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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Bullying/Cyberbullying 101 - The New Road Map for Parents

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaIt’s back-to-school season and while it’s an exciting time, sadly, for many kids, it’s also a time when some may be thrust back into a world of bullying, harassment or stalking. I get calls from families dealing with this all the time. As difficult as it is for parents to navigate, it’s absolutely emotionally draining for kids.What options are there when a child is bullied? What can a school do? Is there anything they must do? What happens if the bullying takes place outside of school property or online? For a long time, the options were slim, but much has changed in Texas because of David’s Law. Here is everything you need to know now and all the tools offered to families. Please share with other parents in your life. 

Bully and Cyberbullying
Bullying is an intentional act causing harm that may involve verbal harassment, threats, physical assault, stalking or other methods of coercion such as manipulation, blackmail or extortion. The bully intends to hurt, threaten or frighten. When the bully uses the Internet or technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target, you’ve entered the world of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has been on the rise with bullies using many different methods to target and traumatizes their victims. 

Methods of Cyberbullying

  • Harassment. Constant text messaging, mean instant messages/emails and/or repeated posts targeting the victim; the bully continually targets, talks about, threatens or embarrasses the victim. 
  • Warning Wars. The bully repeatedly “reports” posts by the victim (posts, mind you, that do not warrant being reported) as a way to keep the victim off of social media. The bully strategically disables the victim’s use of social media, even when they’ve done nothing wrong.   
  • Impersonating. Using the victim’s name, image or likeliness on a new or existing page, joining chatrooms under the victim’s name, signing up for apps, services or platforms under the victim’s name and then doing mean things, posting illegal things, posting personal information or embarrassing photos of the victim all under the victim’s fake page.
  • Using Photographs and Videos. Taking pictures or videos without the victim’s knowledge or consent and texting them to others, posting them online, printing them or using them in a way to embarrass or bully the victim. Photos or videos can also be used to control, blackmail or for public shaming.  
  • Creating Websites, Blogs, Polls and More. Sites are created by the bully to further victimize the victim. They are full of lies, gossip, rumors, photos, insults; they may share personal information, and/or repeatedly send viruses, spyware or hacking programs to the victim in order to spy on the victim or control his or her computer remotely.
  • Engaging in Subtweeting or Vaguebooking. Posting tweets or social media posts that, while they do not say the victim’s name, are sent to a larger audience with a clear understanding of who or what is being talked about. Bullies do this to avoid getting in trouble by teachers even though students - and the one being bullied - know very well who the target is.  

For the longest time, the schools were unable to respond to cyberbullying because it was taking place off campus. All of this has changed because of David’s Law. 

David’s Law (Senate Bill 179):
Expands school districts’ authority allowing public and charter schools (note, private schools are not included) to address any bullying or cyberbullying that takes place on or off school campuses especially if the cyberbullying interferes with a student's educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a classroom, school or school-sponsored or school-related activity; bullying in or out of school-related or sponsored activities; bullying that occurs on a publicly or privately owned school bus or vehicle being used for student transportation to or from any school-related activity.

David’s Law:

  • encourages school districts to establish district-wide policies relating to bullying prevention and mediation, 
  • requires anonymous reporting for students and that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintains a website with resources related to student mental health needs
  • modifies existing parent/guardian notification
  • provides flexibility in the disciplinary placement or the expulsion of students engaged in certain types of very serious bullying
  • authorizes school principals to report certain incidents of bullying to local law enforcement and provides protection from liability for doing so
  • expands the scope of instruction that can satisfy continuing education requirements for classroom teachers and principals to include instruction related to grief-informed and trauma-informed strategies; and

creates new remedies civilly and criminally for parents and children. 

New Civil Relief for Cyberbullying 

  • If the victim is younger than 18 years of age at the time the cyberbullying occurs, the victim, or a parent or guardian, can seek injunctive relief, such as a temporary restraining order and/or an injunction against the cyberbully.
  • Victims can also have the court issue an injunction against the cyberbully’s parents, requiring those parents to take action to stop their child from cyberbullying.
  • The Texas Supreme Court must make available to the public easy-to-understand forms and instructions (in English and Spanish) on initial injunctive relief for cyberbullying suits.

New Criminal Harassment Statute 

  • The Harassment Statute of the Penal Code (Section 42.07) now more fully and clearly includes the modern Internet-based communication tools and methods perpetrators use to cyberbully their victims.
  • If a person commits an offense under the cyberbullying provision of the Harassment Statute, the offense is bumped up to a Class A misdemeanor (rather than merely a Class B misdemeanor) if the person has previously been convicted under this section; or the offense was committed against a child under 18 years of age with the intent that the child commit suicide or engage in conduct causing serious bodily injury to the child; or the person has previously violated a temporary restraining order or injunction issued under the new civil provisions in David’s Law.

Who Can Report: 

  • Students - openly or anonymously 
  • Parents and teachers but they do not have the anonymous option
  • The principal or a person designated by the principal (other than a school counselor) is authorized to report bullying that rises to the level of being a crime to any school district police department or the police department of the municipality in which the school is located
  • If the school is not in a municipality, the person reporting should contact the sheriff of the county in which the school is located

Dealing with Bullying - A Guide for Parents:

  • Don’t respond. Instruct your child not to reply to posts, comments, texts and calls even though we all know it’s painful. Cyberbullies are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them one. 
  • Report, Report, Report. Report to all social media platforms and your Internet service provider immediately. Report to your principal, counselor and even school district. Include copies of everything (except where nudity is involved). Keep copies for yourself (except where nudity is involved).
  • Print and keep copies of all the cyberbullying. Save all messages, comments, and posts as evidence. This includes emails, blog posts, social media posts, tweets, text messages and so on. After the evidence is gathered and you have talked to the school and the police, you can delete comments. 
  • Evidence of nudity must only be given to law enforcement but student and parents must delete immediately. Keeping, printing or sharing these images constitutes possession and distribution of child pornography and could result in legal action against you and your child. Report the cyberbullying to your school’s counselor or principal. 
  • Contact the police regarding any threats. Threats of death, physical violence, indications of stalking, extended harassment and even suggestions of suicide should be reported immediately.
  • Cut off communication but don’t punish your child. Cancel current social networking accounts and open new accounts. If necessary, change cell numbers and get an unlisted number. Block the cyberbully from your child’s new social networking sites, email accounts, instant messaging and cell phones. Through all this, be careful not to punish your child by taking away their right to technology. Don’t take the phones or computers away, just make it as difficult as possible for the cyberbully to contact them. 
  • Be aware of the effects of cyberbullying. Seek counseling and support. 
  • Know your options. Write letters to the school, school board and even the TEA if you must. Ask for the bully to be removed from your child’s classroom, for lockers to be far apart, for lunch times to be moved. You have the right to ask that the bully be removed from the school or that your child be placed in another school in the district. You have these rights -fight for them. 

This takes all of us. 
As we get back to school, remind kids that bullying is a lose-lose situation. Make sure the schools in your district are aware of David’s Law. Make sure there are anti-bullying policies and procedures in place that cover cyberbullying. Believe students who report. Investigate claims. As a community, have a zero tolerance for threats or bullies but don’t isolate or target bullies. We often model bullying behavior in how we talk about politics we don’t like, others in the community we don’t like and even students we don’t like. We engage in negative tweets, in online name calling or public shaming. We all have to stop, as a community, and talk about the realities and effects as families.

From civil laws to criminal laws to suicide to school shootings, this is an issue that cannot be ignored or taken lightly. If we each make it a priority, what a great year we can all have - and which one of us doesn't want that for our kids and families?

For free cybersafety and anti-bullying classes for students and parents, contact crime-Stoppers.org. See more information on David’s Law here.

Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter

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