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Tackling bullying as a teachable moment

In the past week, bullying has touched one of America’s roughest sports: football.

As a parent, I was horrified when I watched reports of the exchanges between Miami Dolphins players Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. Regardless of how the story shakes out, the biggest takeaway is that whether you are 5, 15, 35 or any age for that matter, bullying hurts and no one — not even the seemingly toughest among us — is immune.

Martin allegedly walking away from his team after incidents of bullying sends a strong message that parents throughout the country can use if your child feels bullied. Children can know now, through Martin’s ordeal, that they have the right to walk away if they are intentionally made to feel uncomfortable or distressed – and no dollar amount is worth their being upset, not even a lucrative multi-million-dollar contract.

When I first launched Global Language Project there was a 3rd grader, Laylah, who was being bullied in the classroom by some of the other girls. She was learning to speak Chinese and was making slower progress than the other students. She had grown up with these girls and had attended school with them since she was 5 years old. Something happened at the beginning of the 3rd grade year between these girls, and instead of Laylah being in one of the “in-crowds” she became a marked outsider. She tried to fit in but the other girls in the class were cruel. I was surprised by ability of children who, as young as 9 years old, could be so mean with biting comments.

Laylah’s mom called to talk to me about the issue and asked for my advice. Laylah wanted to drop out of our program and at that time, I was very strong willed. I told Laylah’s mom that she should not drop out that I would rather remove the other students who had poor behavior. My advice four years ago to Laylah and her mother were that they should stick it out; not let the bullies win.

But now as I watch what is happening in Miami, I empathize and understand how the pressures of bullying can be so great, that even the seemingly strongest and toughest among us can fold under this pressure. So imagine what our children are up against?

It is imperative as parents that we think of using examples of bullying as teachable moments for our children. We have “lost” too many people — children and adults — to bullying, either through them leaving schools, workplaces or other charged situations, or, more drastically, through them taking their own lives.

At the core of the bullying is teasing and taunting, because the bully has identified some difference in their victim that they are either uncomfortable with or don’t appreciate. How do we instill in our children the thought that different doesn’t equal wrong or bad? Or, that if you don’t agree or like someone that you can still peacefully coexist. And, sometimes, peacefully coexisting may be to excuse yourself and walk away.

I hope that parents will use this front-page sports incident as an opportunity to take on bullying head-on and use it to explore both perspectives. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. The real win is if your child can see both perspectives.