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First Person on The Last Page: Seeing It, Hearing It, Stopping It

posted Jun 2, 2014, 7:06 AM by Andrew Rheaume   [ updated Jun 2, 2014, 7:06 AM ]

by Patricia (P. K.) Harrison

I have been a speech-language pathologist since 1983—the last 11 years in the public school system. I've always loved my job and enjoyed knowing that I help kids succeed despite their obstacles and differences. But one day, my job and mission became very personal.

On Feb. 7, 2009, our precious 16-year-old son, Alex, took his life after being the target of bullying so intense he saw no other way out. My husband found his lifeless body near a big maple tree one-half mile off our property, shot through the heart with a note nearby stating, "I love you guys. I am sorry, but I just cannot take it anymore."

Sadly, my husband and I did not even know the extent of what he had been enduring. All we saw was our beautiful, wonderful son. Alex was an amazing, intellectually gifted child (150 IQ), who was like his peers in so many ways. He was one rank away from being an Eagle Scout, participated on the tennis and ski teams at his school, loved video games, and had a nice group of friends, a girlfriend, and a loving, close-knit family.

But with his gifts, however, came social differences. Alex was shy and quiet until he came to know and trust you. This "quiet differentness" made him an easy target, one who did not fight back. All of us who work with kids know the ones who are "different" for any reason can become targets. If no one stands up for them, and they don't stand up for themselves, they remain a target.

So, how did this happen to us, to our son? We have asked the same thing over and over and over. It seems many of our schools have become places where unkindness has become the norm.

When unkindness is allowed to flourish with no one calling students on their behavior, the norm is created. "Bullycide," sadly, is now the vernacular more and more families are facing. Our son took his life after the bullying became too frequent, too intense. Yes, bullying has always been around, but with the influences of social and other negative media, kids cannot escape its grasp. It's 24-7.

Those of us in education must to do a better job of watching what is happening outside our rooms, in the hallways, on the playgrounds, and in the lunchrooms. We can no longer say, "I don't have time. It's not my problem. I am sure they will work it out."

I urge you to become involved in anti-bullying efforts at your schools. Every single staff member is responsible for making sure kids are in a safe and secure learning environment. It's too late for Alex, but it is not too late for all of the kids in all of the schools we serve. Take a stand and help them. 

Patricia (P. K.) Harrison, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at Wexford Missaukee Intermediate School District in Cadillac, Mich. Contact her at tompkalex@aol.com. To honor Alex's memory, visit his Facebook page, In Loving Memory of  Alex Harrison (seeithearitstopit), or visit http://seeithearitstopit.org.