Remember the father's words

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By Calen McKinney

I don't have children, but I imagine it's something no parent can recover from.

Last month, I heard John Halligan talk about how his son committed suicide after being bullied for years.

Halligan presented "Bullying, Cyberbullying and Youth Depression" at Taylor County and Campbellsville high schools for students. He also spoke to parents and the public at TCHS.

Halligan's son Ryan died by suicide on Oct. 7, 2003. He was just 13 years old.

He never learned to drive. Won't graduate from high school. Wasn't married or had any children. He was just a little boy ... barely even a teenager.

Halligan's presentation focused on what parents can do to try and prevent what his son went through.

He expresses his indescribable pain to total strangers in an effort to keep them from experiencing it themselves. I can't think of anything more admirable.

"I want to share with you stuff I wish I knew before my son passed away," he told the crowd.

The children bullying Ryan hurt him emotionally more than physically.

We've likely all experienced this in our lifetimes. Someone says something not so nice about us and our feelings are hurt. Words hurt sometimes, don't they?

"It wasn't about the punches," Halligan said. "It was about throwing words."

Halligan told the parents that he made a mistake by not monitoring who Ryan was talking to online.

"As parents, you need to try to stick your nose in there and know who they're socializing with."

I'm grateful my parents cared enough to always ask who I was going to be with when I went somewhere.

But for Ryan, this wasn't enough.

Halligan said teenagers often don't want to talk to their parents about their problems, and he regrets how he encouraged Ryan to learn to physically defend himself from his bullies.

I could truly see how Halligan believes his son would be alive today if he had only known there were people who loved him and would help him.

That part of the presentation was difficult for me to listen to.

I'm grateful that I always knew - and still know - I can talk to my parents about any problem I have. I hope all teenagers today know that.

Halligan said that the use of technology to harass students and even adults is becoming more common than ever.

"To me, this is not a kid/student problem," she said. "It's a human problem."

Again, words do hurt sometimes, don't they? We should all realize this and be a bit nicer in how we speak to people. Just because we can say something ... and even say it anonymously ... doesn't mean we should.

I had a brief conversation with Halligan before the presentation. I introduced myself and thanked him for coming to Campbellsville to share his story.

He told me that he has given presentations all across the United States, and most students are receptive to what he has to say.

"The response is what keeps me going," he said.

Halligan, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., said he was pleased to hear that a student he spoke to at TCHS has expressed an interest in beginning a club geared toward the prevention of bullying like his son endured.

"It's great when they take action," he said. "They are the solution."

My thanks go to Halligan for sharing his story. Let's hope his words aren't soon forgotten.