The word, cyberbullying, doesn’t always resonate well with either the younger or older generations. Young people prefer to call this destructive online behavior “drama.” For our older generations, it may be hard for them to even grasp the concept, because they did not grow up with social media or iPhones. Cyberbullying is a relatively new form of cruelty which has changed the landscape of bullying in our schools.
According to a Pew Research Center study published in September of 2018, 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online, and a similar share admit the practice is a major problem for people their age. Although not every student will respond strongly to an act of bullying, the way in which many of our youth are responding today is more serious than ever before.
According to the 2019 U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence, 80% of violent school attackers were bullied by other students; and in 2017, the CDC categorized bullying as an ACE-Adverse Childhood Experience that may have long lasting negative effects on physical and mental health including depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts lasting through adulthood.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and David’s Legacy Foundation (a Texas non-profit, whose mission is to end all forms of bullying, through education, legislation, and legal action) is virtually traveling across the state addressing students, parents, educators, and community partners about this pervasive issue. The foundation’s message is that bullying is a community issue that must no longer be ignored or thought of as a “rite of passage.” To really make a deep impact, we need to bring people of all ages together, in partnership, to bring about a dramatic and compassionate culture change.
In response to invitations from schools and organizations, the foundation has presented to over 62,000 individuals since its inception in 2016. David’s Legacy Foundation was founded in memory of my son, David Molak, who died by suicide after enduring months of relentless cyberbullying. The foundation’s message to students is that they have the power to be change agents who are fully capable of directing their school climate. We encourage students to not be bystanders of bullying but to turn themselves into Upstanders who stand up to cruelty, report it to an adult, and most importantly, reach out to a target of bullying and show that person some kindness. Targets of bullying say that having an ally or a peer who is supportive and someone they can talk to makes the biggest difference.
We need to bring people of all ages together, in partnership, to bring about a dramatic and compassionate culture change.
In 2017, David’s Legacy Foundation, was instrumental in getting legislation passed called “David’s Law,” which gives schools, parents and law enforcement tools to be able to better address this issue. The foundation continued their advocacy in 2019 and was successful in passing several additional initiatives including suicide prevention and digital citizenship requirements for public schools. The foundation has also been contacted by other states who are looking at this legislation as a model. It has been called the most comprehensive and effective anti-bullying law in the nation. Since the passing of “David’s Law,” Texas has seen a decrease in bullying and cyberbullying by 4.5% and 2.5% respectively; causing the CDC to call out Texas’ significant decrease in their 2019 YRBSS.
Since its’ inception, David’s Legacy Foundation, has helped over 184 families with issues stemmed from bullying behaviors. The program is dubbed “The DBM Project” which stands for “Don’t Bully Me” but is also my son’s and the foundation’s inspiration’s initials, David Bartlett Molak. If warranted, the foundation matches families with volunteer attorneys who can counsel them on their legal options and, if appropriate, they employ civil remedies to help stop the bullying behavior, usually beginning with a cease and desist letter to parents of the perpetrator. This model is designed to be duplicated in other cities across the state in collaboration with their local Texas Bar Associations. El Paso is the first city that has rolled out a chapter of the DBM Project in January 2019.
To further raise awareness, the foundation has a campaign called the David’s Legacy Pledge which includes complimentary sticker and a pledge “to never use a device as a weapon” which has been pledged by over 1.5 million people. The sticker, which features three red texting ellipsis bubbles, can be placed on a phone or computer, and serves as a reminder to “Stop And Think” before you send. It’s also a reminder that there is a soul behind every screen and we never know what the person on the other side is dealing with, so we should always choose kindness. You can learn more and take the pledge at davidslegacy.org.
Maurine Molak, along with her husband Matt and their two oldest sons Cliff and Chris, founded David’s Legacy Foundation after experiencing the tragedy that no family should ever have to experience. In January of 2016, their 16-year-old son, and brother, David, died by suicide after experiencing months of relentless cyberbullying.
After David’s death, Maurine and her family, made it their mission to prevent this from happening to another family by working with Texas legislators to pass a bill that would provide public schools, parents, and law enforcement the necessary tools to address cyberbullying. This significant bill, known as “David’s Law”, with its overwhelming popularity and support, was signed by Governor Greg Abbott and went into effect September 1, 2017. However, that was just the beginning of the Molak’s advocacy for increased school safety. They continued their work with legislators in the 2019 legislative session where they strengthened “David’s Law” with additional suicide prevention, digital citizenship, and reporting requirements. There is more to come in 2021 and the Molak’s are already working with legislators for the next legislative session.
Maurine and her family continue a concerted effort to raise awareness through speaking engagements, advocacy efforts, and promoting student lead initiatives while sharing the message with young people that “It’s Cool to be Kind”. Supporters are encouraged to join in the organization’s cause by taking the David’s Legacy cyberbullying pledge to “Never use their device as a weapon”.