About Bullying: What makes an easy target?

We recently held the third annual Bully Prevention Kickoff at our School. For the second year in a row students, staff and family members walked thousands of miles to demonstrate their commitment to stand up to bullying. It was an incredible event.  Check out these photos from the day.


I was profoundly impacted by the Ryan’s Story presentation given by John Halligan the evening before the Walk.  If you haven’t heard Mr. Halligan talk about his experiences as the father of a 13-year-old who committed suicide after being cyber bullied, you’ve missed out on very powerful experience.  Based on the feedback I’ve received from everyone, our students were sincerely moved by the discussion as well .  He spoke to parents the night before and you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium.

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As I listened to him, it seemed to me that his message was even more poignant for adults than for children. My son Joey is 14. To look at those slides of Ryan behind John as he spoke, it was impossible for me not to think about myself and my relationship with my kids.  Through his courageous narrative I was able to put myself in his shoes and it was heart-wrenching. I agree with him, there’s nothing more painful than to lose one’s child. I was challenged to do better as a parent.

Something Mr. Halligan said that really struck me was his answer to the question, “Why Ryan? Why did kids pick on Ryan?”

John said, “I think it’s because he was sensitive, middle school kids get a sense of kids who aren’t tough, who, when you make fun of them, they might cry. These kids are easy marks.” My experience has been that this is one of the most prominent characteristics of adolescent kids who get bullied.  I can relate to this because I was a sensitive kid. When I was in 7th grade I had a lisp, kids would make fun of me and mimic the way I spoke.  They could get me to cry, because, well, it hurt my feelings.


What’s ironic, and I tell our bullying victims this when I meet with them, is that this same temperament that makes them easy marks for bullies when they are 11 years old, will make them better leaders, team members, brothers, sisters, friends and spouses when they become adults. The very personality traits that can make middle school students victims of bullying will likely make them more successful adults. Sensitive individuals are good listeners, they empathize with others, they fill other people’s buckets, they are leaders… these are people that you want to be around.


This phenomenon is one of the many ironies of adolescence and the middle school experience.  If we can genuinely help our kids to understand this, then they will know that, despite how difficult it is to be the object of bullying, it gets a lot better.  In fact,  sometimes the very personality traits that make adolescence difficult will make adulthood easier.

Hmmmmm…. maybe if we walk over 4000 miles our kids will get the idea!

About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in Educational Focus, Inside the Middle School, Personal Best, Reflections, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to About Bullying: What makes an easy target?

  1. dschug2014 says:

    Don, a remarkable post! The bully prevention kick-off and walk illustrate why we need to carve out time for students to reflect, together, on the critical importance of empathy. Your processing of the visit with John Halligan, that ties back to our own children, and who we are and eventually become…that’s powerful.

    Don, your leadership inspires. But even better yet, your friendship…that changes others, all for the best.

    Well done, my friend.

    – Dennis

  2. Ed Kemnitzer says:

    Great post, Don. I love your point about the future success of those who are bullied. Unfortunately, it is hard for them to see beyond their current situation. An important conversation with students.
    As Dennis mentioned, your leadership inspires us all.

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