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Parenting in the age of cyberbullying: A fight for online safety — Power to the Parents, Ep. 2

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In this episode of Power to the Parents, ParentsTogether’s Ailen Arreaza engages in a meaningful dialogue with Tracy Kemp and LaQuanta Bivens-Hernandez, delving into their personal encounters with social media and the measures they’ve taken to safeguard their children’s online presence.

The discussion covers the pivotal moment they decided their children could own phones and engage with social media, along with the complexities and strategic choices they faced to protect their kids in the digital realm. They share poignant experiences of their children facing cyberbullying, focusing on the profound emotional repercussions and the critical steps towards addressing and mitigating such harassment. Specifically, they highlight incidents of racial cyberbullying, the difficulties in pinpointing the perpetrators, and the subsequent legal actions they pursued. The conversation also uncovers the underlying motives of cyberbullies, often driven by a quest for online recognition, and the significant emotional distress inflicted on the victims and their families.

Tracy and LaQuanta further share their proactive roles in advocating for change, including pushing for legislative reforms and enhancing public awareness, underscoring the indispensable role of parental communication and the imperative for social media platforms to acknowledge and rectify the damages incurred.

Takeaways from Episode 2

  • Racial cyberbullying can have a significant impact on the victims and their families, leading to emotional distress and mental health issues.
  • Identifying the perpetrators of cyberbullying can be challenging, but legal action can be taken to hold them accountable.
  • Advocacy efforts, such as lobbying for legislation and raising awareness, are crucial in addressing the issue of cyberbullying and protecting children online.
  • Open lines of communication between parents and children are essential in addressing and preventing cyberbullying incidents.

Transcript of Episode 2: Parenting in the Age of Cyberbullying: A Fight for Online Safety

LaQuanta Bivens-Hernandez: But he gave her an apology. He says, I wish I would have taken the time to get to know you more. And when the judge asked him also, why did you do it? He said he thought it would be funny, that it would get lots of likes and hearts. And the goal was to go viral.

Ailen Arreaza, host: This is Power to the Parents. Welcome. I am Ailen Arreaza, your host. And today I’m here with two incredible moms, Tracy and LaQuanta. And we’re gonna talk today about social media and online safety and keeping kids safe online, which is so hard. I have two, I have a tween and a teenager, and this is a daily struggle for me. And I know you all have some really powerful, interesting, painful, heartbreaking stories to share about your experience with your kids on social media. So, but first let’s just get to know each other a little bit. Tracy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, your kids, where you are at, all that.

Tracy Kemp: Alrighty. My name is Tracy Kemp and we live in Portales, New Mexico. We recently relocated here from Texas and we’re a family of five. So my partner, Seth, and then we have three kids, Brady, Jay, and Amaya. We’re fortunate to have one in every school. So we have a high schooler, a middle schooler, and an elementary school. We also have three dogs and a fish, so a very, very full household over here.

Ailen: A full house. One in every school. Will they ever be in school together?

Tracy: Yes, so next year we’ll have a seventh and an eighth grader, and then the following year we’ll have a ninth and a twelfth grader. So at some point. The middle one gets to be in school with both of them at the same time, so he’s the lucky one.

Ailen: And LaQuanta, tell me about yourself.

LaQuanta Bivens-Hernandez: Yeah, I am LaQuanta Bivens-Hernandez. We live in South Texas, which is, I guess McAllen, Texas, Deep South Texas. If you’ve ever heard of South Padre Island, we’re very near there. Been married for about 20 years. I have two wonderful kids. I have a son named Abraham, he is a freshman in college. And my beautiful daughter Jasmine, the light of my life, but she makes me pull my hair out, and she’s a sophomore. And I’m an educator so I love kids, kids have my heart, and so, yeah.

On kids’ first phones and social media accounts…

Ailen: That’s awesome. So okay, so we are here today to talk about social media and kids, and the first question I wanted to ask you guys is when did you let your kids get phones and what led to that decision? For me, I have a 13 year old and — no, a 14 year old — and an 11 year old and they both have phones now. And I just felt so much pressure from them, from their peers, from society to get them a phone. It also made my life so much easier because now my husband and I can go out. We don’t have a landline, so we can go out on a date or run an errand or whatever, and then we can call them and know where, like, that they’re fine at home. Or when they go out with their friends, it’s so much easier to call them than to call the mom to get her to tell the kid that I’m ready to pick them up or whatever. It’s also had a lot of pitfalls, a lot. So I’m curious about what went into the decision that you all made about getting your kids phones and when you chose to do that.

LaQuanta: Um, I know for me, my daughter got her phone when she was a sixth grader, when she started sixth grade, because when she was in elementary school — and here elementary school is through fifth grade — so she went to after school daycare and things like that. But now in sixth grade, she’s getting involved in sports, I don’t have an after school daycare. So for me as a parent, it was more of a safety issue. And she just had the phone where we knew, you know, where she was who she was with — if she was, you know, after school she was going across the street to the fruit stand with her friends, I knew where she was, and she knew to call mom and let me know. So it was a safety issue at that point. She didn’t get any, any type of, you know, social media. I think the first one she got was, um, she got a Snapchat when she was in seventh grade, you know with permission and everything. So that’s how she ended up with the phone.

Tracy: Brady also got a phone in sixth grade, and it was kind of the similar, you know, transitioning into that middle school, having a little more responsibility. For us — that’s when I worked nights and Seth was on days still. So we had about a 45-minute time gap between when I left the house and when he came, and we didn’t have a landline. So it just was easier to just give him a phone. We actually made him wait until, um, he was in eighth grade to get social media, just because we wanted to minimize that impact it had on him. And as you guys will find out later, that does not matter without your child having social media. But yes, about, I would say about sixth grade. I mean, the other two probably sooner than we wanted to, but that was just because big brother had a phone. So we had to make it fair, right?

Ailen: Once the big brother gets it, the little ones are just, they just take advantage and they’re like, well, me too. Okay. So I want to talk about social media. There’s a stat from the Department of Health and Human Services that says that 1 out of 3 teens say they’re addicted to social media. And I see this too. Same. We got our kids phones. We didn’t let them get on social media right away. But it was a struggle, especially with my — my little one isn’t on social media, but my 14 year old, he’s just like, Mom, this is the way that we communicate now. Nobody asks for your phone number. They ask for your Snap. And then he says too, to me, my study group is on Snapchat, which I think it’s just a strategy. Um, but, tell me about when you let your kids on social media and how you came to that decision. And you were saying, Tracy, that it didn’t even matter, but I, let’s talk about this first and then you can sort of tell me about, okay, how did it come to you?

Tracy: So eighth grade, Brady was kind of like, you know, Mom, I really want Snapchat. All my friends have Snapchat. Um, I think my age is showing, but Snapchat came out when I was like in college. And I think it was used for a different thing than it may be used for now. Um, but now, you know, he tells me that’s all, they don’t text anymore. All of the group chats, all of the calling and FaceTime, everything is done via Snapchat. And as a parent, I think it’s because whatever you say gets deleted immediately. For him, he says that’s his generation’s go to. Um, I guess Facebook is a bit outdated for them, so Snapchat was the first one he had. And then I would say probably this past summer, he’s a sophomore now, he got an Instagram as well, and he’s always pretty much had a TikTok since probably like 7th, 8th grade as well. Uh, for us, we just decided that we trusted him, and we wanted to build that, that level of, you know, not being hovering parents all the time, sheltering him all the time, but just kind of give him a little bit of freedom and allow him to experience that with his friends.

Ailen: You were talking about social media and when did you let your daughter get on social media, right?

LaQuanta: So social media, that happened in seventh grade. She ended up with a Snapchat. Back then it was where the students were starting to be at home for Covid. And so that was their way of communicating. And then, it turned into TikTok, where the students were doing, that’s where the TikTok dance went, the craze came, and they were all, you know, sharing their dances from home. So, it was Snapchat and TikTok as a 7th grader. And then 8th grade, she ended up, getting the Instagram. And basically, we initially had no issue, no troubles out of it. If you think back when we were younger, and I know I stayed on the phone for hours with my friends. But now with social media, now you have pictures and you have different things kind of getting the children to kind of look at it more and more. So if you look, you know, us always on the phone with our friends for hours is, when we were young, now it’s enhanced. So that’s where…

Ailen: Yeah, totally. Okay, so we all have these kids. They are on their phones all day. We’re trying to keep them safe. We’re, we’ve made some good decisions about, you know, waiting to let them get social media, my kids open these accounts that are, like, under my supervision, right? Like, I was there with them when they opened them, I saw what they were doing, I was able to see what they were looking at, I’m sure you all had similar experiences. And yet, the two of you know each other and became friends because of some very, very awful things that happened to your kids on social media. So, tell us a little bit about how you two met and what the circumstances around you becoming this amazing — this now amazing, you know, power couple of moms, like fighting the good fight.

On how the two moms met and bonded…

Tracy: Well, LaQuanta reached out to me. I was going to let her tell the story, but we were, we relocated. We’re originally from Michigan and we relocated to Lubbock, Texas. And during that time, um, my son was being cyberbullied. Uh, because he was Black, I guess is the best way to say it, and it is, was something that I’ve never experienced before or knew how to deal with. So for me, it was like, I’m going to try to do the official way of doing things. Cause I feel like, when it comes to my child, I kind of maybe go mama bear, like zero to a hundred real quick. And when I was, when my needs weren’t being met, I decided to use the power of social media and the regular media to talk about what was going on and what we were experiencing. So, you know, local news stations, Facebook, a lot of things. And I think during that time, LaQuanta was also going through it and she searched similar things in Texas and that brought her to me. And I’ll never forget the day I was at work and I got a message from someone and I was reading it. And as I was reading it, I started to almost cry because it was like, Oh my gosh. Finally, there’s someone who’s hearing, understanding, and knowing what I’m going through. And I was like, call me now. Like, I sent her my number. I had never met with her before this. And we just got on the phone and just really talked and like, had this really great connection of like, we’re going through it and we’re not alone. Um, yeah, and we’re, we decided from that moment on, we were gonna be in this together and support each other and support our cause till we, till we see it through. And even beyond that.

LaQuanta: Well, I know when this all happened, I didn’t, I didn’t know what to do. I live in south Texas, which is predominantly Hispanic, so I’m like, who else has gone through this? I had never even heard of this happening, so I just felt alone. Um, so what I did is I actually went online and I started looking for, you know, racial cyberbullying or anybody else in Texas who had gone through this. And somehow I came upon maybe an article or something that, that Tracy was in and I saw her picture and I saw her name. So I started looking up the name on Facebook and I’m like, she’s going to think I’m this crazy woman. But I reached out to her and she responded and we were able to connect. And so that’s, that’s how everything went from there. And I feel like it was a blessing because, okay, it was someone else I could relate to. Someone who’s gone through what I’ve gone through, a very similar story, and she’s here in Texas. So that’s, that’s how it all started.

Ailen: You found a news article or something because Tracy had been vocal about what had happened and that’s how you found out about her.

LaQuanta: And I think it’s very important to be vocal because you know, had she been quiet had I been able to find her? You know, that’s one of the most important things on how these things happen. Don’t just sit back and take it, be vocal.

On the racial cyberbullying that targeted their kids…

Ailen: Yeah, so speaking of being vocal, I imagine that you’ve you’ve talked about this a lot and it’s — it might be a hard story to tell, but I’d love as much as you’re comfortable sharing for you to sort of tell me what happened, what happened with your kids and online bullying.

LaQuanta: You want to go first, Tracy, or?

Tracy: Doesn’t matter, I feel like I always go first, but that’s fine. Um, so, my son Brady was in 8th grade when he was bullied both in school and cyberbullied. The cyberbullying was probably the most impactful because at that time, he did not have social media. Originally, we were getting ready for school. And someone had sent him a screenshot of an Instagram page. The Instagram page said Monkeys of Laura Bush Middle School. That’s where he went. And the, you know, header underneath it said send pictures of monkeys. Um, and someone had just screenshotted it. And he was in one of the first couple rows that can be seen. And he just turned around and was like, Mom, look, they put me on this page. I don’t even know who did it. And my first thought was like, what? Like, why is this even a thing? Um, so we, you know, immediately reported it, multiple times. I got my community involved, you know, my family, anybody that would listen. I was like, hey, if you guys look up this page, please report it. Report it, report it, because it was really disturbing that that page was even able to go up, something like that, and then following was that was a Snapchat with a very similar name, Monkeys of Laura Bush Middle School, and that one was more of a harassment. That was, um, we don’t want you here, you know, you n-words are not good for nothing, you know, just a lot of very hateful. They told my son, you know, you probably don’t have a dad, you know, you don’t know who your dad is. Just a lot of stereotypical things that people say about the Black community was imposed on my 14 year old. And it was really surprising, I would say, that, you know, kids that young had that type of mentality and mindset. More surprising that, um, there wasn’t a lot of help from Snapchat or Instagram to find out who it was, why it was put up, or any feedback from them on getting it taken down.

Ailen: Okay, just hearing that makes me want to like, get up from my chair and break stuff. Like, it makes me so angry and upset. And so how did you, how did you manage to stay, like to not go to not end up in jail because you like…

Tracy: If we’re being honest, I’m just calling how it is. The only reason why I’m not in jail is because of Seth. He is the calm, I am the storm. And he had to talk me down because I definitely was ready to, I don’t think I could say this on the podcast, but fight people’s kids. Or their parents, you know, I looked up their parents on Facebook of some of his bullies, and was like, hey, if you, if your kid doesn’t cut out, I’ll, I want to come over there and beat y’all. But, you know, I have to remember, I have a lot to lose. And I also wanted to show my kids that, you know, you have to stand up for yourself and you have to trust the process. And that is exactly what we did. We didn’t just, you know, take it to a school authority. We, LaQuanta and I, we were on the Capitol of the United States Congress. We were on the Capitol of Texas fighting for this. Um, and that’s where it took me because it was either that or like y’all said, I was going to be in jail. Because it was, it is just ridiculous because you would not even expect an adult to act like this or say things like this. So to hear it coming from kids, middle school kids was just the flooring because where are you getting these ideas or the audacity or even the, you know, the bravery to just come and call people, you know, Black people, monkeys. And the part that was a little bit more disturbing to me is all of these pictures that were put on this page were not willfully taken. These were like pictures that they snuck and took of these kids. So my son’s picture is like of him like this, you know, because he was standing up in the process of standing up when he was doing it, and it just kind of was just honestly just shocking. But yes, definitely a lot of anger there. A lot of anger there.

Ailen: Yeah, LaQuanta, I want you to tell me about your experience as well.

LaQuanta: My experience is a little bit different. Jasmine is now a sophomore. It happened when she was in 8th grade. So, back in, I believe it was September of 2021 she, she had, I believe they had a picture. She had posted a picture of her and her friends because she’s very involved in volleyball. Well, someone had taken her picture, taken a picture of her face and they had made another account, an anonymous TikTok account. And it basically, you know, it was captioned, you know, the name of her school, 8th grade boys and it said the only Black B-I-T-C-H in school. And so she immediately, she was like, you know, what the heck? You know, she showed me, showed her dad. I was really, really bothered because she hadn’t received any, like, any type of racial treatment while at school. So this was just… So, we let the school know, um, calmed Jasmine down, let the school know, but it was just very concerning because it took several days for it to be taken down. And, you know, Jasmine was shocked. She was confused. She was hurt. And again, this was through TikTok. So again, it took a couple days, they took it down. You fast forward two months now. Now it’s November, and now we have another account, but now it’s another fake account, and this one is through Instagram. And this is much more just, just ugly, much more disgusting because now the title is the initials of her middle school and the n-word, um, just really horrible, racist comments and pictures directed towards her. So, for example, it was a picture of her face superimposed on Emmett Till’s body being hung from a tree. Um, there were pictures of her face cropped on to someone, um, burning on a cross with the KKK behind her, you know, with the hooded KKK. There was another picture of her, her face superimposed on someone in a coffin, KKK behind them, flag burning. Another picture of her face superimposed on someone picking cotton in a cotton field. So, and these are just, just some of the pictures. It was tons. Um, and then there was comments like, “Filthy monkey burning. Why do y’all have to be Black men? Y’all are so filthy. We’re on your S-H,” you know. Just horrible, horrible things said about her and she was just, you know, she was devastated. I was devastated. She ended up just, you know, having to go to counseling. She would not sleep in her bed, you know, just tons of — I get so many feelings because I remember this is an eighth grade young lady who’s using social media the correct, correct way, and her having to go to counseling and the first few days, she wouldn’t even sleep in her own bed. We had the FBI reach out to us saying, do you want us to, you know, be outside of your house? Because at that time, we didn’t know that these were kids doing that. We just knew that something was happening directed at our daughter. And once something got on social media land, you cannot get that back. So it was, it was very, very hard.

“This is an eighth grade young lady who’s using social media the correct, correct way, and her having to go to counseling and the first few days, she wouldn’t even sleep in her own bed.”

Ailen: Yeah. I want to, I want to talk about that because that’s, that’s the thing. Once something is on social media, they take screenshots of it, they post it again, they share it. It just, it’s like a snowball effect. And so I want to hear, I’m assuming that one of the first things you all did was report this to the platforms, and what was your experience trying to get that stuff taken down? How did that all work for you all?

On trying to get harmful content taken down…

LaQuanta: I know for us initially, with the TikTok, that took several days, but they eventually took it down. Same thing with Instagram. They took several days to take it down. But I guess for us, initially, it’s like, how did that even get through? We reported it to the school as well. I just feel like there should have been something where they couldn’t even gotten as far because again, those pictures had been liked and shared by classmates. So yes, they got taken down eventually, but just to be there.

Ailen: You don’t know how long they were up for, right? Eventually you got wind of them, but they had been, and it sounds like it was a bunch of pictures, over several days.

LaQuanta: Right, and what I find interesting is Jasmine had the…where you can, if you’re under 13 or you’re 13 or something, those pictures don’t go through, so she didn’t even know a lot of that was there. Other people showed her, because she was using social media the right way.

Ailen: Because she had sort of the parental controls, so some of her peers who didn’t showed, saw those pictures.

LaQuanta: That’s how we really found out about, about the more ugly pictures, you know, it was…some stuff she was able to see, but the more graphic ones, she wasn’t able to see because of the parental controls.

Ailen: So the platform knew that it was too graphic for a 13-year-old to see, but still kept it on.

LaQuanta: And that is my point.

Ailen: Yes. No, like that’s the thing. That’s the point. They know the stuff that’s graphic, the stuff that’s messed up. Like I know, in our work, I was at a conference once and someone said, you know, the minute you post a video with a copywritten song, they find it and they take it down right away. Right. They’re able to do that. So they, if they wanted to, they could do the same for, uh, these types of things. And they just…

Tracy: I don’t think I don’t think they care. I don’t think they care, honestly, I think that it’s everything’s good until we receive numerous complaints about it and even then, still a lot of things slide through. Um, for me, the Snapchat was deleted once we went to the school about it the second time. So the first time it was reported and nothing happened with it. We were told, you know, the chats delete, so there’s nothing to it, and I’m assuming whatever student that created it heard that, you know, the school was investigating it and they deleted it. But as far as Instagram is concerned, that took me almost two days to get down, and that was me, like, every five minutes getting on this page and reporting it, telling, you know, all of the other parents whose children was on the page, you know, you guys report it, and anybody who would listen, go report it. And then I think eventually it must have gotten enough reports that they’re like, let’s temporarily take it down. Um, and then it was removed, but it was just the excessiveness of having to report it that many times to get someone’s attention. You would think, hey, someone reported a post. Okay, maybe one, but you’re getting a lot accumulated over this time. I’m assuming the school also tried to, because we let them know about it as well, but, they did not have any urgency, um, about it at all. And that’s pretty unfortunate, especially when you’re in situations like these where kids are being bullied or their likeness pictures are being posted without their consent. You want that taken down immediately, even though, you know, like you said, it’s been up for who knows how long, there were kids who liked it, there was comments on these pictures, no telling, you know, someone screenshotted it and sent it to my child because he didn’t have Instagram, so that screenshot’s out there somewhere, and that just leads you down a rabbit hole because there are other pages similar to this on these platforms. There are other pages that I found that were like, um, emos or this person is this or, you know, body shaming young women and they’re all on there. They’re all under, you know, his old middle schools, you know, LBS, LBMS blank, whatever they wanted to call it. And I feel like in today’s technology, they should know that these, when they see these little pages, just automatically delete them because you know that they’re being made to be hurtful.

On finding the perpetrators…

Ailen: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to ask you about the kids who did this. Did you find out who it was? Did you have a chance to confront them? How did that all sort of shake out?

Tracy: No, we haven’t had a chance to confront him. We have not. Um, I think personally, my situation was a little different than LaQuanta’s. My child was bullied both in person and online. And I do believe that the person who bullied him in school is the person who created that, um, those accounts, just because some of the things that they would say to him in person transferred over into those online accounts, but we would never were, uh, the last time I checked with our lawyers, they were said that it was turned over to the FBI. And once it’s in the hands of the FBI, it’s out of local jurisdiction. So unfortunately, we did not find out who did it.

Ailen: How about you, LaQuanta?

LaQuanta: And I know in our case, I mean, this is my personal feeling. I feel like because my husband’s law enforcement, we got a little bit quicker action. So when this happened, my husband was at work. He went to the police station, filed, you know, a report. So we were quickly able to, you know, get involved with as far as getting the IP address. So we had to wait a little while, but they went and got the IP address. So they were able to track where it was coming from in our case. Long story short, we found out that it was not an adult, but it was three boys from her school that she did not know, they did not know her. Two of the boys were making the pictures and sending it to the poster, which is the main person. So he took the rap for all three of them because he was the one posting it online because apparently there’s nothing wrong with, you know, making those pictures or doing anything like that. What got him in trouble was because he posted it on social media. So again, the other boys, I think they got, you know, alternative school or something like that, but the main boy that took the rap, because he was posting them, because he was putting those comments, you know, he ended up in juvenile, maybe a day or two, nothing major. We pushed, and made sure that we filed charges. We had, we had a letter, like a cease and desist letter drawn up. We got an attorney, everything. Um, and we had, we found those addresses of the three boys and we had them served with those papers where they cannot contact my daughter, they couldn’t look at her, they couldn’t do anything. Because when my daughter finally was able to go back to school after about three weeks, my concern was, they’re going to be at her school. They said, well, she can go to a different school and I’m like, no, she can’t go to a different school. I had to take this to the school board. That’s a whole nother issue, but I had to take it to the school board because no, this is her school, make them leave. So they eventually, the other boys were eventually made to leave and go to other…accommodations were made for them to go to other schools.

Ailen: I know that you said one of the boys had the opportunity to talk about why he chose to do this. And I thought it was really interesting what he said. Can you, can you share?

“When the judge asked him also, why did you do it? He said he thought it would be funny, that it would get lots of likes and hearts and the goal was to go viral.”

LaQuanta: Yes. Again, this happened in 2021. We didn’t get a court date until in January of 2023. And during that court date, the judge asked my daughter, like, what do you want? And she says, I want an apology. And so that young man, he, I’ve never seen someone shake so much in my life, but he gave her an apology. He says, I wish I would have taken the time to get to know you more. And when the judge asked him also, why did you do it? He said he thought it would be funny, that it would get lots of likes and hearts and the goal was to go viral. And that just, it was like a slap in the face because you’re doing all this for social media and not worried about the person on the other end of this. So it was, it was heartbreaking. I think my mouth just dropped cause I’m like, where have we come in a society where that’s okay, that that’s cheered on, that’s what we want, all the likes and to go viral and we’re hurting someone in the process. I mean, and honestly, just one of the things my daughter says, she’s like, I would like a psychological for him too, because why would, why would anybody even do something like that to another human being?

Ailen: Yeah, well, I mean, it goes back to the stat that I referenced earlier, right? One out of three teens is addicted to social media, and it gives you this rush to get these likes and these hearts. And you go to these extremes to get that and you forget that there are people on the other side of the screen who you are hurting. I mean, it sounds like your daughter was, was emotionally and psychologically…her mental health suffered from this. How is she doing now?

LaQuanta: She’s doing better. I continue to monitor. And, and you say it was my daughter, but I feel like the whole family suffered from this. Cause yes, we have to see her going through this. But at the same time, me as a mom, I’m trying to like hold it together in front of her, dad and then big brother ready to fight somebody and I’m trying to keep them calm. So they were like Tracy and I’m like, you know, but it was tough. It was tough and she had to go to a licensed school professional counselor. And one of the things he said to us after meeting with her, he’s like, if she did not have the faith that she had, she could be another, you know, suicide statistic. And I mean, that’s what broke me. Cause I’m like, wow. And a lot of the moms that Tracy and I work with, a lot of their children have committed suicide. And so, you know, by the grace of God, she didn’t. But that’s why I fight. I fight for all of these kids. Not just, you know, because of the racial cyberbullying, but all the other situations as well. But I do want something done about the racial cyberbullying too. Because we can’t just, you know, we can’t just mix that in with everything else.

On becoming online safety advocates for all kids…

Ailen: Absolutely. Okay, so you mentioned fighting. I want to hear about, because you all had these issues, you got your kids straightened out…but then you didn’t stop there, right? You continued to try to make a difference for all kids. So I want to hear about what that’s looked like for both of you, you partnered together on this effort, right?

Tracy: I would say we got involved with ParentsTogether after this, and we really loved to, well, we really wanted to help with the bill KOSA, the Kids Online Safety Act. And for me personally, as a parent, you know, I’m involved, but something like this is not something I’ve ever thought to think about, you know, lobby for a bill or pay attention to what bills are trying to be passed to help our children. And I think that was a really good takeaway from this. And we were able to partner with some other great moms to go and lobby for KOSA. And I will say that going to Washington D.C. changed my life. I did not come back the same person and I’ll tell you why. It’s because, um, hearing other parents talk about how social media has affected their family, it brings me to tears and it’s, it’s just emotional talking about it now because… You know, LaQuanta and I are so blessed that our children are still here with us. And some of those moms, they lost their children and those are some of the most strongest women I’ve ever met. To have to get up and speak and talk about how social media has ultimately participated in their child’s death.

“I’m not just fighting for my child, I’m fighting for every child. I’m fighting for all of those babies that did not make it and the ones that are struggling.”

And that was all I needed to help motivate me even more because I’m not just fighting for my child, I’m fighting for every child. I’m fighting for all of those babies that did not make it and the ones that are struggling. And I feel like whatever I can do to bring awareness, light, put it on someone’s radar that this is happening. Hopefully we can help save some lives and the lives that we did lose were not in vain. And for me, I’m going to keep fighting until we get it passed. Until we can minimize, hopefully eliminate how social media is killing our children. Because that’s ultimately what’s going on there. And then on a state level, LaQuanta and I, we helped write a bill that went to the state office, but I’ll let her talk about some more of that.

LaQuanta: Well, you know a little bit more about the bill than I do, but I’ll give my two cents on it in just a moment. Just to kind of backtrack a little bit, when all this did happen for me it was three things. It was like, I need to go after the school because of the way it was handled. I wanted to go after the boys or — at the time I didn’t know who did it, but I wanted to go after who did it. And then I wanted some laws put in place, because like I said, the way I found Tracy was because I’m looking and there’s nothing, there’s no laws. There’s no, you know, anything out there. So what can I do to bring attention to this? So this can change. So again, you know, with the school, I did some things with the school to make sure that they’re following protocols now that they were not following before. Again with the boys, I did what I could, went to court with one boy and he did, he ended up with probation until he’s 18. And then with the laws, and I knew the laws was going to take a bit longer of a fight.

“These are not cartoon characters of our kids we’re holding up. These are real children, we’re real moms, and we’re real tired of it.”

So Tracy and I, we have gone to Washington several times just to spread awareness and to push for KOSA and just for me, just to get, get the word out there. This, this is not just hearsay. These are moms that this actually happened to. It’s not, you know, these are not cartoon characters of our kids we’re holding up. These are real children, we’re real moms, and we’re real tired of it. You know, that’s basically what it was about. Um, yeah. And then I know Tracy reached out to me, um, with a friend of hers, Paige. And what, Paige is a, she’s with what?

On identity-based bullying…

Tracy: She’s a lawyer with IDRA, um, and they’re out of Texas. And I don’t know all of the details, but I do know that Paige was significant in helping bring all of this full circle with helping write the bill and helping connect us with the right people in the Texas Congress. Um, we actually met with the Black Caucus before we went in to testify for our bill in Austin, which was really awesome, and we felt like we had a lot of support. And our bill was basically more about identity based bullying online. So it kind of helped schools determine, like, if a child is bullied, whether it’s online or in person, by their race, gender, sex, their orientation, religious reasons, that that needs to be looked at more closely. That needs to be more documented, and the reason being is because when we brush everything into just one, it’s just bullying, we don’t see the significant effects of how it affects children with identity-based. And that’s protected anywhere else. Um, and that’s a lot of what we took for our bill is to protect everyone’s identity, no matter what you identify as or whatever you do, being bullied about that, you know, is not acceptable in the state of Texas. And this is what’s going to happen if you are. And it also gave the schools a lot of tools to use when they encounter something like that, because as she said, it’s not something that schools know what to do. Um, there was no, there is no law about it. There’s no process about what goes on. And we really wanted to establish that for future children coming in. And to, you know, help schools because it is something that, that’s going on. I mean, and, and they don’t really have a way to look at it or a way, a way to go.

LaQuanta: Absolutely. And then I know we, when we went to Austin, I know Jasmine went out and I gave her the option if she wanted to, because I wasn’t sure, like every day is, you know, one day at a time with Jasmine, just how she is emotionally, mentally, but she was like, “No, Mom, this is wrong. I’m going to go speak about it.” So her and my son both, they went and you know, I was like, I was so proud because I’m like, after going through all of that, you turned, you took your pain and you turned it to purpose. And it was her and some other, another young lady that I recall. And they were just telling just what happened to them and how they felt. And just to be brave enough and strong enough to go to the State Capitol and say this is real, this is happening. You know, I feel like it was, it was eye opening just looking at the faces of some of the people there that she was talking to so they they got, they got a true picture of what’s happening, and that something needs to be done. And unfortunately it did not go through, but I feel like us taking the step and putting it out there and talking about it, that’s a step forward.

“Your kid wasn’t even on social media and they still got bullied, because of the environment social media creates.”

Ailen: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s so important to talk about this. I will just say that for myself, even though I’ve never experienced something as serious as what you all have experienced with racial bullying on social media, I feel a lot of guilt and shame about my kids spending time on social media, right? Like, because they spend so much time on it, because sometimes I think it affects their grades. I’m like, oh, I’m doing such a bad job as a parent, by not, like, being better at limiting their use of social media, or getting, I got them a phone too early, or I need to be more on top of things. But I don’t know, hearing your story, and like, your kid wasn’t even on social media and they still got bullied because, because of the environment social media creates. It just helps me feel like, okay, this is not really my fault. It’s the social media platforms’ fault. Right? And so I just, I’d love to hear what you would say to parents who are feeling like this shame, this guilt, all this stuff that, like, we get put on ourselves because we think we’re doing something wrong by letting our kids use these platforms. When, honestly, even if we didn’t let them use them, they would still, they could still be affected by them, because they’re broken.

On holding social media companies accountable…

LaQuanta: I think it’s important as parents, and I feel like we are doing the right thing, still have those conversations. Yes, it’s social media’s fault, but as parents, we still need to have those conversations with our children. What’s right? What’s wrong? You know, if you see another student, or I keep saying student, but if you see another child being bullied or something like that, report it or speak out against it. Be an upstander. Don’t be a bystander. Don’t just, don’t be the person that’s liking it or condone it, be the person that says, hey, that’s wrong. So yes, the parents, we need to again, push with our kids, make sure that they know right from wrong, but the social media companies do need to be held accountable. It’s not, oh, well just keep your child up off social media, it’s your fault. You know, that’s not the case because it is how the kids communicate. No one — tell me somebody who has a landline, like, really, nobody has that. And the kids communicate through their cell phones. That’s just, it just is what it is. But now, when we have all these algorithms, you know, looking to see what the kids like or dislike, what is it, the For You page, all that different stuff, that’s a bit much. Like, there has to be a duty of care. It’s a reach, and that’s where the addictive behaviors come from. And social media companies know that. So they, they need to take full responsibility.

Tracy: I would say to parents, take a deep breath, because it’s a lot to keep up with new apps, you know, as time evolves, so do the apps, we don’t know everything. They don’t make the parental controls all that easy to find and to, you know, a how-to guide. And a lot of parents, you know, are not tech friendly, or don’t know how to, and so I understand how that makes it a little bit more, um, harder for them. And I do agree a lot of it starts at home with educating your kids on how to use social media properly and how to behave towards their peers.

“Social media is a product. And with any product, especially products marketed and geared towards children or minors, there’s always some type of regulations. Look how a car seat has evolved…”

But also we need some regulations. Social media is a product. And with any product, especially products marketed and geared towards children or minors, there’s always some type of regulations. Look how a car seat has evolved from when kids did not have car seats to, you can’t leave a hospital without a car seat. And as social media and the internet and technology progresses, we also need to progress our laws and hold people accountable. Duty of care is really important. And knowing what we know about social media, there’s been multiple whistleblowers. There’s been multiple people, doctors, pediatricians, children, you know, teens in their 20s, I’ve heard speak about research they’ve done with, you know, the progression of the internet and social media and the progression of depression in children under the ages of 18 and how that, you know, is kind of parallel to each other. We have to take a second and just reevaluate, to me, honestly, and put some things into place to protect kids. This isn’t a case of you’re just letting your kids do whatever you want on the internet. This is a case of we know that a product is bad and it’s harming our kids and our youth, but we’re not going to do anything about it because, you know, business reasons or money reasons. We have to take that aside and kind of, kind of pour back into, but what is the moral thing to do, what is the right thing to do. And I don’t want to go on too much, but we have seen this happen in other countries. So we know that it’s possible. And we have to put away our capitalism mindset and kind of focus on our youth because if we don’t, you know, our future is going to not be as bright because we have so many young kids and adults that are suffering from, you know, depression and anxiety and body image issues from that. And we, you know, we have to protect them and that’s our job as parents, as a society, as a government, we have to protect our youth. And I think putting something into place like this will help that, it will help, you know, minimize the damage that social media is causing, but ultimately heal.

Ailen: Yeah, absolutely. And I believe, and you’re proof of it, that the best way to tell that story is from parents, right? And you said earlier was like, we are real moms holding up real pictures of our real kids. These are not caricatures. This is not something we’re making up. Like, parents and the love that we have for our kids and the way that we will show, like the mama bear in us that will show up and show out to protect them, I think is the most powerful weapon that we have against these companies. And I am so grateful for both of you. For speaking out and using your superpower to stand up and protect your kids and all kids. Thank you both so much. This has been an incredible conversation. I am so grateful for the work that you’re doing. And keep on keeping on. We will get these bills passed. I’m sure of it. The more parents speak up, the more we unite around this issue, we will succeed in making the platform safer for our kids. It’s so important. Thank you so much.

LaQuanta: Absolutely. Thank you for having us.

Tracy: Thank you for having us.

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