NEW CANAAN -- Nearly three-quarters of teens consider rumor spreading on cell phones and social networking sites to a serious problem, according to a 2007 national survey conducted by Teen Research Unlimited.

This was among the topics discussed by more than 400 students, parents and others in a digital abuse forum "Hit me on my cell: it's time to talk," at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan on Thursday evening.

Hosted by former NBC Nightly News weekend anchor John Seigenthaler, the event's aim was to educate Fairfield County families about cyber-bullying -- a digital form of harassment that Seigenthaler said has run rampant nationwide.

Weston Police Sgt. Matt Brodacki said technology has exacerbated the number and array of harassment incidents suffered by middle school and high school students across the state. The Internet and social networking Web sites such as Facebook, along with cameras, video cameras and cell phones, enable children to maintain constant contact with each other during every hour of the day, he said.

Messages, photos and videos that teens and younger children are sharing every day can literally spread across the world in an instant, he said.

"This stuff does happen a lot in Connecticut ... especially in Fairfield County," Brodacki said.

Cyber-bullying refers to any type of harassing activity carried out on digital technologies such as cell phones and computers.

Sexting, is a term for the electronic exchange of sexually explicit text, images or videos, is one form of cyber-bullying that has lead to at least two teen suicides in the U.S.

"When it comes to this and this," New Canaan Police Sgt. Carol Ogrinc said, clutching her cell phone in one hand and pointing at her desktop computer with the other, "kids are in their own world. It's their world; they own it and parents are locked out."

Ogrinc, New Canaan's youth officer and a mother of two teens, recommends that parents tap into that world by keeping an open line of communication with their children. She suggests the dinner table or long car rides as settings when children are most apt to discuss matters regarding friends and school.

Ogrinc recommends parents avoid prying and said they must realize that "you're not going to know what your child is doing all the time."

"If a middle school girl has a crush on a boy, this is how they one-up the other girls -- (by sending him) a picture of her breasts," Ogrinc said. "That's the way kids fool around these days. We're appalled, but for them, they're just having fun."

In the last year, New Canaan police received seven complaints of youth cyber-bullying. The incidents involved 12- to 15-year-old children.

Ogrinc said one incident involved threats to a teacher's life that were recorded on a YouTube video voiceover by a 12-year-old boy, who later said the video was a prank. Another involved a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy who exchanged nude photos of themselves via text message, she said.

"In the last year, the sexting issue has developed and increased," Ogrinc said. "Three or four years ago, sexting was not an issue."

The department received its first incident report on juvenile sexting in 2008, Ogrinc said.

"This is the problem we've been seeing: a 15-year-old girl sends a boy in school a nude photo of herself in a text message," Ogrinc explained. "He's technically in possession of child pornography and she is technically distributing child pornography, even though (the photo is of) herself.

"She's distributing and he's possessing. Is this how we want to handle these cases? No. But these are the laws."

"The kids are getting these `sexts' every day," said Kari Pesavento, director of Children's Connection, a Human Services Council program that educates teens about sexting and forms of cyber-bullying. "They just don't get it. They're getting these messages every day, they're forwarding them, they're saving them, and they're not realizing if they have three or more of these images on their phones, it's a felony."

Teens and younger children who send "sexts," she said, often do not realize how quickly those messages can spread around the school, community and beyond.

"It's small towns where it happens the most and it's talked about the least," Pesavento said.

Debbie Fryer, coordinator of PeaceWorks, a Domestic Violence Crisis Center program that educates students nationwide about developing healthy relationships, says that many youngsters cannot discern a healthy relationship from an abusive one.

"In every school we go into, there are students who are (being cyber-bullied into) sexting," she said.

Ogrinc said another common teen harassment scenario is often triggered by a young couple's breakup.

"If a girl breaks up with a guy, and he's not letting go, he can text and text and text her or call her or show up somewhere he knows she will be -- and that's harassment," she said.

"If someone has pictures of you that you don't want spread around, it's really easy for them to say ... `try and break up with me and you're going to see this picture around the world,' " said PeaceWorks Director Susan Delaney.