As of today, Missouri law requires that schools formally acknowledge cyberbullying and address it.

As of today, Missouri law requires that schools formally acknowledge cyberbullying and address it.

It’s a real problem, but it’s taken our legislators four years to catch up with the best practices offered by the Missouri School Boards’ Association following the death of Megan Meier, a student in St. Charles County who killed herself after being victimized in this way in 2006. Since then, 45 states have incorporated rules about cyberbullying – relentless cruelty via Facebook, MySpace or elsewhere on the Internet – into their harassment laws.

It’s not as simple as it seems. Schools obviously should and do control what students do with classroom computers. But what about computer activities at home? Or activities that might affect what goes on at school? What about the fact that half of the students are carrying Facebook around in their pockets in the form of all those smart phones and other personal devices? Where do you draw that series of lines, and how do you enforce it all? Missouri’s new law at least allows schools to address some of these off-campus activities that hurt the school environment. It’s a good guess that the courts will have to sort out how far that can go.

This is no small thing. Stunning numbers of children and teenagers say they’ve been on the receiving end of hateful, hurtful things posted online, and a frightening number freely admit to having done it. Bullying is nothing new. Many teenagers – like all too many adults on the online world – will use whatever means available to harass and intimidate. What’s different these days is that what once might have been said one on one or blurted out to embarrass someone in front of the whole class now can be done anonymously and in front of the whole world, or at least the whole world of a particular teenager.

It comes down to this: Be nice. Think twice before taking a cheap shot. Would you want your mother to hear this? Or your friend’s mother? What if this stuff was directed at you? OK, it’s easy to point out all that common-sense stuff, but obviously it’s not getting through to some young people. Maybe if more adults set a good example and fewer aimed at trying out for “Cops” or “The Jerry Springer Show,” maybe if fewer adults turned every political discussion into a TV food fight, then our young people would have a little more perspective.

It’s also important to remember the Megan Meier case. The person accused of tormenting Megan – a judge later set aside a conviction in the case – wasn’t another student. It was a parent.