Far too many lives are being lost with countless others being ruined as a result of children as well as adults being nasty to each other online. Unfortunately if you’re looking for real life stories of children who have committed suicide because of cyber bullying, it isn’t hard to find them.
Losing a child must be one of the most devastating things that can happen for a parent. When the child doesn’t die of an accident but instead commits suicide, the pain suffered along with the enormous guilt would be almost unbearable.
John Halligan, father of Ryan Halligan, knows exactly how painful this is first hand. And his story is worth sharing.
Ryan Halligan’s Story
Ryan Halligan committed suicide at just thirteen years of age. He was described as a “sweet, gentle and lanky boy” with a “magic ability to bring a smile to anyone that looked his way”. Ryan was funny and friendly and well-liked.
Prior to the point at which Ryan had suffered more than he could take, he had been bullied for years. One boy bullied him relentlessly, and then pretended to be Ryan’s friend only to get Ryan to share personal information that he could then spread around. This boy shared a rumour that Ryan was gay (not that there would have been anything wrong with that, although it wasn’t true). Ryan was constantly taunted and harrassed as a result.
Ryan then struck up a relationship online with a girl, perhaps to put an end to the gay rumours. He shared personal and embarrassing stuff with her online and it seemed as if they had a good relationship developing. However this girl then told him he was a loser in front of all of her friends, and also shared their private online conversations with her friends to humiliate him.
At this point poor Ryan couldn’t take anymore and his mother was left with the unspeakable horror of finding his lifeless body at home.
Ryan’s parents are two truly amazing people. Years after Ryan’s suicide, having suffered unimaginable pain, John Halligan relives the pain of Ryan’s story every week by sharing it numerous times with students at schools. His message comes across loud and clear, and most students find themselves in tears as they listen to it and feel John’s pain.
The Ones They Can’t Forgive
Ryan’s suicide wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for two key people in the story above – the boy who bullied him and the girl who pretended to like him. Yet when you listen to John speak he says he and his wife forgave both the boy and girl long ago. He sees them as children who made some bad decisions.
However there are two people Ryan’s parents hold accountable for the suicide and have great difficulty forgiving: themselves. Despite the fact that both Ryan’s mother and father were very loving parents who thought they were doing everything they could for their son, they constantly wonder if they could have prevented Ryan’s death from happening. Maybe if they’d done something differently, maybe if they knew more, maybe if they’d asked for more help…the guilt is crippling.
What John Shares
John is quoted several times online and I’d like to share some of his constructive comments below. They have touched my heart and the lives of many others. Here is some of what John has to say.
“It is painful to be bullied and humiliated in front of a few kids. It is painful to feel rejection and have your heart crushed by a girl. But it has to be an entirely different experience of pain than a generation ago when these hurts and humiliation are witnessed by far larger, online adolescent audience. I believe my son would have survived these incidents of bullying and humiliation if they took place before computers and the internet.”
“I believe technology has the effect of accelerating and amplifying the hurt to levels that will probably result in a rise in teen suicide rates until we figure out how to address it with a stronger standard of coping skills. Recent statistics indicate that indeed adolescent mental health problems are on the rise. Many experts tie it to the dramatic increase use of smartphone use by teenagers over the past several years.”
“In the final analysis, we feel that Ryan’s middle school’s social media environment was toxic, like for so many young people across this country. For too long, we have let kids and adults bully others as a rite of passage into adulthood, but the internet has taken this to a whole new dangerous level.”
“We also should have openly discussed the emerging technology and the potential social pitfalls along with how to protect oneself and cope emotionally in this new environment.”
What You Can Take Out Of This
It’s easy and natural to hear sad stories like this one and think, ‘That won’t happen to me”. But this line of thought puts your children in a vulnerable position. These stories can happen to anyone – it doesn’t matter how intelligent your child is, how popular they are, where they live, what they look like or how tech-savvy they are.
No parent should have to live with the loss of a child, particularly not one that could possibly have been avoided. It’s up to us as parents to do everything in our power and take positive action to prevent this from happening. We need to do whatever it takes to promote our children’s online safety – their lives may literally depend on it.
Further to John’s last quote above regarding open discussions about technology, its pitfalls and how to cope, it’s not as simple as it seems to have the sorts of conversations with your children that will be effective. Children often think they know it all, particularly as they are so tech-savvy at such a young age, and as they become teenagers they are more influenced by their peers and less influenced by their parents.
If you’re ready to take action to prevent your child becoming another victim of cyber bullying – or suffering from any of the other common pitfalls online (porn addiction, predators, identity theft etc), join me on my next live webinar or check out the Peaceful Digital Parenting Solution here.