Teasing and name-calling may be a so-called rite of passage as kids grow up, but drawing a clear line between what is acceptable behavior for kids and what constitutes bullying does not always have a clear division.

As part of an effort to increase awareness about the affects of bullying, the Youth Asset Team in Darien participated in a panel discussion about self-esteem and how bullying can impact a child's perceived value.

YAT member Evan Rogers, a senior at Darien High School, identified the middle school level as being the most stressful on students as a result of bullying.

"It's really a maturity thing," Rogers said. "Kids are trying to figure out what's OK and what is not OK."

Rogers explained that bullying starts to phase out by the time students transition into high school because students are more sensitive to the impact.

Amy Sanborn, who is also a senior at DHS, agreed with Rogers' assessment and drew a correlation between the maturity of students in middle school and those who become targets of the bullies.

"A lot of the kids in the middle school were bullied because they were different, but by the time they get to the high school, people don't care that they are different and the bullies aren't singling them out anymore."

Being different is often the catalyst that draws a bully's attention to particular students, a local psychologist said.

Dr. Timothy Huber studies how spiritual aspects of life play a larger role in today's society for victims of bullying.

"Clearly we're at a time where the religious factor is working against them [victims of bullying]," Huber said. "We have to look at all the variables such as the social, family and religious impact on these students."

One of the areas where students who may differ from their peers, especially in relation to sexuality, is the number of messages kids are hearing from mainstream religions.

"Kids are being bombarded with all kinds of messages from mainstream religions," Huber said. Those messages can include statements about certain demographics being punished for eternity for their sexuality, Huber said.

Conflicting messages can also come from the media, Huber noted, as in the case of Fox Network's hit "Glee."

"In the show there is one gay member of the Glee club," Huber said. "The show tends to flip-flop between how being gay is portrayed as the student's father struggles with raising a son who is different than him. It can be very confusing for some kids," Huber said.

Huber noted that "Glee" is a positive step towards educating the public about the struggles some students experience in school.

Bullying has made its way back into the national spotlight after a recent string of suicides that were a result of students who were being bullied. However, what is not always as clear is why some students think it is acceptable to bully others.

"Bullies tend to come from systems where their is no tolerance for anyone or anything that is different," Huber said. "These kids tend to be more oppositionally defiant and come from households where that type of behavior is condoned."

Huber, and the YAT, both acknowledged that bullying is often compounded by the fact that middle school students are changing both mentally and physically.

"There are developmental issues and the hormones are raging which increases the stress level for that time period," Huber said.

Kate Feruson, YAT member, explained that the high school is also different because of the overall environment which helps reduce stress levels.

"The high school is a warmer environment and as a result everyone is accepted and self-esteem is higher," Ferguson said.

In today's technologically advanced society, bullying isn't limited to face-to-face interaction anymore. As more and more students start texting and using social networking sites, problems with cyber-bullying increase.

Susan Delaney, director of PeaceWorks, said thousands of students stay home from school every year as a result of bullying. She identified some key factors parents should look for if they suspect their child may be a victim of bullying.

"Parents need to be able to recognize that something has changed, whether their child is acting differently, hanging out with a different group or they are losing interest in certain activities," Delaney said.

Technology is compounding issues with bullying, Delaney said, because technology is available all the time and kids are incorrectly assuming that deleting information permanently removes it.

Sanborn noted that in the past students were able to go home or to a "safe place" where a bully couldn't reach them. But now, thanks to cell phones and social networking, bullies can follow those students anywhere.

Delaney provided statistics on the number of teenagers who send text messages, use social networking or use instant messaging.

Two in five teenagers send texts on a daily basis, 70 percent of teens use social networking and 68 percent use instant messaging, Delaney said.

A more startling figure is that 50 percent of people ages 12 to 14 experience some sort of abusive behavior as a result of technology, Delaney said.

However, despite the prevalence of bullying in society, steps are being taken to reduce the threat to students.

Darien High School hosts a program that is going into its fourth year called the Names Day Program. The purpose of the program is to give freshmen an idea of the impact bullying has on its victims.

Rogers explained that the program is mandatory for all freshmen but the school tries to keep the date of the event a secret so that students aren't tempted to skip it.

The program is designed so that a panel of six students discuss bullying and students are given the opportunity to see its affect from the view point of a bully, a victim and a passive observer.

"One of the biggest draws is that kids are able to see the impact and how much they are affected by bullying," Jay Alter, YAT member and junior at the high school, said.

However, Alter acknowledged one of the struggles with increasing awareness about bullying is getting people to listen.

"Sometimes we get the feeling that we're preaching to the choir," Alter said in reference to the fact that many of the people who attend events about bullying are the ones have already gotten the message. "Unfortunately the people who need the information the most aren't getting it."