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John Halligan

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John Halligan's son, Ryan, committed suicide on Oct. 7, 2003, after being bullied by classmates at school and online. He was 13 years old. In this interview, Halligan discusses the tragedy, the events leading up to it, and what he discovered about his son's online life afterwards. He believes that holding teens accountable for their behavior online is key to preventing the kind of cyberbullying that his son suffered. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted Oct. 19, 2007.

The computer and Internet were not the cause of my son's suicide, but I believe they helped amplify ... the hurt and pain he was trying to deal with that started at school and in person in the real world.

Can you begin by telling me a little bit about Ryan?

As a child, Ryan, right from the moment he was born, was the most adorable, sweet little guy a dad could ever dream for. There was just this innate quality about him. He was very kind, very gentle, very loving, and he was almost like that from day one. ...

There was a sensitive side to Ryan almost from the beginning. I never thought of it as a weak quality; some people might, but I thought it was a sweet quality. He could be brought to tears easily over something. But it was often about just caring deeply about what was going on around him, or caring about somebody else's feeling at the moment. ...

Describe your relationship with him.

It feels funny to say this because I don't feel like I'm bragging or anything, but we were close. We were very close. I had a wonderful dad. He was a very hardworking dad. He spent a lot of time away from the house, so ... there wasn't a whole lot of time spent with my dad.

So I made the extra effort to spend a lot of time with Ryan, doing a lot of stuff with him: camping, hiking, biking, doing anything just to be with him. I wanted him to have more of what I didn't have when I was his age. ...

Did he confide in you, Ryan?

Yeah, we had this relationship where he -- and I always felt bad about this -- but he just had a preference and wanted to talk to me about stuff more than his mother. I was very touched by that, because, again, with my own relationship with my dad, I never had that deep connection. ...

Can you tell me, as things began to get difficult for Ryan, ... what was the overarching sense of how things began to progress and develop at school for him?

Well, for Ryan, the early grade school years really were not an issue. ... But somewhere around fifth grade, in my opinion, there seems to be a meanness switch that goes on in a lot of young heads. Not all of them, but a lot. All of a sudden, they seem to get very focused on differences, and those cliques start to form. ... It was in that time frame for Ryan when the difficulties started.

It was more about words than anything else. It was the name-calling kind of stuff, the unfortunate language that they use in that age group: "You're a fag; you're gay." If you can't play sports you're nothing. And kids started to pick on the academic issues that he was struggling with, that he wasn't that strong of a student. ...

We dealt with it like I think most parents do, typically: We turned it around on the other kids. We said: "Look, Ryan, it's probably just them. That kid probably has a lot of insecurities, a lot of issues of his own. ... Just ignore him." ...

I have such regret, because I put the burden and the focus on the wrong side of the problem. ... But I think, unfortunately, many adults and many people in our society still feel that bullying is a part of life, ... and it's just something you need to learn how to deal with and develop a thick skin about. ...

Tell me about some of the issues that Ryan had academically, athletically that made him vulnerable.

Well, very early on in Ryan's life, before he even started school, it became apparent that Ryan had some learning disabilities that we needed to get him help for. His speech and language developed very late, and physically he was rather awkward. ...

He wasn't naturally gifted at sports, but he was able to play. I mean, he was out there trying to have a good time just like everybody else, and in the early grades, being awkward and not knowing how to play a sport very well wasn't that much of an issue early on, because most kids are just learning how to play a sport for the first time. But as he got to middle school, these issues seemed to become more magnified. ...

We had some tearful moments about that, but then we talked about: "OK, Ryan, let's face it. You're not a natural athlete. You can work hard at it, but some kids are just very gifted with this stuff. But you need to find your other gifts. There are other things you can do at your middle school."

So he discovered those other gifts. He discovered the music program. He joined the band. He learned how to play the drums, learned how to play the guitar later on, and then also discovered the drama club. Discovered that he loved to act, loved to be onstage and loved to make people laugh. So as the middle school years went on, those became his interests, and his group of friends were the kids that were into that kind of stuff. ...

So things seemed like they were getting better in sixth grade, and then in seventh grade -- tell me what happened in seventh grade.

He was bullied by this certain group of kids at the school through sixth grade, ... and what happened in seventh grade, from my strong memory of this, is that ... he had a moment where he just broke down with me. He went on about how he hated school; he wanted to be home-schooled; he never wanted to go back there again. ... It turned out that the bullying issue got a lot worse than he was telling us about from the beginning of that school year.

He looked at me during that conversation, and he said: "Dad, you know what I want? I want you to teach me how to fight. I want you to teach me how to defend myself." ... He was interested in Tae Bo at the time; there was this guy, Billy Blanks, who was on TV all the time back when he was in seventh grade. ... So that was the Christmas gift that year.

Right after Christmas, we got into a routine. We would go down into the basement after dinner and homework every night. We'd put in the Billy Blanks Tae Bo kickboxing tape, we'd put on the red boxing gloves, and we did this exercise program together. It's still my favorite memories of my time spent with my son. Sometimes I wonder if we had made the right decision about doing this, but I will never want to give back that time that we had together or we did that.

Along the way we had this conversation one night. I said: "Now, Ryan, you know how to fight. You know all the moves. You know the upper cut, the jab, the crossover. The last thing I want to see happen now is that you now start picking fights at school. I don't ever want to learn that you're now the bully."

But I did say to him, I said, "Ryan, if that kid or any of his friends ever lay a single finger on you, you've got my full permission to wail on them." ... And sure enough, we got a call ... from the assistant principal. ... He had heard a rumor throughout the school day that there was going to be a big fight in the park near the school. ... He said that when he got there, there had been a fight well under way between Ryan and the bully, and he broke it up. ...

So for the rest of seventh grade, I kept checking in with Ryan. I kept asking him: "Is everything OK? Has that kid bothered you since that fight in the park?" And his answer was always the same: "No, Dad. Ever since that fight, he hasn't bothered me a bit. He's bullying other kids at the school, but he hasn't bothered me since that fight in the park."

Every time I heard that, I thought to myself, perfect, now we're just going to sail through the rest of middle school, and this problem is behind us.

Can we go back to a parallel track that's going on at this point: the computer. When did you introduce the computer to your kids' lives, particularly Ryan's life, and when did he begin to really use it?

I brought computers into the house at a rather early age. I remember the first family computer was probably somewhere around the time frame when he was in first grade and Megan was a few years older. It was the one family computer, but being a computer geek, I got into building computers at the time. So every time I built a new one for the family, I ended up giving my kids one of the old ones. ...

So I gave Ryan one of them. I allowed him to put it in his room. I thought it would be a great place. He could put it at his desk where he did his homework; he can use it for homework; he can type up his reports; he can research. Around this time now we got the broadband Internet, and ... he was starting to get into e-mail, so he was e-mailing his uncles and his grandmother. ...

photo of ryan on the floor smiling at the camera

Somewhere in the early middle school years, he started to get into instant messaging. I can't tell you exactly when because it kind of snuck up on me. ... That kicked off a lot of discussion about: ... "I don't want you chatting with strangers, and I don't want you giving out your real name, your phone number, your address, and I don't want you sending pictures to anybody. If somebody comes to you and wants a picture of you, even if it's your friends, I want you to come to us for permission. I don't want you sending pictures of yourself to people." ...

I said: "Look, you can do all this stuff, but I need to know the passwords for these accounts. ... I promise I'm not going to spy on you; I'm not going to read your personal e-mails. But God forbid you just disappear one day, I don't want to waste any time with AOL or Microsoft Messenger or Yahoo! trying to get them to give me access to your account. Time will be of the essence. I'm going to want immediate access, and I don't want to have to go through lawyers or with law enforcement either."

That was a very critical rule that sort of played out in a way I had never imagined until later on after Ryan's death.

At the time, what were you concerned about? What was out there in the media?

At the time, I was concerned about what everybody was concerned about: predators and pedophiles, right? I mean, that was what the media was talking about. You heard the horror stories of kids meeting somebody online, thinking that other person was their age, agreeing to meet up with them at the mall, and it ended up being an adult with intentions that sometimes ended up in rape and murder. I was extremely hypersensitive about those concerns. ...

Did you ever think about the other stuff, the darker, more internal emotional stuff that the computer could trigger, or [was that] just another world?

Never gave a thought to the whole issue of social interactions on the computer. Totally oblivious to this concept. I looked at the computer like a telephone: You need to get a hold of somebody, you find them on IM and you send them a message. ...

I have been blown away with how this whole technology has evolved into being a critical part of their social life and their socialization among themselves. It's more than just having a conversation. It's about how they portray themselves, Their screen name, to me, that's like what they wear to school. ...

And then the whole interaction. It really isn't just one-on-one conversations. It's as if they were standing there in the playground talking. They're doing it now in a very virtual way. ...

Of your three kids, would you say Ryan was particularly drawn to the computer?

Ryan was very drawn to the computer, very much like his dad. This was one of those things we shared an interest [in]. ... Being in the computer industry, I thought this was great. This obviously is a good long-term career path if one is really good at it. ... That was another reason why I felt so positive about allowing him to have his own computer: I wanted him to become very comfortable with its use and become very knowledgeable.

... How much time was he spending on the computer? When would he go on? Was there ever a time when you would wonder what he was up to when he was in the room with the door closed?

The time use of the computer was another issue that snuck up on me. You know, you go along in your busy life as a parent, and as long as everybody is quiet and nobody is fighting in the house, life is good. A lot of time, that silence was being filled by time on the computer. ...

But there was this time frame between seventh grade and eighth grade where I was starting to get bothered by how often he was instant messaging. There were times where [it was] a beautiful, bright sunny day in Vermont. "Let's go out and ride a bike, Ryan. I want to go camping this weekend." Too often his answer to that was: "No, Dad, I don't want to go outside. I don't want to go to the beach. I'm doing something here." And there he was, clicking away on the keyboard.

I have a lot of regret. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I wish I stepped in there and said: "Come on, this is not your life. Life is to be lived outside, not inside your room on a computer." What I found out after the fact was there was just a lot of unhealthy time being spent there. ...

You didn't know any of this?

In retrospect, there were moments in time where he let me inside a little bit on what was going on, but not entirely. There were these moments where I thought to myself, "Boy, he just seems out of sorts," and I would ask him, "Is everything all right?" And I would get that typical, "Yeah, everything is fine." "Are you sure? Do you want to talk about anything?" "No, Dad, everything is fine." But the look in his eyes at times -- things didn't seem fine. But I kind of chalked this up to, OK, we're in that teenage phase. ...

Were there any other red flags before his death? Anything else?

Yeah, there was a very strong red flag one week before, and this is one of the hardest memories that I have. It was Oct. 1 -- I remember the day; I remember the date; I remember the moment. I was out doing something, and Kelly had called me on my cell phone. She said: "When you get home, Ryan wants to talk to you. He's very upset about something, but he doesn't want to talk to me. He wanted to talk to you about it."

When I got home, he said, "Dad, I want to go down to your office, and I want to talk to you." And we closed the door, and the tears started to run. He said, "Dad, you're going to be so disappointed in me." And I looked at him, and I said: "Why, Ryan? What's going on?" He said: "Dad, the progress report is coming, and it's going to be really bad. You're going to be so disappointed in me." ...

He said things like: "Well, what's the sense of living? I'm just a dumbass. I'll never amount to anything." And I thought he needed a pep talk; I thought he needed a hug. And I gave him all of that. I said: "Ryan, if you ever did anything and you were not here anymore, my heart would break into a million pieces. Promise me you'll never go there." And he said, "Yeah, OK, I promise, Dad." And we had a really good hug. ...

Part of me, I guess, wanted to feel like, OK, I took care of this; we're better now, and everything is going to be OK. But I should have asked more questions, because, in thinking back, it didn't make sense for him to be that upset about the progress report, and there must have been something more than just that.

When he said, "What's the sense of living?," did it even occur to you that he was serious? ... Did it flash through your mind?

The "S" word crept into my mind, but I was even afraid to say it. ... I have since learned -- tragically, the hard way, and I always try to tell parents this -- always err on the conservative side. ... If you hear anything that sounds like suicide, grab a hold of yourself and ask the real difficult question: "Are you thinking of suicide, or have you made a plan for suicide? Have you attempted?" Anything that sounds like a remote yes or even a straight-on yes, you need to engage the mental health professionals. ... Everybody who has ever lost a loved one to suicide, if they're brutally honest with themselves, this didn't come out of nowhere. ...

I know you were utterly shocked by what happened. As much as you're comfortable with telling me, [can you talk] about where you were, what that experience was like for you, and what your first thoughts were about why?

The last day I spent with my son, I was getting ready for a business trip. ... I took him to school like I always did that Monday morning -- it was the routine; I would drive the kids to school -- and we had a typical parting: "Ryan, I love you. Have a great day." "Dad, I love you." And I said, "I'll see you when I get back on Thursday."

The night before, I had helped him study for a quiz, because, you know, his progress report did come that weekend. It was pretty bad, so we really buckled down Sunday. ... So that day ... I called home to find out how he was doing, to find out how he did on that quiz he studied for. But also in the back of my mind, I was still thinking about the conversation we had the week before. ...

We had a great conversation. We ended the call like we always did. I said, "Ryan, I love you." "Dad, I love you." "I'll call you again tomorrow from Rochester." That was the last time I talked to Ryan.

The next phone call was from my wife, 6:00 in the morning, just as I was waking up in this hotel room in Rochester. When the phone rang, I immediately thought, now she's taking the kids to school; she's probably having a hard time finding his backpack or something. I was never prepared for what I heard.

My wife was screaming and crying hysterically: "John, you need to come home. You need to come home. Our son is dead. Ryan killed himself."

Kelly will tell you I hung up on her. What happened on my end is I dropped the phone. At first I said, "What?" I was in total disbelief, and she kept repeating it, and I just -- I dropped the phone.

I was so traumatized. I was so in shock. I was hoping somebody would just wake me up at this point, thinking this has to be a nightmare; this can't be true. But as I stood there, the reality sunk in, and I realized I needed to get home. ...

I threw all my stuff into my suitcase. I remember walking out into the elevator, falling onto the floor in tears. The elevator went down to the lobby. I got up. I got out. I got to my car, drove myself to the airport. Every step was like a big deal to me. I had to think about every movement as I was going through this: put the key in the ignition; turn the car on; back up; drive forward.

I got to the airport, and this was in the post-9/11 time frame, so I must have set off so many red flags in the airport, because I was a mess. ... They kept asking me: "What's wrong? Why are you so upset?" And here I am telling perfect strangers that my son killed himself. In the meantime, I'm having to put my arms up, get patted down and just get -- I can't tell you how many screens I went through.

Then I got on this plane, and the plane wasn't full. Whoever was sitting next to me could tell I was extremely upset. I was just sobbing, and tears were just running down my face. This person got up and changed their seat. So here I was alone, staring out this airplane window, and for that whole time frame, all I kept asking myself was: "Why? Why?" I kept crying: "Why, Ryan? Why did you do this?"

And it didn't make any sense. I was so scared because I kept thinking back to that Oct. 1 conversation, thinking, "Oh my God, I messed up. I totally messed up. He really was serious. But this doesn't make sense. Why would he do this over a progress report?"

That's what you thought it was, the progress report?

Yeah, that's all I had to go on. ... I knew I had to get home to my family, but at the same time I was afraid to have this conversation now with Kelly, because I didn't tell her about the conversation. The other thing he made me do is he made me promise not to tell her, which in retrospect was another red flag. ...

When I got home, it was just a nightmare. But I'm probably the most fortunate one in the family because when I got home, everything was cleaned up. He was no longer there; he was now at the funeral home.

All I wanted at that point was for them to take me to see him. I had to see my son one more time. I think part of me was I had to see for myself that he was dead. This wasn't real to me unless I could see for sure. And it was -- I'll never forget that goodbye.

When did you have the fortitude to begin to unpack what had happened? When did that process start?

As I sat through the wake and then the funeral, there was a part of me that just kept saying, there's got to be an answer here; there's got to be some clue. One thing he did not do is he did not write a suicide note, ... and the experts in suicide will tell you that statistically there is no note left behind most of the time. ...

I started to approach it, I guess, like an engineer. I started to say, "OK, there has to be something here, and I'm just going to keep going until I'm satisfied that I figured it out. I'm not going to accept that this was just an impulsive moment out of nowhere."

photo of halligan looking at a computer

It was rather quick in that time frame after his funeral, we started to get information. We got the police report, and one of the things that stuck out immediately was this issue about him going up to some girl ... [and saying], "It's girls like you that make me want to kill myself."

What I found out was that he liked this young girl a lot, had approached her online during the summer, thought he had something going with her, and then he found out that she and her friends thought it was funny for her to pretend to like him online during the summer. She set him up. ...

I also heard that this young person was now feeling a lot of remorse and not showing up at school. I don't know how true it was, but some of the kids were saying that she was thinking about killing herself. ... So we reached out to the family. The mother brought her to our home. We didn't talk really much at all. She was so choked up that she could barely say a word. But this poor child was trembling, and she hugged me, and she hugged me really tight. I felt sorrow. ...

I said: "You did an awful thing, but I don't think you're an awful person. I don't think you would have done what you did to Ryan if you knew the outcome." ...

I started to think back to all the other things that were going on right from the start of fifth grade and being bullied. ... I was thinking to myself, "I'm not buying this, that my son killed himself because this girl did this to him. It might have been the last straw, it might have been just one more thing, but I wasn't accepting that that was just the only reason."

Somewhere in that time frame, ... I was drawn to his computer. ... I thought, OK, let me go log onto his AOL account; let me see if these kids will open up to me online. ... I think I must have freaked out every kid in his class who had him on their buddy list, because now all of a sudden Ryan was back online. ... All these instant messages started popping up: "Who are you? What are you doing? This isn't funny. Get off of Ryan's account."

I was typing back as fast as I could: "I'm Mr. Halligan, and I'm just here trying to find out, is there anything anybody is willing to share with me that might explain why Ryan did what he did?" It was that night I started to get overwhelmed with information.

It's amazing how open young people are with you when they're online and when they're behind a screen name. ... This one female classmate of his, she started to tell me about what had happened between Ryan and the bully toward the end of seventh grade. That Ryan, after that fight in the park, somewhere between that point and the end of school, he made friends with this kid for a while. And my son ... decided to tell this kid about something that happened during a medical examination that occurred in the beginning of seventh grade, thinking it was a funny story to tell. ...

And that kid took that information, and he now had something on Ryan. He turned it around, spread a rumor around the school that Ryan told him that the doctor did this certain procedure to him, and the boy claimed that Ryan said he liked it, and therefore Ryan must be gay. It went from there. ...

There was an incident where he ran out of class.

Right. ... He was so upset during one class that he got up, and he just ran out of the class in tears. The school never called us. They never told us this happened. I have a hard time thinking and imagining this moment. I remember being that age. Anything publicly humiliating is almost like death for kids that age. ... Did anybody console him? And if anybody did, why didn't we get a call about that? ...

[What else did you discover on the computer?]

There was another kid online that night who gave me a tip. He said, "Mr. Halligan, you might find some conversations on the computer." ... So he told me a place to go look. ... Every folder had what I figured out was a screen name as part of the folder name, and then when I opened up one of those folders, what I found was every conversation between my son and that screen name from a certain point in time. ...

I called my manager that night, and I said, "I'm not going to be at work tomorrow, because I have a lot of stuff I need to read." ... And I was up all night just reading. A lot of it was just this stupid, typical preteen/teen bantering back and forth. But I started to stumble upon stuff that was very upsetting to me.

I found this one conversation that seemed to be tied to this gay-rumor thing that started at school. Some kid came on to him and said, "I'm gay," and was just harassing him nonstop. My son, rather than just shut down the conversation, as I read it, it became apparent that he was trying to figure out who this kid was. He was so desperate trying to figure out: "OK, is this somebody that knows me? Is this somebody at school?" ...

I came across another set of conversations that really upset me. They were very dark, and they were all with this one particular ID. ... The two of them were spending a lot of time exchanging information that they were finding online that had to do with suicide and death. ... The most chilling conversation was actually a very short one. It was one that occurred, I think it was two weeks before [he killed himself]. Ryan started off saying, "Tonight's the night I think I'm going to do it." And the kid fired back, "It's about blanking [sic] time." And my son said, "Yep, you're going to read about it in the newspaper tomorrow."

I didn't know what to do with this at first. I was both angry and scared for this other kid. ... So I gently approached him online with Ryan's ID; he had Ryan on his buddy list. I said, "I'm Ryan's dad." I asked him, "Are you friends with Ryan?" He said yes. I said, "Did you guys ever talk about death or suicide?" He said no. ...

I just flat out asked him. I said, "What is your name?" And he gave me his real name, so I immediately went to WhitePages.com, this online directory, typed in the name. I asked him where he lived, typed in the town, and that was the only name in that town, so I figured that had to be him.

While I still had him online, I called the house, and I got the father on the phone, and I asked him, "So where is your son right now?" He said, "Oh, he's right in front of me on the computer." I introduced myself to him, and I said: "I have some stuff I want you to see. I came across conversations on my son's computer, and I don't know what to make of them. I'm afraid that your son is perhaps thinking of doing what my son had done."

The response was kind of weird. He first said: "Well, I know nothing about computers. I don't have an e-mail account, so you can't e-mail this to me." I said, "Well, I'd like to get it to you somehow," and he said, "Well, I'll have my wife call you when she comes home from work."

That evening went by, and I never got a call; another day went by, no call. I thought, boy, this is kind of a strange response to something this serious. So I contacted the Essex police, and ... they had the Vermont State Police drive the paper hard copies of these conversations to the house. I thought for sure, OK, the next day he won't be online anymore; this kid will just be off completely. He was still online. ...

I guess at this point in time he kind of caught on to the fact that I was now watching him while he was online; I was reading his profile. He one day posted a conversation between him and Ryan right into his profile. I really to this day feel he was now trying to taunt me; he was playing with me. I was extremely upset, and I called the police. They said, "You're right; they must be bad parents; their reaction is really bizarre. But ... we can't force the parents to take him offline."

So I decided to pay a surprise visit to this house. ... The father was there, and I introduced myself. He let me in. I reiterated my concerns with him, that I thought his son was troubled, and I wanted to know, where was the computer? He showed me where the computer was, and I kind of pretended that I wanted to show him what I was finding, but my real intention was I wanted to get these conversations off this computer. I didn't want this kid to have anything of Ryan anymore and use it in any weird, dark way. ...

At some point, the wife came home, and when she learned who I was, she was extremely upset that I was even in the home. Again, I expressed my concerns, and I said, ... "I don't understand what's going on here, and I'm really surprised by the reaction after having the police bring this information to your home." ...

I looked at the husband kind of incredulously, and I was expecting some kind of reaction from him. He said to me, "I don't even know what you're talking about." And I said, "Well, did you get the conversations, the hard-copy printouts?" It was at that point the wife reached underneath the couch and pulled them out and apparently gave them to the husband for the first time.

He never looked me in the eye again at that point. He was reading this stuff, and he never picked his head up. And the wife just basically threw me out of the house at that point. I never went back there again.

But I have a lot of unresolved issues with that whole part of Ryan's story. ... My son has these online relationships going on that were completely invisible to me and Kelly, especially with this kid. ... If my son ever brought this kid into the house and said, "This is my new friend," Kelly and I would have looked at each other and said: "What? Are you sure?"

What about Ryan's persona online? ... What is that experience like for you as a parent?

I think any parent, if they had the ability to, ... I hate to use the word "spy," but spy and read the raw conversations that are going on in instant messaging, a lot of adults would be shocked. ... I was very upset at my own son's behavior online, but also upset about just how everything that was going on at school with this whole gay issue just got completely out of control online.

In the pre-computer days, the kid would have an experience like that, they'd come home, they'd have a chance to just completely shut down. Even if they didn't want to talk to Mom and Dad, they would go into their bedroom, close the door, put their head on the pillow, perhaps put on their headphones and listen to their music, and just try to chill out.

Kids are not doing that. They're coming home, and they're getting right onto the computer, and the drama continues right into the evening. Nobody is taking a break. And they're acting out and behaving in a way that they would never in person, especially in front of adults. ... There's just no check and balances occurring online.

What specifically was it about the tone that you were seeing? Was it the same kid? What were the differences?

You know, there is a natural inclination, when you read something, especially something that somebody else wrote -- you're hearing their voice. So I was trying to attach his voice to the words, and it was a different Ryan. A lot of points seemed to be expressing a lot of frustration and anger in a very unhealthy way.

His own peers -- I knew these kids in person -- when you read the words and attach the voice to it, it's hard to put the two together. There is just something about being online that seems to remove any sense of self-checking and sense of responsibility or proper behavior. ...

Stepping back from this, what do you blame Ryan's death on, and what role do you think cyberspace had?

... There was failure and mistakes along the way on everybody's side of this issue. As parents we made mistakes. I misread certain signs. I clearly made a mistake putting that computer in his room. I allowed the computer to become too much of his life. I did not establish balance.

I think the whole bullying issue right from the beginning was mishandled, not only by us as parents, but by the school. That's why I fought so hard for the Bully Prevention [Law] in Vermont; I wanted to make sure that schools understood their role and responsibility, that every child should be afforded a safe environment, not just physically but emotionally. ...

It's not really the Internet. It's school. School is where the relationships form, and the computer and the Internet is just another place for them to coexist and to interact. But these things that go wrong, they typically go wrong first in the physical world, in my opinion. ...

There is clearly responsibility for these young kids and their involvement, although they were only kids. Again, I get back to [the fact that] the adults in the situation didn't do the right things to stop this in the first place.

I can't blame the computer. The computer and the Internet were not the cause of my son's suicide, but I believe they helped amplify and accelerate the hurt and the pain that he was trying to deal with that started at school and in person in the real world. ...

I think as a society and as parents, we need to take a closer look at the maturity level and the emotional readiness of a child when it comes to the use of the computer and the Internet. ... Things like the COPPA law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, it's a great law that Congress passed a few years ago, but my feeling is they drew the age limit at the wrong level. They drew it at 13. ... I don't understand why we throw them the keys to the information highway at the age of 13 when we won't let them into a real car until they're about 15 or 16. ...

One idea I have is when a child gets to 15 or 16, they get their learner's permit; they start to get an official ID. ... I think every time you log in to the Internet, you should be identified. When you go out into the world physically, people see you. When you do stuff, they see you. When you say something, they know it's coming from you. When you write something and send it into a newspaper, they won't print a letter to the editor without confirming that indeed it came from you and that you are who you say you are. On the Internet, I think you have to have that same kind of traceability, that same accountability. ...

It's just very strange to me that you, as a 13-year-old or even younger, you can't go into your convenience store and ask for the Playboy or Penthouse magazine. They just won't sell it to you; it's not allowed. That same child can get onto a computer ... and see far worse than what's in one of those magazines. So I think collectively we've just lost our common sense when it comes to the Internet and access for young people.

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posted january 22, 2008

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