that takes place in school can be addressed. However, what happens off school property and after school hours is not the school's responsibility.
In Jennifer's case, her cyber bullies are targeting her after school.
"It is frustrating," explained Jennifer's mother, Barbara White. "It is every parent's nightmare."
Digital media strategist Mitch Neff said parents have the power to take a stand.
He recommends parents educate themselves about the platforms their children are on like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A helpful comparison is considering the online world a virtual neighborhood. And just like in your real neighborhood, you will want to keep on top of who your child talks to, and where they can run into trouble.
"The neighborhood is much much larger and the people can be much, much scarier," explained Neff.
Neff also said parents should always be privy to their child's username and passwords. Parents should also know how to block someone who is sending inappropriate messages online and over the phone.
"Know the level of access that is age appropriate," Neff added.
White admits she does not know her daughter's Instagram login information. But, she does take her daughter's cell phone away after 8 p.m.
Neff recommends all parents visit the Web site http://www.digitalshepherds.com/blog/. The site educates parents about how they can protect their children in the digital world.
Other tips to stop cyber bullying include:
- Don't respond. By responding, you are empowering the bully.
- Be Civil. Even if you don't like someone, still be decent to them.
- Don't retaliate. By getting back at your bully, you become one yourself.
- Tell a friend you are being bullied.
Parents can also do the following:
- Report the bullying to an Internet service provider or web site moderator
- Talk to your children about what they do online
- Ask your cell phone provider to block certain numbers or to restrict access to text messages
- Take away your child's cell phone and supervise them while they are on the computer.
- Restrict access to social media sites on your computer