We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us. -- Winston Churchill

When Dede Bartlett, co-chairman of the New Canaan Domestic Violence Partnership, talks to young people, she asks the question: "What is the one thing you don't want people to know about you, and if that information was spread to everyone, what would you do?"

Technology has changed our lives in countless positive ways, but it has a dark side that is impacting and damaging our kids. Every day young people in our towns are bullied and harassed with texts and over the Internet, and information that was intended to remain private goes public. People pass around comments -- like and dislike and far worse; press send and shred a reputation.

According to national surveys:

- 24 percent of school children said they are bullied through the Internet or texting;

- 30 percent of teenagers have been involved in sexting;

- 1 in 3 teens said they are texted 10, 20, 30 times an hour by a partner keeping tabs on them;

- 1 in 4 teens in a relationship said they have been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through cell phones and texting;

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- 19 percent of teens in relationships said their partner has used a cellular device or the Internet to spread rumors about them;

- Nearly 1 in 4 teens in a relationship communicated with their partner via cell phone or texting hourly between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m.;

- 71 percent of teens regard boyfriends/girlfriends spreading rumors about them on cell phones and social networking sites as a serious problem;

- 68 percent of teens said boyfriends/girlfriends sharing private or embarrassing pictures/videos on cell phones and computers is a serious problem;

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

- 1 in 4 adolescent girls reported verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner each year.

- 10 percent of students nationwide reported being physically hurt by a boyfriend/girlfriend in the past 12 months.

In an effort to address the growing concern of parents and kids about these issues, the New Canaan Domestic Violence Partnership, the task forces of Wilton and Weston and 18 community and civic organizations, will hold the Community Forum, Technology: Friend and Foe: Tips for Teens and Parent, on Wednesday, April 27, at 7 p.m., at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan.

Moderated by former NBC Nightly News Anchor, John Seigenthaler, the program will feature a panel with Tony Pavia, principal, New Canaan High School, and Mike Woods, assistant principal, Saxe Middle School, discussing what is happening in their schools; a panel with students from local high schools, discussing what kids are saying; Rich Colangelo, senior assistant state's attorney, and Kari Pesavento, from Children's Connection, providing tips and resources for parents; a recent high school graduate, talking about the physical and emotional abuse she received from her boyfriend via texts and fists; a presentation by the Peer Players.

The organizers' goal is to give parents the tools to help kids stay safe and to make kids more responsible with the new technology.

"We need to sustain the message that the problem has not gone away and continue to remind people that they can make a difference. It's important to engage the community, to provide them with the skills, knowledge and awareness of the technology," Bob Doran, event coordinator, said.

"Parents need to learn the technology; it's imperative in today's world, Bartlett said. There is no precedent for how to manage this new world, but parents are the first line of defense and need to be aware. It's also a school and community issue. Everyone's a shareholder."

I believe that the key to successful communication and staying connected with your child as they deal with all the pressures in their life is to keep an open environment and talk often. It's also helpful to let your child decide when to talk, what to talk about and for how long.

Show your love, understanding and humanity, but most importantly listen. If you start talking over your child, they may shut down; if you're quick to give advice or tell your child what to do, that may make them feel controlled. It's hard, but resist the urge to solve the problem for your child and do not minimize anything your child expresses.

Parents should never underestimate the stresses in their children's lives or think that it's only a phase they're going through and it will soon pass. This is when validation of the adolescent's point of view is critical, and it helps to try and look at the world as they do. A child's feelings about the stress and pressures in his life decrease when he feels his parents simply understand him, even if they cannot change the situation.

"Kids go to talk to their friends first. It's really important to make yourself available, so they will come talk to you," Tony Phillips, director of New Canaan Youth Services, said.

Bullying has gained increasing media attention in recent years with a spurt of highly publicized suicides of young people, who took their own lives to escape the constant torment of their peers. The growth of technology has played a significant role in the spread of bullying.

An anti-bullying PSA, released online in January, declares that more than 6 million schoolchildren experienced bullying in the past six months.

"It used to be that you might only see the bullies at recess or on the way home -- then maybe you take a different route home from school. Now, there's no escape, it's 24-7. You can't just go into your room, close your door and feel safe from it all," Bartlett said.

On March 10, President Obama, welcomed parents, students and teachers to the White House for a conference on bullying prevention and urged Americans to participate in putting an end to it. In his speech at the conference, he said, "If there is one goal of this conference, it is to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up."

There's an old African proverb that says, "It takes a village to raise a child." Many of our children are in crisis and it's up to us to come together as a village, as a community or even just a group of caring individuals, to help keep them safe."

Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in New Canaan. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. Email him at barryhalpin@aol.com.