CLARK – Parents and community members packed the auditorium at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark Wednesday night to learn about how they can help fight bullying and cyber bullying.
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) and Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth) introduced speaker John Halligan, who talked about how his son Ryan committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 13 as a result of bullying.
“There is nothing more important that the well-being of our children,” said Buono, the author of New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law. She noted that most children will not tell their parents when they’re being bullied and said that parents need all the help they can get to recognize the signs.
Halligan’s presentation for parents was different than the ones he gave to eighth graders from Carl H. Kumpf Middle School and ninth, 10th and 11th graders from the high school earlier in the day and he was pleased that it was so well attended.
For the parents, Halligan focused on the lessons that he learned following his son’s death. He warned parents not to underestimate the effect of emotional bullying, which is often harder for children to deal with because it is easy for authority figures to dismiss as being “just words.”
Using the example of his own son’s suicide to illustrate the point, Halligan told parents that sometimes a pep talk isn’t enough to help when a child is depressed. He urged parents to watch for signs of depression and to ask their children about it point blank if they believe they might be suicidal.
Halligan defined bullying as “a repeated act intended to intimidate, humiliate or ridicule.” It exploits an imbalance of power and is not the result of a typical conflict that can be solved by traditional mediation programs, he said.
Instead, Halligan pointed to the often-overlooked third part of the bullying problem – the bystanders that form the bully’s audience. If a bully’s friends do not tolerate his or her actions and encourage him or her to stop, their efforts are more likely to be effective than anyone else’s attempts to change the bully’s mind. He said that parents need to make sure that their children understand the power that bystanders have to encourage or discourage bullying.
Halligan said that cyber bullying isn’t really a new problem, it’s just a new venue for the same old human meanness. He advised parents not to allow unmonitored computer use and to make sure they had access to their children’s account user names and passwords.
In addition to instant messaging services such as AIM and Yahoo, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and video sharing sites like YouTube, Halligan cautioned parents about online survey site Formspring.
Formspring allows users to create accounts to answer and ask personal questions to “encourage people to find out more about each other in a simple and fun way.” Though the site offers safety tips and advice about blocking users who ask objectionable questions, Halligan suggested that parents might not want to allow their children to sign up for it at all.
Halligan touched briefly on the topic of “sexting,” the sending of sexually explicit messages, photos or videos via cell phone or other electronic device. He offered several examples of teens who committed suicide after inappropriate photos were spread through their school communities. Halligan urged parents to make sure that their children understood that anything shared digitally could easily be forwarded later without their knowledge or consent.
For more information about Halligan’s story and advice about bullying and teen suicide prevention, visit www.RyanPatrickHalligan.org
Presenter John Halligan poses for a picture with legislators, guests, and school officials prior to his afternoon assembly presentation. Pictured from left to right, Top Row: Superintendent Kenneth Knops, Board of Education Member Carmen Brocato, Board of Education Member Sheri Sandler, Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, Assemblyman Jerry Green, Presenter John Halligan, and Assemblywoman Joan Voss. Bottom Row: Board of Education Member Henry Varriano, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Board of Education Member Laura Caliguire, Board of Education President Jill Curran, and Board of Education Vice President Greg DeSalvo. (Photo courtesy of Clark Public Schools)
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