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High school senior Dylan Taylor, texting outside South Medford High School, says derogatory slurs can be offensive, but are OK as long as everyone knows it's a joke. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

In a word ... $*&!@%*#

Dylan Taylor says using derogatory terms in text messages and online can be offensive, but he doesn't think it's a big problem on the South Medford High School campus.

"If someone is joking around and it's clearly a joke, then it's OK," says Taylor, a senior at South Medford.

"I have friends who jokingly throw the word 'fag' around," he says. "It's OK if it's a joke."

According to a poll released in August by the Associated Press and MTV, the majority of teens don't find words such as "fag," "slut" and "retard" offensive, and teens say using them on social-networking sites or in texts is even less insulting.

While Taylor says he doesn't consider derogatory words offensive most of the time, he acknowledges kids might be more likely to say them online or through a text.

"It gives people the option to say what they really mean," says Taylor.

Mike Jackson, a school resource officer at South Medford, says cyber-bullying is more common than ever.

"That is probably the most popular form of bullying going around today," says Jackson.

While Jackson wasn't familiar with the online poll, he agrees that students might be more likely to throw out derogatory slurs and bully each other online than in a face-to-face setting.

"Based on what I know, this doesn't surprise me at all," says Jackson. "You can say anything about anyone (online), and the only thing staring you in the face is your computer screen.

"There's less at stake when they're in the safety of their own home or their friends' house."

At South Medford High School, when administrators become aware of a cyber-bullying incident, they investigate to see whether the bullying happened during school hours, according to Jackson.

An Oregon House Bill passed in 2007 forced schools to adopt policies prohibiting cyber-bullying, something the Medford School Board did in 2008.

School officials are allowed to inflict punishment only when the bullying happens during school hours, at a school event or on the way to or from school, according to Jackson.

"The standard is whether this is affecting or disrupting school," says Jackson.

If the school investigates the cyber-bullying but decides it didn't happen at or directly affect the school, they will still pass the incident along to Jackson, who will contact parents and offer his assistance.

"I've got people coming in and talking about this sort of thing all the time," says Jackson. "It's running pretty rampant."

In addition to causing school repercussions, cyber-bullying can result in physical problems, according to Dr. Taylor Drake, a pediatrician at Providence Medford Medical Center.

"Victims of bullies have lower self-esteem and can have headaches and loneliness," Drake says.

Drake, who will give a cyber-bullying awareness class at Providence in November, says teens and parents need to know the effects cyber-bullying can have.

"(The bully) doesn't see the immediate response," says Drake. "It ends up more devastating."

Although some teens might think saying derogatory things over the Internet isn't a big deal, Drake says, the effects can often be worse than in person.

"Many teens are connected to some form of technology 24/7," says Drake. "I think it's important parents and kids know what can happen."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or by email at tristow@mailtribune.com.

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