John Halligan knows all too well what the parents of Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh and Phoebe Princes are going through now. And astoundingly that's just to name a few of the children that have recently taken their own lives after being bullied off and online. John was there almost seven years ago to the day when his 13 year-old son, Ryan, took his own life for the same tragic reasons.
That type of pain is incomprehensible. It is an understatement to say that John didn't want to become a bullying prevention expert. He had a great job at IBM and three wonderful kids. The harshness of other children's behavior helped take that away from him. But instead of retreating and becoming bitter, this dedicated father has travelled to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of middle and high schools around the country telling kids, teachers and parents Ryan's story.
John is an advocate for better legislation, awareness and compassion. When asked the following question a while back, this was John's hopeful message:
After travelling the country and speaking to thousands of kids, what reaction to Ryan's story are you most amazed or surprised by?
The responses are always overwhelming. I'm always so touched by seeing eyes well up with tears as I speak and look around the auditorium. And when I pause between sentences, the silence tells me they are truly taking this in. When it is over, I'm so heart warmed by students who come up and give me a hug. And what really surprises me is to receive e-mails months and years later from students who heard Ryan's story. Most tell me that Ryan's story changed their life for the better. Many confessed they were the bully and have since apologized to their victims and changed their behavior for the better. Understanding now how truly loved they are by family and friends, many students confide in me that they gained the courage and strength to get help for a friend or for themselves for suicidal feelings. This is why I keep telling Ryan's story.
John is obviously hitting a chord with kids. The letters to John say it best and as parents, we can learn from them:
I'm really sorry for what happened in my lifetime. I'm really sorry for what happened to your son and if I ever have any children, I'll use your advice because you really did know how to take care of children and always tried your best.
In honor of Ryan and the other important lives lost, start talking, start listening, start stepping in. Don't tolerate your children being mean off or online. Don't accept it from anyone else.
Who's tomorrow's Tangled Ball Award winner?
Hint: Some people are "Waiting for Superman," but I'm waiting for this...