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This morning, my 6-year-old son sat down to eat his
breakfast at the exact moment I opened up my New York Times. In general, I try
to read the paper when the kids aren't nearby for fear they'll see a photo
they're too young to see.
Today's paper seemed fairly innocent. There are the obligatory Republican and
Democrat fighting articles. Then comes the mandatory "wars around the world" op-ed or two. Then in the middle of the
front page, is a picture of two football players who are teammates for the Miami
"Those guys look like gladiators," my son tells me as he
sees the bright blue picture from across the table. "They're football players,"
I tell him. "Their job is to play football." He then asks why the paper has a
picture of these two guys.
The reason the paper has a picture of these two Miami Dolphins is
because one of the players, Jonathan Martin, a Stanford graduate in his first
year on the Dolphins, just quit the team after months of relentless bullying
and harassment from the other Dolphin in the photo, Richie Incognito.
The alleged bullying included a barrage of text and racial
slur-filled voice messages containing threats on Martin and his family. Instead of reporting the incident to the team
coaches, Martin quit the team. I can't
imagine what a hard decision that must have been and what duress Mr. Martin
must have been under. Playing in the NFL is a dream for most boys. It must have
taken a lot of pain to give that up.
There's a point in every child's life when he's going to be old enough to know that not everybody is kind.
Usually, I try to shelter my kids, who are 6 and 2, from the news. They don't have a context for information, and hearing about the horrible things grown-ups can do to one another can only make them scared. But for some reason today, I decide to tell my son the truth. At least the age-appropriate truth.
"These Dolphins are in the paper because the one on the
right quit the team because the one on the left was bullying him about the way
he looks," I tell my son. He pauses for a moment then asks a question I've been
asking myself since reading the article. "Why would he make fun of someone for
the way he looks?" he asks simply. I tell him the truth. "I don't know."
There's a point in every child's life when he's going to
be old enough to know that not everybody is kind. And while I wish my kids
never had to have their utopian bubble burst, I also want them to understand
how the world works—the age appropriate version of how the world works, that
When I was driving my son to school a bit later, he asked
about the article again—still unsure why anyone would make fun of anyone else
for the way they looked. We had a long conversation about kindness and the
differences in people. We talked about our own differences and how they were
neither good nor bad. "You have red hair and I have vanilla hair," my blond 6-year-old says. "That's not bad or good, right, mommy?"
There's plenty of news my kids are too young to hear about.
Quite frankly, there's plenty of news I wish I didn't have to hear about. But I'm glad I shared the kid version of this terrible story about one football player being relentlessly
picked on by another. Maybe it'll make my
kid be kinder or help him if someone is unkind to him. I'd hate for him to have to someday
give up his dreams just because some ignorant bully doesn't like his