It’s not always easy being a kid these days.
Mental-health professionals say besides old-fashioned peer pressure, children both inside and outside the classroom face serious challenges from bullying, whether in person or online.
“We want students to know they don’t have to put up with bullying,” said Barry Perez, a Northside Independent School District spokesman. “There are individuals in the schools who would help them. We want to make it clear that you can believe in yourself. You can stand up and you can say, ‘No.’ You can say, ‘I will report this.’”
The National Education Association estimates 160,000 learners miss school daily due to fear of attack or intimidation by other pupils.
Harassment affects all youth — the bullied, those who bully, and those who see bullying going on, officials said. Some effects may last into adulthood, mental-health counselors said.
Intervention approaches showing the most promise are ones confronting the problem from various angles. They involve the entire campus community — students, families, administrators, teachers, and staff including bus drivers, nurses, cafeteria workers and front-office personnel — to create a culture of respect.
Zero tolerance and expulsion by themselves are often ineffective, according to stopbullying.gov.
Under Texas law, bullying is defined as engaging in written or verbal expression or physical conduct harming another student or student’s property, or is persistent enough to promote an intimidating or threatening educational environment.
Anti-bullying legislation, passed by state lawmakers in 2012, requires schools, including charter campuses, to address the issue. Specifically, it directs districts “to train school staff, to provide parental notification, programs for students and staff, counseling for bullies and victims, and protection for those who report bullying.”
Since then, legislators have beefed up the statutes.
David’s Law, named for an Alamo Heights teen who committed suicide after repeated online threats, took effect Sept. 1, 2017, to give schools and police more power to tackle cyberbullying.
The decree, which received widespread bipartisan support, honors David Molak, 16, who took his own life in January 2016 after extensive cyberbullying, and Matt Vasquez, another San Antonio student who faced continual harassment while battling cancer.
The law now requires school districts to include cyberbullying as part of policies on intimidation in general, and compels them to notify a minor’s parents if he or she is a victim or a perpetrator.
It also allows educators and police to collaborate when harassment becomes severe or even life-threatening, and clears schools to combat bullying off campus by investigating an offense if it “materially affects the school environment.”
The law also adds a criminal penalty; cyberbullying is a Class A misdemeanor.
“We hope that schools and policymakers build on that effort and work to provide all students with the mental-health support that they need,” said the Director of Mental Health Policy at Texans Care for Children’s Josette Saxton, upon Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing of the bill into law.
In many learning institutions where serious harassment occurs, parents can request a transfer for their child. However, if a victim might suffer further trauma from being moved, such as losing friends or having transportation issues, the aggressor may be relocated instead.
Perez said NISD encourages and works with students by empowering them to recognize and report what they experience or see.
“We want them to know just what is bullying and how to report it,” he said, adding that even anonymous tips are taken very seriously. “They should know that if they see something on social media, and have a concern, they can report it. Even if it’s in the evening or on the weekend, the campus police can act immediately.”
Often linked to bullying, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Youth suicides are higher in Bexar County than nationally, an audience of North East Independent School District students and parents learned last winter during an anti-bullying presentation at Johnson High School.
“We are working hard to talk to parents about signs or how to talk to children who are having issues,” said Terri Mabrito with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The NAMI hotline is 800-950-6264.
To assist in the prevention of bullying and to intervene, Communities in Schools, an organization dedicated to keeping kids in classrooms, places coordinators within campuses across 19 districts in South Texas.
The counselors work with students to assess their needs and provide resources such as therapy to address behavior or social-interaction problems.
Communities in Schools of San Antonio serves about 90 institutions in 11 school districts.
Another resource cited by experts is David’s Legacy Foundation. Named for Molak, the nonprofit creates tools to help in the struggle against cyberbullying. An offshoot, the Don’t Bully Me Project, includes attorneys who offer free legal education to the community.
For more, visit http://davidslegacy.org/.