"taking our battle against bullying into the digital age."
Some students wept as John Halligan told them how bullying, both in school and online, drove his 13-year-old son to commit suicide in 2003. Approximately 800 students at David A. Boody Intermediate School for Magnet Studies (I.S. 228) in Gravesend, Brooklyn heard the story Monday as part of their school’s aggressive anti-bullying program. Mr. Halligan has shared his powerful and inspirational presentation – “Bullying, Cyberbullying and Teen Depression” – at more than 450 schools in the U.S. and Canada. He has been featured on ABC’s “Primetime” with Diane Sawyer and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Monday was his first appearance at a New York City public school. He addressed two assemblies of students at I.S. 228 and also spoke Monday night to parents.
Mr. Halligan gave the parents a list of suggestions for their children’s Internet use, such as sharing all user account names and passwords, and monitoring information in the children’s online profiles. He also said it is important for children to have a “go to” adult they can talk to besides the parents.
Many students were deeply moved by Mr. Halligan’s message.
“The story touched my heart,” said eighth-grader Ann Du. “And it made me see how easily we can be influenced. It made me see how the choices you make now create your future.”
“I got teary-eyed when I found out about this tragedy,” said eighth-grader Kalilah Roberts. “It made me realize that I make fun of people and maybe I shouldn’t because I don’t know what they will do to themselves or how much it hurts them.”
“John Halligan gave us an intense, emotional and heartbreaking story,” said eighth-grader Jackie Liao. “He taught us that violence will always make things worse.”
Mr. Halligan’s son, Ryan, was bullied incessantly, beginning in the fifth grade, both in school and online. He attended a Vermont middle school when he committed suicide in 2003. After his son’s death, Mr. Halligan said he went to one of Ryan’s Internet accounts and began learning the extent of the bullying and cruelty his son experienced. A rumor that Ryan was gay swept through the school. In addition, a popular girl misled online Ryan to think she was his girlfriend and then told him he was a “loser” in front of her friends.
“Playing with people’s feelings is bad because a heart is made of delicate materials, and once you break it, it will forever disappear,” said Boody eighth-grader Cindy Zhen.
Mr. Halligan said his rage against the teenage bully was so extreme that he wanted to confront him physically, but his wife’s caution saved him on two occasions. He did speak to the bully in front of the boy’s parents, saying, “You have no idea the amount of pain you caused my son.” He said the bully eventually cried and apologized. Mr. Halligan and his wife forgave the boy. “Forgiveness is an essential part of this story,” he said.
Mr. Halligan told the students that it is crucial for “bystanders” and friends to talk bullies out of their cruelty. Mr. Halligan will return to I.S. 228 in September of 2012.
“We were honored to have this courageous father tell his tragic and moving personal story to our school community,” said Principal Dominick A. D’Angelo. “At Boody, we have instituted a comprehensive bullying prevention program. Last year, we joined with the Council for Unity to produce an original musical – ‘Dragonslayer’ – that depicted how bullies are created and how they can be stopped and dealt with through understanding. We are staging the show again this year as we take proactive steps to curb a problem that is found in schools everywhere.”