March 6, 2008
By Amy Looper
First published online at the MindOH! Blog
Reprinted with permission from the author
When I first heard about Ryan Halligan, a 13 year old boy who committed suicide a few years ago, I was sad to hear of yet another child taking their life due to bullying. While watching the recent Frontline show “Growing Up Online”, I was particularly struck by new information his parents shared after establishing contact with some of his friends in an effort to get answers to so many unanswered questions about their son’s suicide.
I was completely horrified to hear his parents talk about a web site Ryan had visited that teaches kids the best way for them to commit suicide based on taking a personality test offered there.
A few days after watching the Frontline special I just couldn’t shake this profound sadness out of my head. I had a rush of vivid and unexpected memories about a kid I knew in elementary school back in the 60’s who had repeated first and third grade. Everyone knew who she was and teased her relentlessly calling her stupid, retard, dummy, the usual hurtful stuff some kids will say to those they see as different, or as lower on the proverbial playground food chain. Even more abusive and shocking, some of the teachers chimed in on this ridicule. Calling her out in the classroom with snide comments and making her stand out in the hall. This kid couldn’t catch a break.
She was out for a week one semester because her father had died. Kids and teachers were nice to her for a few days but eventually the usual taunting picked right back up. Then one day while we were at recess, one of the bully boys came over and took the girl’s jump rope and quickly fashioned a hangman’s noose over a tree branch. He grabbed this picked-on girl by the arm, threw the noose around her neck and gave a big tug with all of his weight. Easily twice her size, he jerked her up and she was swinging in a matter of seconds. I mean, being hung right there in front of everyone. Not one kid moved to help. I think we were all stunned.
Grabbing her neck with her hands, choking and struggling to get free, the bell rang to end recess and the bully boy let go of the rope. She fell to the ground. The teacher was coming toward the big tree, but when she saw the girl fall to the ground, the teacher turned around and left her to pick herself up. No one helped her. We all just filed back into class like nothing had happened.
That little girl was me.
What I realized about Ryan Halligan’s suicide was if the bullying I endured as a child was complemented by the resources of a 21st century online world, I too could have easily opted to check out the suicide web site and -- even worse -- acted on it.
It shook me to my core.
Even though I was very lucky to have loving parents guide me through my trying times as a child and see me into successful adulthood, they still had no idea of the many sad and lonely days I spent because I couldn’t articulate the full extent of what was happening, much less even understand what I needed.
This is why I’ve dedicated the rest of my life’s work to meet kids in their technology-based culture, leveraging technology in every way possible, to create positive content options, a lifeline to life skills for all kids to learn how to confidently navigate the fast paced world and myriad of negative influences they’re faced with daily.
If you’re a parent, teacher or simply care about youth watch Frontline’s “Growing Up Online.” Even though the show could have used more coverage about the positive things happening online for kids, it is still an important eye opener for offline adults.