David’s Legacy: Stop Bullying Now

DavidsLegacy

While San Antonians enjoy the last remaining Christmas lights and begin New Year’s resolutions, the Molak family struggles with the loss of their beloved 16-year-old son and brother, David. Four days into 2016, David took his own life after being bullied for several months. According to the Molaks, David was a typical 16-year-old: a good, “normal” kid with a supportive family who did everything they were supposed to do and could do when David became a victim of bullying in their community. Still, the unthinkable happened. In an effort to raise awareness about bullying, David’s brother Cliff Molak took to social media and shared these words. With Cliff’s permission, we have reprinted them here, as they show the very human side of this tragedy:

Dear friends and supporters,

I first would like to thank you all for the overwhelming support you have and are continuing to provide to myself and my family. It means more to us than words can describe. What happened to my beloved brother was a tragedy. A tragedy set into motion by a boy whom I will not further empower by naming. I’ve never posted anything emotional on Facebook before as I’ve always felt it reserved for people preaching political ideals they had formulated from Buzzfeed headlines. I am writing this post to open the eyes of the Alamo Heights community and other communities around the nation. We’ve all heard the word bullying and we’ve all had to attend those stupid mandatory anti-bullying classes or seminars. I don’t know anyone, including myself, who actually paid any heed to what the lecturers had to say. To me they were a waste of time. Time away from athletics or homework or any other more appealing or less redundant activity. In hindsight, I wish more than anything people had actually listened. I saw the pain in David’s eyes three nights ago as he was added to a group text only to be made fun of and kicked out two minutes later. I spoke to him right after to comfort him and he didn’t even hear me. He stared off into the distance for what seemed like an hour. I could feel his pain. It was a tangible pain. He didn’t even have the contact information of any of the eight members who started the group text. It is important to note David had been enduring this sort of abuse for a very long time.

In today’s age, bullies don’t push you into lockers, they don’t tell their victims to meet them behind the school’s dumpster after class, they cower behind user names and fake profiles from miles away constantly berating and abusing good, innocent people. The recent advances in social media have given our generation a freedom of which has never been seen before. Freedom is a beautiful thing, however as freedom and personal liberties expand (and they rapidly are), there needs to be an equal expansion of personal accountability. Right now there is no expansion of personal accountability. The households and the school systems are failing. The only way to end the suffering in this nation whether it be from bullying or discrimination is not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and ultimately character. The only way to heal this country and our communities is to accept and embrace the notion that we have to begin character building from the ground up before the elementary level or our society will never recover. The healing needs to start now before we fall even further down into the pits of evil. It is my dream for the healing of this nation to be David’s legacy. Please help me share this message.

Sincerely,
His grieving brothers

The ripples of this young man’s life directly touched members of the ACMB team who knew him and know his family. Yet, this story resonated with our entire team as mothers, members of the San Antonio community, and concerned women who want our community to learn and grow from the Molaks’ loss. We steel our broken hearts to find meaning, assign purpose, and discover ways to spare others this pain.

molak

There are books, after-school specials, Ted Talks, and millions of blog posts, but really, where do we begin? Today, David’s death calls us to ask, “Where do we go from here? What can we do now? And how can we best honor young David Molak?”

At ACMB, we begin at the beginning with a conversation of practical information.

What is bullying?

Sure, we know bullying can be serious. We know, as Cliff Molak stated with his heartfelt words, that cyberbullying and bullying via today’s technology can be insidious, anonymous, and occur every day. Let’s look at an accepted definition of bullying and why we need to define it.

“Bullying involves deliberate, aggressive acts targeting a particular individual repeatedly, over time, (although some researchers also count a single severe aggressive act), AND it involves a power difference between the bully and the target.” It may also involve a promise or threat of future bullying. The power over another can be physical, perceived, or anything that puts one in an advantageous position over another. In her book Gifted, Bullied and Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families, San Antonio author Pamela Price states, “This power can take a number of forms, but we must remember the social kinds—the type of power wielded like a sword by manipulative little girls and boys—can be as painful to the body and mind as a punch on the jaw.” Bullying is intentional, repetitive, and hurtful.

Bullying is not “normal” child or adolescent behavior. We should never expect a child to buck up and accept bullying in any form. It’s not a rite of passage or a “stage” children pass through.

Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational (often called social), or carried out via technology (cyberbullying). Research indicates physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and decreases in high school. Verbal abuse remains consistent, although research shows that verbal bullying can leave lasting effects on its victims. Relational bullying manipulates social relationships (e.g., excluding the victim from a group, spreading rumors about her/him, breaking confidences, getting others to participate in the bullying and isolation of the victim, backstabbing, posting hurtful messages on social media, cyberbullying, and more). Cyberbullying, as described by the Cyberbullying Research Center, is the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Cyberbullying is exacerbated when electronic messages are accessed by many, resulting in repeated exposure and repeated harm. About 68% of teens believe cyberbullying is a serious problem. One study showed girls were more likely to be involved in relational bullying, while boys were more likely to engage in cyberbullying. As Pamela Price points out, cyberbullying is not limited to youth. No one is immune to becoming a victim or a bully.

Bullying is not meanness, rudeness, or conflict. Signe Whitson describes meanness as purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice), and rudeness as inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. Rudeness is usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration based on thoughtlessness, poor manners, or narcissism but not meant to actually hurt someone. An example among children may be burping in someone’s face. A rude adult may say, “Your hair looks so much better now that it’s cut.”

What are the signs a child is being bullied?

Not all bullied children will exhibit all or any of these signs. However, be sensitive to changes in your child. You know your child better than anyone. Be aware of changes in behavior, appetite, sleep patterns, and more. Trust your instincts.

Here are a few signs your child may be a victim of bullying:

  • Torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings.
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches.
  • Changing friendships; no longer engaging with others at or after school.
  • Suddenly trying to avoid school or wherever the bullying takes place. (Consider this: approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day due to bullying.)
  • Fearfulness: a bullied child may not want to walk or ride the bus to or from school or participate in peer activities.
  • Sudden change in grades and/or loss of interest in academics.
  • A noticeable change in overall mood; becoming sad, depressed, moody, or tearful.
  • Difficulty sleeping, bad dreams, or insomnia.
  • Changes in eating: skipping meals, binge eating, or coming home from school hungry because he/she skipped lunch and the social interactions surrounding it.
  • Physical symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, loss of appetite, weight loss.
  • Self-destructive behaviors: running away from home, hurting themselves, talking about suicide.

Remember, we are not perfect. We can miss signs, and some children excel at concealing their pain. However, these are some good guidelines to remember.

What if my child is a bully?

No one likes to think or talk about this, but it’s fact: If some children are bullied, then other children are bullies. Like bullying victims, bullies, too, most likely have parents, guardians, and people who love them and want to help them be the best people they can be. We’d like to believe our child could never be a bully. But part of parenting is accepting you don’t have ultimate control over your child’s actions and feelings towards others, especially when you’re not around.

Here are a few signs your child might be bully:

  • Gets into physical or verbal fights.
  • Has friends who are bullies.
  • Shows increased aggression.
  • Blames others for his/her problems and does not accept responsibility for his/her actions.
  • Suddenly has extra money, snacks, toys, etc. (bullied away from a victim).
  • Competitive and worries about his/her reputation and/or popularity.
  • Begins having trouble in school: receives detentions, trips to the principal’s office, etc.

Some children (for example, a child with a specific physical, developmental, emotional, or mental diagnosis/disability) fall under the auspices of a “protected class,” and institutions are required to assure their protection. Sometimes the very members of these protected classes are also at the highest risk for being bullied. When children are members of a protected class, bullying may become harassment. This grants protection under federal law and falls under the civil rights law.

You can learn more information about the “risk factors” for those who are more likely to become bullies and victims of bullying here.

Your child has been bullied… Now what?

What if you believe your child is being bullied? Learning your child may be the victim of bullying sucks the air from your body, washes with overwhelming panic, and rightfully brings out the mama tiger in all of us. Keep some things in mind as you respond to your child.

First, stay calm. I’m not patronizing you; I’m reminding you. Your child needs you to be the strong one, the one who doesn’t lose it and add to his/her fears. He/she needs you to solidly handle things breath by breath in a non-judgmental manner. You want your child to keep talking to you. Wailing in sorrow or disbelief is never helpful—save that for the shower or a private call with your partner or a friend. Reassure your child you’ll address the bullying and you’ll protect him/her. Listen and encourage him/her to talk freely. Don’t blame. A victim never deserves blame and rarely keeps those lines of communication open.

Don’t tell your child to ignore the bully, and don’t ignore your child’s concerns. Burying your head in the sand won’t make the bully disappear. Telling your child to ignore the bully reinforces a lack of power and may shut down communication. Remember, bullying is abnormal behavior. It is not “kids being kids.”

If bullying involves social media, many advise shutting down all accounts immediately and getting new cell phone numbers, emails, etc. Depending on the situation, consider sending the bullies a message via social media before closing accounts. You may advise them to stop the behavior or you will be speaking with all the parents and the school. Local San Antonio writer Debi Pfitzenmier provides excellent guidelines on handling bullying occurring outside school.

Don’t let your child participate in peer-to-peer meetings with the bully. This re-victimizes the victim. Often, bullies state what adults want to hear so they can return to normal activities ASAP, often laughing about the meeting within minutes of completion. This type of conflict resolution with bullying is rarely successful. It’s akin to forcing the words “I’m sorry” from the mouth of a toddler: the bully learns nothing and usually returns to bullying, perhaps slightly more covertly.

Do involve your child in planning the situation’s response. Address possible outcomes, including bully retaliation, along with options to deal with it.

If the bullying is occurring at school and ongoing, talk with the school and develop a specific plan for your child. However, don’t allow the school to take action until you’ve been able to review the plan with your child and meet with involved staff. The plan needs a timeline for school accountability while correcting the problem. First, let the school contact the bully’s parents. The bully’s family should be notified, and appropriate actions should be taken. If the school drops the ball on this step, or if the bullying continues, contact the parents of the bully directly.

Identify your child’s go-to adults at school. These are teachers, coaches, etc. they trust and feel comfortable with. Make sure your child is safe and protected at the school at all times, without disruption or presentation of your child as a weakened victim.

If you don’t get the attention, time, or solutions you’re looking for, be a “pleasant nuisance.” Contact your child’s guidance counselor, teacher, principal, and psychologist on a daily and/or weekly basis. It is usually helpful to remain calm and professional without uncontrolled emotion. You’re on the same side, and you both want to provide a safe environment for your child and all children in the school.

Please don’t accept a school or the bully’s parents saying, “We can’t do anything,” or, “Kids will be kids.” Keep yourself focused, and don’t stop being your child’s voice and advocate. Your child depends on you.

If you don’t get what you need from the school, visit your local police department. Let them know other avenues did not work to your satisfaction. Ask an officer to visit the bully and his/her family.

Lastly, expand your child’s social circles. Seek out new friends and experiences through clubs, church, and other groups. Many communities have YMCAs, Girl and Boy Scouts, park districts with classes, library programs, drama clubs, etc.

What is San Antonio doing about bullying?

In response to national and state concerns about the impact of bullying on students, the 82nd Texas Legislature approved measures that require school districts to develop anti-bullying policies and interventions. It further directed the Texas Department of State Health Services, in collaboration with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), to provide an annually updated list of best practice-based early mental health intervention and suicide prevention programs for implementation in general education settings.

In San Antonio, the Alamo Area Teen Suicide Prevention Coalition (AATSPC) was established in 2015 and focuses on efforts within the community for education, health, mental health, support services, and advocacy organizations. They are seeking input and support from community members, especially teens. Requests for more information can be sent to Jeannie Von Stultz, Ph.D., at [email protected]

The following resources are available in San Antonio to assist with counseling, as well as medical and crisis needs:

Clarity Child Guidance Center

SA Behavioral Hospital

The Ecumenical Center in San Antonio offers various parenting programs and counseling support, along with a group of online videos including some from from Barbara Colorosa, well-known author of The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander.

San Antonio Police Crisis Intervention Team consists of trained mental health police officers who respond when you cannot get to a hospital or crisis care clinic.

State and national resources:

Texas Suicide Prevention Initiative

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (call 1-800-273-TALK [8255] 24 hours a day, seven days a week)

Online resources:

Gifted, Bullied and Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families by San Antonio’s Pamela Price. The title is a misnomer. This book is for ANY family with children. A quick read, Pamela wastes no words and fills the pages with practical information and excellent resources. If you have children, you will walk away with something from its 72 pages.

StopBullying.gov

Connect for Respect (C4R) is the National PTA’s initiative to help students, parents, and educators create school climates full of safe and supportive peer relationships.

Check out the KnowBullying app by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to boost your knowledge and help improve parenting communication with your children. Easily accessed, it includes tips for conversation starters, warning signs, and reminders, with a social media section and a section for educators.

Know of any bullying resources we may have missed? Add them in the comments below.

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23 Responses to David’s Legacy: Stop Bullying Now

  1. Kristie March 21, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    Hi Denise. I was wondering if you could help me in finding an anti bully presenter that could come out to the middle school I work for in San Antonio and do a presentation for our 6th graders. I’ve been looking online and have only found presenters that our either too far away or are just too expensive. I sure hope you can help us out! Thanks.

    • Denise
      Denise March 21, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

      Kristie,
      Thanks for asking. I am working to gather a couple names for you to consider. I’ve sent you an email.
      – denise

  2. Evie January 28, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    Where can we purchase the yard signs?

  3. CV Rodriguez January 24, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    I live on Rosemary and Broadway and would offer my yard if you would like to put up a Stop Bullying yard sign.

    Carmen Rodriguez
    (540) 847-7023

  4. Megan January 11, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    The UCSA came out with a parent pledge. It helped me talk to my kids about turning away from cyber/bullying situations. We need to talk to our kids. The more we talk, the more we can teach them to be upstanders. Even one upstander who reports a bullying situation, stands up to a bully or turns away can diffuse bullying.

    https://www.change.org/p/the-united-communities-of-san-texas-education-association-walk-the-walk-take-the-anti-bullying-parent-pledge?recruiter=463239734&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

      Thank you for reading and sharing the link, Megan. We never know what will be instrumental in opening the door for discussion with our children. (And, it often comes at the the strangest of times, too.) I agree – teaching children to be up standers is such an important piece. Walking away, blocking numbers, and exiting Instagram are all valid choices in diffusing and dealing with the situation. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Marian Sokol January 11, 2016 at 8:48 am #

    Denise….Thank you for this well researched and well written article. I hope that everyone who reads it will decide to do something tangible to stop bullying and protect every child. David’s brothers have also articulated this so clearly. There is no better way to honor David’s memory and help prevent teen suicide in our community. Marian

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 9:16 am #

      Marian, Thank you for stopping by. I’m saddened by the motivation to write this post, but honored to be part of the discussion. David’s brothers are already impacting San Antonio.

  6. [email protected] January 11, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    As a former private school teacher for 16 years, I want to support what Lisa said…she just needs to know this is prevalent in private and public schools. Schools MUST have the courage to discipline the bullies. Right now, teachers who see bullying have to BEG for administration to pay attention. And then, it is heart breaking when nothing is done. Social media provides lots of evidence of the bully techniques and the leaders still ignore what is going on. Something must be done for all of the Davids out there. I had too many of my own students who were bullied and tormented to the point of consideration of taking their lives. Leaders in the schools must have the courage to act. This is a conversation which needs to continue.

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 9:13 am #

      Pam, Thank you for joining us and supporting Lisa. Experiences like yours are not isolated. They leave us heartbroken, angry, and feeling powerless. I’m sad and sorry for yours. I’ve seen it, too. No place is immune to bullying – school, playground, dance class, the workplace, church, Facebook, Instagram – you name it. It’s unacceptable before it gets to the point of suicide. Unified voices from all facets can facilitate an emerging plan to address this at many levels. I believe one of the first steps is discussion with those who have a “horse in this race.” Face-to-face physical meetings, to respectfully vent and grieve. (We humans need this.) Then, move forward defining and identifying the problem and many levels needing support: school, classrooms, mental health, communities. We must determine what that support looks like and where it comes from. There are those who know so much more and say this better than I. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Pamela Price presents some great ideas for all of us at redwhiteandgrew.com. She’s one of many recognized local SA resources. We at ACMB can serve as a source for what is happening in San Antonio. We’re best at disseminating information for local mothers and families. We’re also pretty good at beginning a dialogue on important issues online. Hopefully, we prompt discussions offline – at dinner tables, taco houses, churches, workplaces. Individual voices, like yours and Lisa’s, find commonalities and unite. They begin discussions. They invite others to join. They ignite ideas and action, unite families with communities, communities with schools and local legislature…and you see the picture. Maybe I’m a pollyanna of sorts. It is the only way I imagine the beginning of change. The lives of the Davids deserve this. The lives of those sitting alone today or begging to stay home from school, deserve this. The life of the kindergartener who just pushed another on the playground deserves this. You’re right, Pam, we’re gonna need a lot of courage. We’re going to need real consequences that work. We need people like you. Thanks again….I’ll step down from the soapbox…

  7. Lisa Randolph January 10, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

    This is a good article with good resources. But how will any of this help the kids tomorrow on the playgrounds who will be called names, have to run or hide to avoid the bullies that are taunting them everyday? What about the shy, quiet kid that gets made fun of just because he wanted to read a book, or the child who gets pushed or worse. Who will protect them? The teachers and schools don’t have the time or resources to monitor all the kids in every area of the playground. So what happens when the bullied kids tells the teacher there is a problem and nothing is done? What happens when the teacher addresses the bully and gets little or no respect from that child? What happens to the bully and the bullied when they both realize that there are no consequences for this behavior? At some point, these children need to be taught to show respect to themselves, their peers and especially their elders. At some point, there has to be actual consequences for bad behavior and more importantly, a high expectation and reward for good behavior. Don’t kid yourselves. This happens everyday at all public schools in every demographic. I don’t see how government programs are going to help these kids. They didn’t make a difference for David.

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 12:17 am #

      Lisa, Thank you for reading and joining the discussion. You pose important questions. ACMB is committed to supporting moms and families. We discuss topics and share knowledge with hope of further discussion and action on and off the internet. There’ll always be unresponsive teachers, schools with no follow through. There’ll always be a bully trying to overpower the weak. There’ll be programs that work for many and others that work for few. It’s a multi-dimensional issue begging to be met on many levels. I, personally, believe we can begin to identify those prone to becoming either – the bully or the bullied. We can’t forget the bystanders. Barbara Coloroso’s book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: From Pre-School to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle, (linked in the post) does an excellent job of discussing these very issues. We’ve got to begin somewhere and maintain forward movement. We can’t let the futility, helplessness and feelings of defeat stop us from trying. The Molak family is an example of this – as they discuss and promote the development of legislation and lead the recent dialogue about bullying. There’s not a perfect government, community or grassroots program. I wish there was a simple answer. There’s not or we’d have stumbled upon it by now. If we don’t step forward, we’ll never get closer to solutions. I believe it can begin with parenting, parenting support, and much dialogue. And it definitely begins with first steps (albeit difficult and frustrating steps) and continues with each step. I really appreciate your presence and discussion. Thanks again for stopping by.

  8. Heather January 10, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I, just like the majority of parents in our community, have been rocked to the core over David’s death. The feeling of panic and helplessness set in with a lot of us and this is a great start in setting the path for change in our society regarding bullying. Parents and schools can also reach out to United Communities of San Antonio (UCSA) to set up workshops for a school or community regarding bullying. I am looking into this tomorrow for my children’s school. Thank you again, Denise!

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 12:25 am #

      Thank you for stopping by, Heather. The ripples of David’s life are far and wide. Thank you for sharing the UCSA resource.

  9. Melissa D January 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

    David’s story is heartbreaking, and I am so thankful that his family is speaking up in this difficult time to protect others. Bullying is NOT “kids being kids,” as you say. Kindness matters.

    This part of the letter written by David’s brothers jumped out at me the first time I read it:
    “The only way to end the suffering in this nation whether it be from bullying or discrimination is not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and ultimately character. The only way to heal this country and our communities is to accept and embrace the notion that we have to begin character building from the ground up before the elementary level or our society will never recover.”

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 12:26 am #

      Thanks for reading and joining the discussion, Melissa. Kindness indeed matters.

  10. Charlotte Collins January 10, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

    https://www.gofundme.com/davidslegacy

  11. Patti January 10, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    Best article I’ve read yet on the subject. Sharing.

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 12:27 am #

      Thank you, Patti. and thank you for sharing.

  12. Pamela Price January 10, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you for this comprehensive, thoughtful post, Denise. I applaud the work that you and the ACMB team is undertaking in addressing bullying head-on in the wake of this tragedy.

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 12:29 am #

      Thank you, Pamela, for your support and time to discuss bullying as this piece was researched. If I could put your book into the hands of every young family, I would. (And, guys, I get no kickbacks from this recommendation.)

  13. Erin
    Erin January 10, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    Well done, Denise. Comprehensive, and realistic. Saving this list of resources.

    • Denise
      Denise January 11, 2016 at 12:29 am #

      Thank you, Erin.