Bullying is nothing new. Most of us will have vivid memories of the school bully demanding dinner money, tipping out school bags or threatening to give terrified victims a good roughing up after 'home time'.
Studies show bullying is more prevalent now than ever, but with modern technology, it has become more sophisticated and sinister. Worst of all, many parents have no idea this type of bullying – cyberbullying - even exists.
"Traditional bullying wasn't nice but it always happened face to face," says Richard Piggin, Head of Operations for the charity Beatbullying. "A child could leave school, or wherever the bullying was taking place, and go home to a safe place.
"With cyberbullying you can be targeted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, wherever you are - making it much more difficult to escape. It creates this terrible sense of isolation. The serious nature and consequences make cyberbullying, as serious, if not more so, than traditional bullying.”
It's such a problem that 2009’s National Anti Bullying Week was devoted entirely to the subject.
"Traditional playground bullying took place out in the open. There would normally be someone to turn to, other people around. The fact that you can be targeted, alone, in your bedroom, at any time, via your computer or
mobile phone, can make it a lot more terrifying,” says Richard Piggin.
"Because the bullying is internet based there's the potential for hundreds or thousands of other people to see it - and join in. It magnifies the risk and can magnify the harm and the scope of the bullying.
“There have been suicides and attempted suicides as a result. It's a real problem - and the most common risk faced by young people today on line." In fact, Bully Online estimates that every year 16 children take their own lives as a result of bullying.
Studies show that a third of all children are being cyberbullied. And with numbers rising you can see why experts are concerned. Internet safety expert Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University says the number both of victims and perpetrators has doubled from 1999 to 2008. "As children get older the incidence of cyberbullying increases as a greater proportion of children have access to mobile phones and the internet," he explains.
When Beatbullying set up CyberMentors - a Government backed initiative to help victims of cyberbullying – early in 2009, a staggering 20,000 children registered for help in the first two weeks. According to Beatbullying, victims are most likely to be aged between 11-18 - with girls four times more likely than boys to be victims.
According to media watchdog Ofcom, 99 per cent of youngsters aged eight to 17 use the Internet. Half of those in that age group have set up their own profile on a social networking site.
Most kids are spending more than twice as much time on the web as their parents think they are – an average of 43.5 hours per month as opposed to the 18.8 hours that parents estimate.
Alarmingly, half of those questioned use the Internet without any form of supervision from parents and only half use the privacy settings that can prevent everyone and anyone accessing their personal information.
Experts are now urging parents to wake up and get Internet savvy.With most schools having access to free technology and more than 90 per cent of secondary school pupils owning mobile phones, the high-tech world is here to stay.
Campaigners stress that Internet safety is a life skill that needs to be taught - in the same way we show our children how to cross the road and not talk to strangers.
Says Richard Piggin: "It's really important that parents understand how the Internet works and how young people are using it. There's no point to having a conversation with your child about how they use social networking sites if you have no idea what Facebook, MSN or instant messenger is. It's not about taking over their world or spying on them. It's about understanding and appreciating it."
By Fiona Duffy