SAN ANTONIO – In one of their first public appearances since the death of their son David, members of the Molak family attended Thursday evening’s cyberbullying workshop, offering their support for new legislation that would be tougher than existing laws.
“We want them to know we’re behind them and we’re willing to help them in any way possible,” David’s father Matt Molak said.
He told the audience, “There will be some resistance and opposition. This is going to be lengthy process. It’s going to take some endurance and some resilience. We’re here to follow this through.”
“David’s Law” has been proposed by State Sen. Jose Menendez, who said weeks before Molak took his own life, that he’d already been speaking with another family whose son with leukemia was being tormented online by an anonymous bully.
“God gave you cancer to try to rid us of your f****** presence,” was one of the tweets that Leo Vasquez shared during the workshop. “Do us a favor and f****** kill yourself. I’ll be happy to help you come up with ideas.”
“I think, in general, there ought to be a law against people who encourage suicide in others,” said Dr. Steven Pliszka, chair of the department of psychiatry at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
A child psychiatrist himself, Pliska said, “Usually kids that engage in a lot of bullying have probably had a pretty rough upbringing themselves. Parents have been very harsh and critical.”
But he said even nice kids can have dangerous alter egos online.
“They’re divorced from the real world,” Pliszka said.
He said they can’t see how they’re hurting their victims.
“It makes it more difficult to empathize with the victim,” Pliszka said. “People end up going to lengths they wouldn’t go if they were face to face.”
He said they forget they’re talking to a real person.
Pliszka said he urges parents to “aggressively monitor” their children’s online activity.
“There’s no right to privacy,” he said.
He said it’s crucial, especially in elementary and middle schools where they are learning how to interact online.
If a parent suspects their child is engaging in questionable behavior on social media or the Internet, Pliszka said their accounts must be shut down, and their phones and computers taken away.
“At least it sends a very firm message that you’re not going to allow that kind of behavior,” Pliszka said. “You’ve got to take direct control.”
As for the victims, Pliszka said parents need to look for warning signs, like being withdrawn and upset after coming off social media.
He said their children should be told the sender is “the one with serious, emotional problems.”