At age 13, Ryan Halligan had enough of bullying and took his own life. His parents did everything they could to blunt the effects of bullying on their kind, sensitive son but he was surrounded. It happened in school and it happened online.

According to a recent study led by “Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, 42% of kids bullied on the Web are also harassed at school.” (Parents, June 2009).

Where do you start to tackle the issue; to make a difference? John Halligan, Ryan’s dad, started by going to middle and high schools himself and telling Ryan’s story. Eventually, he was in such demand that he had to make the choice of giving up a long career as an engineer at IBM and devoting all his time talking to as many kids, parents and administrators as possible.

His mission is personal. Bullying is personal. And bullying is a hurt that sometimes doesn’t get healed.

What John Halligan is doing is admirable. It must be painful every time he gets up to address an auditorium full of kids that remind him of his own. His presentation is addressed to bullies and victims, but maybe most importantly, to the bystander. The bystander is the key to stopping repeated mean behavior. Bullies bully because they can. John Halligan is empowering kids to step in. It’s the most powerful anti-bullying tool around.

A letter from a middle school student after one of John’s presentations:

“Dear Mr. Halligan,
I have learned from our assembly to not be a bystander. Our school gave us papers about your unfortunate situation. I instantly went on the internet to learn about Ryan’s story. After I finished reading me and my mom were in tears. My mom tells me things happen for a reason, although I don’t know what the reason is. I know that Ryan wouldn’t want you to stay sad. Your story has inspired me and hopefully it will inspire others. I hope you go around different places and teach others NOT TO BE A BULLY!!”

The Halligan family is brave and their bravery is making a difference. Now we should all step in.

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