At a time when we are all called upon to take action against bullying and show support for our young people, NFL offensive lineman Jonathan Martin is sending a powerful message to our youth: Speak up.
At 6 feet, 5 inches and 312 pounds, Jonathan is not your stereotypical target for bullying. His story of being harassed by teammates reminds us that abuse doesn’t always come in the form of physical altercations with punches and bruises. The victim isn’t always the little guy.
According to the Bullying Prevention Institute, each day, 160,000 children miss school from fear of being bullied. This is equivalent to selling out Gillette Stadium twice to capacity and still seeing children sitting outside. Every seven minutes a child is bullied on the playground, and nearly 42 percent of kids have been bullied online.
Social media, texting, and online chats make these threats easier to deliver so the reach of bullies extends longer than the school day and farther than the end of their fingertips.
As an organization with many of its core values centered on athletics, team building, youth and teen programming, it is imperative to bring education about compassion and respect to our young members and communities. Bullying of any kind is not tolerated at the YMCAs of Greater Boston.
At our East Boston Y, we’ve started anti-bullying programs in our early childhood classrooms, hoping to reach toddlers and preschoolers before their impressionable teen years. More than 1,400 teens have participated in our Cyber-Bullying and Safe Teen Dating courses. Staff at all of our 13 branches are trained to help teens identify problems and seek help which is significant because we reach more than 550 teens each day in the Boston area. Both programs offer examples of what to do when bullying or abuse is seen and identifies what constitutes bullying. Teens have conversations with their peers, interact in role play and talk about what they are experiencing personally. Youth also learn about the appropriate uses of social media and instant messaging.
By the age of eight, it’s said that most children have stopped telling adults about bullying incidents because they have learned that they can’t make it better. We hope that the NFL’s prompt suspension and investigation of NFL lineman Richie Incognito reaches bullies and their abusers with the message that bullying is not tolerated at any stage of life. And, action will be taken no matter if you are the kid next door or a high paid NFL football player.
Kevin Washington is CEO and president of the YMCA of Greater Boston.