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Jun 07 2011

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Preventing bullying and cyber bullying

By Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Bullying was once considered an unfortunate – but relatively harmless – schoolyard malady. Today, however, parents, educators and law enforcement officials are increasingly recognizing that bullying is anything but harmless.
Young victims of bullying can suffer long-term consequences that haunt them long into adulthood. For the perpetrators, bullying can cross the line and become a criminal violation with lifelong consequences. A recent study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids showed that nearly 60 percent of boys who were classified as bullies in sixth to ninth grade faced criminal prosecution and conviction of at least one crime by the age of 24. Of that same population, 40 percent had three or more criminal convictions.
Bullies typically choose their victims based upon a particular vulnerability or a specific trait. Some simply choose victims randomly. For example, a bully may target a child because of the child’s height or academic successes. To intimidate their victims, bullies rely upon a variety of harmful behaviors such as hitting, teasing, threatening, spreading rumors, damaging belongings and excluding others from social groups.
In an increasingly electronic world, cyber bullies rely on technology to torment others. Cyber bullying occurs when teenagers use the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post texts or images that are intended to hurt or embarrass their victims. Put differently, cyber bullies may attempt to destroy or smear a victim’s reputation with emails, blogs, social media posts, text messages and other electronic media.
Bullying situations often involve seemingly powerful aggressors and victims who feel helpless. Sadly, some students who suffer bullying at school may believe that violence is the only way to defend themselves – but it is not. Texas law allows bullied students’ parents to request that their children be transferred to another classroom or school. The law also requires that all schools display a student code of conduct that imposes disciplinary consequences for young bullies.
Parents and students alike should be aware that some instances of cyber bullying can cross the line and become criminal conduct. Texas law defines criminal harassment as “sending repeated electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another.” Texas teenagers who suffer from cyber bullying or harassment should save all communications from a bully and report those threatening or hurtful messages to a parent, teacher, law enforcement officer or other trusted adult.
By working to prevent young Texans’ bullying, harassment and intimidation, adults can help protect young people and make our communities safer. Parents and teachers are often best poised to build a child’s self-confidence and teach the student how to peacefully resolve their problems. Parents and school personnel should always take bullying seriously so that children are not embarrassed or afraid to tell adults that they have been bullied.
To help children deal with bullies, parents should work to bolster children’s self-assertiveness and self-esteem. They should also teach their children to solve problems without resorting to violence. Victims of bullying should be taught to immediately report the bully or cyber bully to an adult.
Parents should also teach children that if they witness bullying, there are positive steps to end a potentially dangerous situation and help the victim. Witnesses must not watch or encourage the bully, since bullies typically desire an audience. Instead, witnesses and bystanders should go to the victim’s aid if it is safe to do so and report the incident to an adult. Parents who observe any bullying should take action to stop it right away – even if their own child is responsible for the bullying.
To ensure children and teenagers know how to safely resolve a bullying incident, parents and teachers should teach students to:
• Report to an adult any type of bullying – including theft, physical attacks, online harassment, abusive text messages, etc.
• Protect themselves and others. Young Texans should follow rules and stay out of trouble, avoid gangs, walk to school with friends, and be aware of their surroundings.

• Be cooperative and respectful. Conflict resolution exercises, parental involvement in school or summer activities, and spending time with family can help offer children opportunities to experience appropriate social interaction with their peers.

Together, parents, children, teachers and law enforcement authorities can help prevent bullying and cyber bullying, reduce crime and build a brighter future for all Texans.

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Happy Father’s Day!
by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

There’s no greater gift than becoming a father, but it isn’t always easy. Dads make countless sacrifices for their children, some larger than others, but all out of love. It is because of these sacrifices that a father holds a special place in his child’s heart.

This Father’s Day, the employees of the Child Support Division (CSD) thank you for doing the right thing by taking care of your children and giving them the love and support they deserve.

Last year, the CSD collected $2.9 billion in child support — and most of the money came from fathers. You are the unsung heroes in your children’s lives.

The CSD demonstrates its commitment to fathers by recognizing the important and irreplaceable role they play in their children’s lives. Several notable resources that serve Texas fathers include:

The Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) gives unmarried fathers the opportunity to acknowledge their children’s paternity at the time of birth. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) trains and certifies hospital and birthing center employees to assist parents with the Acknowledgement of Paternity process so that the child will have a legal father right from the start. Last year, POP gave more than 122,000 Texas children a good start in life by helping their fathers establish legal paternity.

Maps for New Dads: Handbook for Expectant and New Fathers is a publication designed to help expecting dads transition into fatherhood. Maps covers everything from what to expect on a prenatal visit to making homes “baby safe” — all in a manner designed to reinforce the special role fathers play.  Additional resources developed by the OAG include posters recognizing the important role fathers play, a
Parenting Two-gether Handbook for New Parents and the For Our Children DVD.

Access and Visitation programs promote noncustodial parents’ access to and visitation with their children, when appropriate, through a variety of shared parenting projects. Awarding grant funding to local organizations is one way the Attorney General’s Office can help children whose parents are engaged in custody or visitation disputes, since federal funding to run the child support program cannot be used to handle these issues. The services provided under this grant include early intervention, co-parenting education, mediation and enforcement. The OAG also funds a toll-free assistance hotline, (866) 292-4636, and provides a Web-based directory of services available in Texas communities.

The Parenting and Paternity Awareness (p.a.p.a.) program is an innovative educational curriculum designed for secondary school students and young adults. The p.a.p.a. program focuses on the “rights, responsibilities and realities of parenting.” Key themes in the curriculum focus on the importance of father involvement, the value of paternity establishment, the legal realties of child support, the financial and emotional challenges of single parenting, the benefits of both parents being involved in a child’s life, healthy relationship skills and relationship violence prevention.

The No Kidding: Straight Talk From Teen Parents project trains and equips young parents to deliver educational curriculum on the realities of being a young parent to students in middle and high school. No Kidding educators use their experiences as teen/young parents to deliver a memorable message about paternity establishment, father involvement, the challenges of parenting and the benefits of postponing parenthood until economically stable and in a marital relationship. The program is implemented through local collaborations of community-based organizations, school districts and the OAG.

Points to Remember
The OAG Fatherhood Program

The Office of the Attorney General provides help to fathers seeking to become more financially and emotionally involved in their children’s lives.

The OAG Child Support Division helps fathers with:

• child support services
• employer and job training referrals
• establishing paternity for their child
• education about their rights and responsibilities
• information on how to build healthy relationships with their children and the mothers of their children

Call (800) 252-8014 or visit the Attorney General’s website at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov to find out more.

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