Dr Barbara Spears of the Hawke Institute for Sustainable Societies says bullying has always been a problem but technology is now playing a part.
"The bully hasn't changed in terms of power - they still use power to intimidate, but now they're using the internet, mobile phones and even MSN Messenger to bully their victims and as a result, we're suddenly seeing bullying with a different face," Dr Spears says.
This "cyber-bullying" or covert bullying is now the focus of research into the problem and will be the topic at this month's state meeting of the Coalition to Decrease Bullying, Harassment and Violence in SA Schools. Dr Spears, who is a member of the coalition, says cyber-bullying is a problem schools and parents need to take seriously.
"We're only in the early ages of understanding it from a research point of view, but it's much more problematic because kids can't escape it," Dr Spears explains. "It's there on the internet 24/7 and kids can't get away from it."
Preliminary research at the Hawke Institute's Conflict Management Research Group has revealed that cyber-bullying is happening as early as primary school. And while Dr Spears is the first person to say schools are safe places, it's important that kids have the support - and skills - to deal with bullies.
"Parents have to help solve this problem. Computers should be out in the open and not hidden in bedrooms so parents know what their children are looking at on the internet and parents and children should familiarise themselves with NetAlert, an internet safety programme designed for teachers to help protect kids."
"Many students don't tell their parents that they're being bullied, so talking to your kids about their day and watching for signs that something is wrong is very important."
With an estimated 1 in 6 kids becoming the victim of bullying, the sooner parents talk to their kids about the problem, the better.
"Bullying has some horrific consequences and we need to be vigilant, but not vigilantes," Dr Spears says.
This research and other high-impact projects have prompted a major expansion at the Hawke Institute. A nationwide search is now underway for several new academic research assistants to help meet the growing demand for real life research.