When a student fires shots in a school or commits suicide, the search for a bully is close behind.
Nearly everyone who has attended a school can recall someone being teased or picked on, but technology now gives bullies a way to inflict their torment into every part of a victim's personal life beyond the schoolyard.
It's as if the person who calls you names and makes fun of you at school is able to to follow you home, harassing you through texts and continuing to humiliate you in front of your peers on social networks. There are no longer any safe spaces to escape the threat of a determined and technologically armed mean girl or ruthless teen.
There isn't longitudinal data to answer the question of whether bullying is more pervasive now than it was in previous generations. But when it happens, it can be more relentless than before, and the awareness of the severity of damage that bullies can inflict has changed.
Stories like this are more often reported than when we were children:
Last month, seventh-grader Jose Reyes of Sparks, Nev. shot and injured two student and killed a teacher before killing himself. His parents said he had been teased about a speech problem. Students who knew him reportedly said sometimes he would cry and say people were calling him names, according to the L.A. Times. The paper reported that one witness to the shootings recalled Jose saying, "You guys ruined my life, so I'm going to ruin yours."
In September, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick of Winter Haven, Fla. committed suicide after she was harassed in person and online by two other girls. The girls, ages 14 and 12, have since been charged with aggravated stalking.
In October, Jordan Lewis, 15, a sophomore at Carterville High School in Illinois, shot himself in the chest and left behind a note, which according to his father, said: "Bullying has caused me to do this. Those of you know who you are."
Nearly one-third of all school-age children are bullied every year, according to PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. The vast majority find ways to cope, regardless of what emotional or physical scars are left behind. But that statistic is still an indictment.
Several anti-bullying organizations cite the statistic that harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school shooting incidents. Beyond the risk for violence and self-harm, students who are bullied are more likely to miss school or drop out altogether. Those who bully other children are more likely to have criminal records and a higher suicide risk as adults.
So, how can schools and families more effectively address the issue? After all, there will always be some form of social hierarchies and cliques in institutional settings like schools, prisons and corporations.
First of all, any adult should take reports of bullying seriously. Don't tell a victim to "just ignore it." Most students hide their troubles when they are being bullied, so if a child speaks up, listen and take action.
Keep an eye on your kids' digital worlds. Some school districts have resorted to hiring companies to monitor students' online activities and look for public threats and harassment. While this may invoke fears of Big Brother, students must be held accountable if they are cyberbullying a peer outside of school hours.
Schools should also be careful about the unintended consequences of some anti-bullying videos or programs. Brad Lewis, father of Jordan who committed suicide, has spoken out about an anti-bullying video shown at his son's school shortly before his death. It depicted a bullying victim's suicide, and he feels it may have influenced Jordan's actions.
Dr. Christine Moutier, medical director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says she absolutely agrees that this is a valid concern. Research and studies have documented the phenomenon of suicide contagion.
"What we've proposed is that rather (than) highlight the stories that show the tragic and negative outcomes, which begin to link suicides and bullying ... choose people and films that model positive outcomes," she said. "It can absolutely be detrimental for a student who is watching that and is already vulnerable and being bullied. We are very worried that it creates added risk."
One of the most important messages we parents can share with our children is the power of the bystander: More than half of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes.