As October marks Anti-Bullying Month, a local school has gone the extra mile to try to put an end to the disturbing trend.
On Tuesday, October 7, guest speaker John Hannigan visited the David A. Boody School I.S. 228, to raise awareness to the cyber bullying epidemic. The father and former IBM employee held conferences for children during the school day, then for their parents during a PTA meeting in the school auditorium.
Hannigan, who has visited schools all over the country, discussed his experience with cyber bullying. His son Ryan was picked on throughout grade school online by a boy and a girl who spread false rumors about him. Due to the excessive bullying, Ryan committed suicide on October 7, 2003. He was 13 years old.
Throughout the presentation, Ryan’s father spoke candidly about his son’s struggles. “We had tearful moments around the kitchen table and it was all about one particular boy and his group of friends who started to focus on the fact that even though my son was no longer in special education, he struggled academically,” Hannigan recalled.
He also touched on how the epidemic has spread and affected more children as social media has evolved. “Our generation did not have the Internet to go home to and find another way to torment each other,” Hannigan told the parents in attendance. “This world our children grow up in now is very different than the one we grew up in. I failed to understand that. It’s not about throwing punches anymore. It’s about throwing words.”
He stressed that limiting children’s internet usage is a good first step to limit the damage. “Let them show you what they do on their computer. Make them put their smartphone on the table and ask them questions,” he said. “Every new gadget or app has created another new opportunity for young people to hide behind a screen and text stuff they would never have the guts to say in person.”
Hannigan believes stricter age limits should be set on internet usage. “The minute your child starts a social media account, that is the start of their online portfolio. Does a 10-year-old have maturity to start an online profile? I don’t think so.”
School principal Dominick D’Angelo stressed the importance of holding the event. “We want to make sure we don’t have any tragedies in the future,” he said. “We take it very seriously and we want to make sure that parents have the right tools and knowledge of how to help their child with social media.”
“I get to talk to my son every school day, keep his spirit alive so that kids relate to his story and really take it to heart,” said Hannigan. “I found a way to take a very bad experience and make something positive out of it. My goal is not ever to have another family go through what we went through.”