October 17, 2011 12:00 PM

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION

JUSTIN AABERG, 15

Andover, Minn.

“Justin was an awesome cellist. That might have been his way of coping,” says Tammy Aaberg, whose openly gay son killed himself in July 2010 after being harassed by classmates. “I did my day-to-day things. I didn’t know what was going on.” Tammy says her son made up a song for the ninth-grade talent show, “whose title meant ‘pertaining to tears.’ That should have been a sign,” says Tammy. She says that parents should ask questions about the good and bad.

TAKE A STAND

SETH WALSH, 13

Tehachapi, Calif.

“I’m folding clothes, and Seth goes, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’ I go, ‘Seth, I already knew that,'” recalls his mother, Wendy Walsh. “Seth was going to be a gay-rights activist. He thought because I accepted it so well, everybody else would too.” That wasn’t the case: The slurs and taunts forced Seth, 13, to be homeschooled. On Sept. 19, 2010, he turned to suicide. Since Seth’s death, his younger brother Shawn, 12, tries to channel Seth’s activist spirit by telling young people the story of what can happen when kids are bullied. Says Shawn: “You can only stop bullying by stopping the bullies.”

DON’T BE AFRAID TO INTERVENE

ALEXA BERMAN, 14

Brookfield, Conn.

Now that it’s too late, Debbie and Alan Berman wonder if they should have talked to each one of the parents of the girls who bullied their daughter Alexa, 14. “I kept thinking it’s going to work itself out,” says Alan. “We should have taken the bull by the horn and said, ‘Look, we’re going to sit down with all the parents involved.'” Alexa hanged herself in 2008, days before she was to start the ninth grade. She spent the previous year trying to salvage a friendship with a group of girls. “She would go to a table with those girls, and they would all get up and walk out on her,” recalls Alan, who says the torment escalated to cyberbullying. Today the Bermans tell parents not to be afraid to intervene in their kid’s life: Know their passwords and check websites. Alexa told a girl online about her intentions. “The girl asked, ‘What are you going to do today?'” says Debbie. “Alexa said, ‘I think I’m going to take my life.'”

SCHOOLS ARE NOT THE PARENT, YOU ARE

MICHAEL BERRY, 17

Sacramento, Calif.

“My child asked for help, just like he was taught, starting from kindergarten: If there is a problem, you report it,” says Lisa Ford-Berry, who says a student learned that Michael was a virgin. Through e-mails and texts, he taunted her son, who she says told school counselors. The school, she says, never told her, and neither did her son. On his 17th birthday in 2008, Michael shot himself in the boys’ bathroom. In a letter to his parents, Michael wrote, “The school was the reason why I took my life.” (A spokesman for the San Juan Unified School District says that any complaints of bullying are taken seriously, but he is unable to comment on this specific case.)

Says Ford-Berry: “When Michael died I thought the school would want to get to the bottom of it, like I did. But they didn’t.” Now an anti-bullying activist, she tells parents to “pay attention and … don’t abdicate your responsibilities to the school. Make sure you are leading the charge of your child’s well being.”

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