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'Be the parent first, not the best friend': Fla. sheriff urges parents to help curb bullying

Florida's Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd speaks to kids, parents and teachers about bullying following the death of a 12-year-old girl who leapt to her death after being allegedly tormented.

A Florida sheriff Thursday urged parents to monitor their children's online activities, pay attention to changes in behavior and be prepared to discipline them -- in the wake of the suicide of a bullied 12-year-old in the community. 

"We have to be the parent first, not the best friend," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a meeting attended by around 120 parents at Crystal Lake Middle School.

Judd accused two students, aged 12 and 14, of "maliciously harassing" Rebecca Sedwick with verbal and physical abuse and cyber-bullying their victim until she took her own life.

The sheriff booked the pair into a juvenile detention center Monday and they were later released to their parents under house arrest. The girls were charged with aggravated stalking — a third-degree felony — because the victim was younger than 16 years old.

Sedwick jumped to her death from a third-story cement plant structure in central Florida on Sept. 10. after being verbally, physically and cyber bullied throughout 2012 and 2013, Judd said. All three girls attended Crystal Lake Middle School at the time of the alleged bullying. 

The sheriff moved to arrest  the two young suspects after one posted on her Facebook page, " 'Yes ik (I know) I bullied REBECCA nd (and) she killed her self but IDGAF (I dont give a f---)."

Florida sheriff Grady Judd says the parents of a 14-year-old-girl arrested for bullying another student, who ended up taking her own life, should be charged for failing to monitoring their daughter's online activity. Some legal experts say that unless it can be proved that the parents encouraged the behavior, a crime cannot be established. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

At the meeting on Thursday, the sheriff distinguished between face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying, saying that online, "the bullying continues sometimes 24/7."

And only one in 10 victims reports being harassed, he said. 

"We must listen to our children, we must talk to our children, we must give them the opportunity to open up," Judd said.

Parents who attended the meeting said children's online activity should be checked, and guardians should hold responsibility for their kids' misbehavior.

"I do believe parents should be held responsible in situations like this only because you have to be diligent about what your children are doing and how they're interacting especially online because you don't want to see anything happen to them," said Melissa Hazlett.

"These parents should be checking their Facebook. I do believe there should be some criminal charges," added Bobbie Bean.

Also on Thursday, Sunshine state lawyer Mark O'Mara — who gained national prominence as the defense attorney for George Zimmerman — announced he was drafting a proposed law to hold parents accountable in some cyberbullying cases.

"I would support legislation that places legal responsibility on parents, making them liable for what the children do with the online access parents provide," a statement from O'Mara read. "I am drafting a proposed law that would give Sheriff Judd the 'obvious charges' needed to hold parents accountable."

NBC News' Henry Austin contributed to this report.

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