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'I have felt scared' | Students concerned as more and more fights break out at their schools

KHOU 11 Investigates is taking a close look at the number of fights at schools in the Houston area.

HOUSTON — Parents told KHOU 11 News that they're concerned about fights breaking out at their kids' schools. So, we took a closer look at the problem and found there have been more fights last school year than there were in the five years before.

KHOU 11 Investigates did an analysis of Texas Education Agency data to find out how often fights happen at schools in Greater Houston school districts. We learned more than 13,600 fights were recorded last school year. We sat down with two sisters to talk about the troubling trend.

Azaria Alanis, a sixth-grader, has had some scary experiences at school.

“There’s been fights at my school that have been really bad and the teachers have been involved. It gets really physical,” Azaria said.

Azaria said some fights interrupt class.

“There have been fights that happened in our homeroom and students had to go into lockdown because they were banging on doors,” Azaria said.

Her sister, Siani, a high school senior, said fights happen at her school, too.

“I hear, you know, when I get to sixth period, there was a fight during lunch,” Siani said.

Both sisters said they don't feel safe at school.

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“I would say, in recent years, probably not,” Siani said.

“I have felt scared. I was at lunch -- that was the first time I saw it happen. It was right near my table, and I was like, oh my gosh, what’s going to happen? Are they going to come near me,” Azaria said.

The girls said the fights are often advertised on social media.

“A bunch of them are on TikTok or Instagram,” Azaria said.

KHOU did a survey about school safety. Most of the 428 parents who participated said fights are a big concern and that they are being fueled by social media.

Here are some of their responses:

  • “People are videoing them.”
  • “… kids record and put them on social media.”
  • “Social media is a big problem.”

“I think it plays a big role because students would say, this student posted this. It was something about another student at school. There have been multiple threats, gone to my school that someone would hurt us at school and other students would post about it,” Azaria said.

“Social media just keeps growing and it just becomes easier and easier,” Siani said.

Dr. Laurel Williams, a professor of child adolescent psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, said in order to understand why kids engage on social media you have to think like you're one of them.

“It’s so important for them to be seen and heard, and social media makes that process like a click of a button,” Williams said.

She said that peer pressure and a desire to fit in make social media irresistible.

“They are modeling after the people they look up to in the world -- social media influencers and this idea that I need to go viral to be relevant,” Williams said.

While limiting or banning social media may seem like a good way for parents to deal, Williams said it won’t change a child’s behavior.

“The problem with taking things away from teenagers and kids is that they will just go underground. They will get another person’s phone, they’ll start an account, they’ll put in a totally different name. They can fib about their age. So, that’s not really a strategy,” Williams said.

Williams said that what you say to your child when they show you videos of fights at school can help change their behavior.

“That’s where parents come in, to sort of help try to be that conversation starter and help them understand because what you really want to do is develop that bystander culture that doesn’t allow for that to happen. You can sit and say, goodness gracious, that looks terrible. What’s going on here? That looks pretty bad. What if that was you? How would you manage that?” Williams said.

Azaria said those conversations are happening at her school where she serves as a peer mediator. She said giving kids an outlet to talk helps.

“I think they’re starting to realize that they can solve it on their own and not get into a big fight about it,” Azaria said.

What happens to students who fight at school?

In Texas, schools can’t expel students for fighting. There are three options: detention, suspension or alternative school. KHOU looked at the disciplinary actions taken by Houston-area school districts.

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