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I Shared My Son’s Story about Being Bullied on Social Media

It went viral. And it saved his life.

Liam and me with his former favorite things—a soccer jersey and cell phone. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O'Brien

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My son Liam was a typical seventh grader—he loved hanging out with his friends, riding his bike and eating anything he could get his hands on. He carried a soccer ball almost everywhere he went, and he was thrilled when he made the school team that fall.

Liam dressed to the nines at the horse track, one of his favorite places to hang out. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O'Brien

One chilly winter afternoon, Liam handed me his cell phone and told me he didn’t want it anymore. I asked why, but he brushed off my inquiry with a shrug and slunk back to his room, closing the door behind him. I didn’t understand why he was giving up his main mode of communication, but I chalked it up to emerging teen hormones and tossed the phone in a drawer.

That one odd moment led to many others that left me scratching my head—his bike sat idly in the garage because he was not using it to meet up with his friends; he no longer carried his soccer ball around everywhere he went; and mealtimes were spent pushing food around his plate as the pounds melted off his already tiny frame.

Liam barely touched his food during his own birthday celebration. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O'Brien

I was determined to get to the bottom of my son’s sudden and severe dismissal of his former passions, but he was so secretive and closed off. Finally, one Monday morning when he refused to go to school, I knew it was time to make it happen. I sat him down at the kitchen table and pleaded with him to share what was going on. We both cried as he reluctantly told me he was being bullied and it had been going on for a year. A group of boys had decided that my son “sucked” and didn’t believe he should have made the soccer team. There were pushes and kicks. They used horrible language and called him nasty words. They told him he was nothing. That he should kill himself. They were merciless in their cruelty. I asked how often they did this to him. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Every day, Mom.”

My son fell into a deep depression. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O'Brien

My heart was in a million pieces; I was seething with rage at the bullies and full of sadness for Liam, but relieved my son had finally confided in me. Everything finally made sense. He had been so depressed and had lost so much weight. But it had happened so quickly. I was terrified. I feared we would lose him if we didn’t do something. It was time to take action.

We took him to the hospital where he was eventually put on a feeding tube and heart monitor as part of his treatment for malnutrition. He underwent intense therapy for depression and an eating disorder. I felt like a total failure.

Liam was treated for depression and an eating disorder. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O'Brien

To be honest, I don't know how I didn’t have a nervous breakdown. I think I went into another mode so that I could just get through each day. I had four other kids to take care of. I had a job. I relied heavily on my faith and my family, especially my sisters, to get me through.

In the meantime, the school and the bullies’ parents refused to take responsibility or hold anyone accountable. Add utter disappointment and helplessness to my growing list of emotions. I felt like I needed to shout Liam’s story from the rooftops, so I decided to post about it on social media. The words just fell out of me. It was cathartic. I read it over and over to myself and hit send.

To my utter amazement, my post went viral. So many people—too many people—understood our pain. They shared similar experiences where either they or their child had been bullied. Some people even wrote that their child had committed suicide as a result of bullying. It made me realize how much worse my family’s situation could have been—and how lucky we really were that we could help him in time.

My husband and I shared Liam’s story on Good Morning America. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Good Morning America

Sharing Liam’s story was the best decision I’ve ever made, and it’s something I’m very proud of. It brought awareness to an important issue and I think it sparked a lot of conversations around dinner tables across the country, which I hope will continue.

It also made me—and most importantly Liam—realize we were not alone; in fact, we were far from it. Liam has been shown steadfast support from local sports teams, restaurants and hair salons touting the hashtag #WeStandWithLiam. It’s almost as if the world needed something like this to bring us together and to bring attention to such a taboo, yet widespread issue.

“I asked my son how often he was bullied. He looked me in the eyes and said, 'Every day, Mom.'”
Deirdre Fell-O’Brien, mother
A local cheerleading team shows their support. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Instagram

There were T-shirts, bumper stickers and ribbons on trees. Before long, people from all over the world were rallying behind Liam in newspapers and on social media. Liam was able to see how many people cared about him and were rooting for him. It was uplifting to him and helped him so much in his recovery.

Nasdaq displayed #WeStandWithLiam in Times Square. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O’Brien

Liam was eventually transferred to an intensive inpatient treatment facility to help him deal with his eating disorder and depression. His treatment was grueling, but after 10 long weeks, Liam was finally stable enough to come home.

After recovery, Liam returned to school. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O’Brien

To everyone’s surprise, Liam decided he wanted to return to his old school. My husband and I were scared that returning to the place with the same people would set him back, but Liam was determined. When I dropped him off that first day, my jittery nerves turned to overwhelming pride as I watched my son confidently walk right through the front doors. He even finished out the soccer season.

Me and my five beautiful children. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O’Brien

As for the rest of our family, Liam’s journey has sparked so many conversations in our house and has truly changed us for the better. I worry about all five of my kids every day, but I focus on maintaining open communication. I encourage my children to be kind. If they see someone sitting by themselves, I encourage them to sit with them. Include them. I want to teach them to be thoughtful and compassionate individuals.

My heart is filled with joy when I see the positives that have come out of this terrible ordeal, like when my youngest son came home from school and told me of a classmate who was upset. He gave her a hug and said, “Don't be sad. I'm your friend."

I pray that we all continue to have honest conversations about bullying and continue to tackle this life-altering issue together. In the meantime, we are ecstatic to have Liam back with our family where he belongs. He is currently taking medication to help manage his depression, he’s slowly but surely gaining weight, and he has reconnected with friends who provide much-appreciated support and camaraderie. Liam doesn’t enjoy soccer like he used to but is having a blast exploring other interests, like skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. And every day, he smiles more as he continues to work on himself and his confidence.

And I’ll stand with him every step of the way.

I will forever be proud of my son. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Fell-O’Brien

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Published September 18th, 2018

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