What We Can Learn From the David Molak Bullying Case

 

Want to stop cyberbullying? Then take a closer look at what you say online.

It’s early January. Typically that’s a slow month here at home, a time to ease out of the holidays and into the new year.

But this week there’s a huge bullying news story here in Texas that is filling my social media feed. It’s about the death of David Molak, the Alamo Heights teen who took his own life after months of bullying via social media.

At first I was hesitant even to speak up publicly. Sure, I spent a couple of years working on a book about bullying within a certain demographic, but this Central Texas story is so unbelievably heartbreaking that I didn’t even know what I could add to the dialogue.

And then, upon encountering another vitriolic political post in my feed–from someone whom I actually like well enough not to “unfriend,” it hit me:

If we grownups want to stop vicious online behavior in teens, we adults need to stop engaging in it.

That’s right. When we openly throw around demeaning terms (“libtards” and “repugs”) or routinely share posts from websites that incite hatred against other humans–politicians and celebrities, too, are human–then we are signaling to our kids that this kind of crass, frankly inarticulate behavior is acceptable. We are saying that we can use our words to cut other people down to size.

Cyberbullying prevention begins with your own keyboard

Does this behavior all qualify as bullying? Not always. Bullying is primarily an issue of power (or in some cases perceived power). If the power dynamic isn’t in place, then the behavior is “ordinary meanness.”

But the words used in both types of aggressive interactions are the same.

There is a place for constructive criticism. There is a place for provocative satire. We need to teach our kids to recognize that context and intent are everything, especially when it comes to criticism. We need to teach them the finer points of communication and interaction while nurturing social-emotional skills.

I’m not just talking about protecting targets. Potential bullies and victims alike  need to learn these things. The more nuanced their understanding of these topics, the more apt teens are to think twice before engaging in online aggression  (“cyberbullying”).

To teach our children effectively, we need to examine our own behavior and perhaps make some substantive changes to it. We need to demonstrate poise and restraint online as well as off. When we make a mistake and become overheated about a topic which we are passionate about, we need to own up to it, apologize, retract. People make mistakes, but we can keep learning, changing, and improving. We need to speak out against the hatred and vitriol–or at least shun the posts that engage in it long enough that they quiet down.

The change we want for our kids and teens?

It begins with us, friends. It begins with us.

Just so we’re clear, I’ll say it again:

Cyberbullying prevention begins at our own keyboards and touchpads.

And it’s time for change.

P.S. Looking for anti-bullying resources? I have a Pinterest board that I started when I was researching my book. You are welcome to use it.

P.P.S. A local news station posted this insightful video to Facebook. There are some good points made in it, so I thought it deserved a share here, too.

P.P.S.2 Alamo City Moms Blog has published a blog post by Denise Moore that covers the topic of bullying–and the actions parents can take to recognize and curb it–here.

 

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13 comments

  1. I have always thought of this as an apple not falling far from the tree issue. The thing is, it should also show people that their children imitate their behavior and attitudes and have the same genetic makeup, so when kids behave this way, the adults that raised them have a higher probability of thinking that this behavior is no big deal. Sure it makes everyone more brave when their target is behind the screen, or is a celebrity, or a politician, but those are also just people on the other end. Ask yourself if you would say that to their face if you were stuck in an elevator with them? If not, then don’t say it.

    What does it say about us, though, that we have not figured out a way to prevent people from thinking that the only way to feel good about themself is to bash someone else? It says we should figure out how to stop that. It says that if our entertainment, both dramatic and comedy is based on showing other people or philosophies as negative or clownish in a broad stereotypical way, then we shouldn’t be surprised that pour politics and social media is as well.

    • Generally speaking, sometimes victims become bullies–either from learned behaviors, a pattern of abuse, or to save themselves from being targeted. Bullying is a complicated issue that varies in the particulars from case to case. That’s why zero tolerance and other ham-fisted policies tend to come up short at putting an end to the behaviors.

  2. You hit the nail on the head! Children learn what they live and all adults need to reflect on their own negative behavior. I understand that most recently, the political arena is super-charged and has brought out an unheard of level of hatred and vitriol. but as adults and parents, we need to model the same behavior we want in our children and the behavior we want our children to receive. When we promote negativity and hatred, we breed negativity and hatred–not just in our children, but in the public realm, also. Thank you for this, Pamela!

    • Thanks, Celi. It’s not just politics, though. Here in San Antonio they’ve shared screenshots from the Instagram bullying targeting David Molak. When I read it, I found myself thinking “I’ve seen people say this kind of stuff online to/about politicians and celebrities.” In fact, if you look at some of the comments in the stories related to this horrible case, the things that are said are actually worse. It’s good to hold people accountable. Conversations about how to do that are good, too. But people are going too far with their language on all fronts.

      • I agree, and we are living in a moment in time where this language and behavior is actually more acceptable and even applauded. I saw the image of the text messages–it is just so despicable and so heartbreaking. Thank you so much for championing this!

  3. My child wasn’t so friendly to the kids on her sports team today. She was reacting from a place of insecurity (as most bullies do!). Her teammates are much older than she is, so I assumed they could handle whatever she had to dish out. Because of David Molak I saw it differently today, and told her she had to give her teammates a hug before we could leave. Bullies see themselves as victims, and they can take the steps of empowerment, starting with a hug. It’ll hurt at first, but then it will feel so much better. *Parent taking action.*

    • When I was researching the book, my friend Bob Yamtich’s words kept haunting me. He said, basically, that aggression/acting out are signs of an unmet need. How do we help kids 1) figure out they have an unmet need 2) get it met in healthier ways, which usually means first finding a way to verbalize to someone that they need help getting the need met.

      Reframing, redirecting… those are both tools parents can use to help. But it does take practice plus trial and error.

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