A bully shoves your child on the playground. Should they stand down, or fight back?
Most parents would teach their kid to ignore the bully, walk away, or get help.
I say, fight back — and hear me out.
Whether they’re the bullied or the bully, our kids will experience bullying at some point in their childhood. In fact, they’ll continue to face it in some way or another throughout their adult life. But research shows that parents and schools are doing a poor job at preparing our kids for dealing with bullies, and consequently, for the realities of life.
In fact, a growing number of clinical psychologists say that teaching our kids to ‘take the hit and seek support later’ is NOT the way to curb bullying.
Shocking, I know. We’ve all read the articles arguing that the appropriate response to bullying is to identify and prevent the root of the problem – and that an ‘eye for an eye’ isn’t the solution. To some extent, I agree. It’s our job as parents to ensure our kids don’t grow into bullies. It’s our job as teachers to address bullying in schools and to work to prevent it. But, no matter how hard we try to shut bullying down, the reality is, our world is unkind. Kids will be mean. And, mean kids often grow into mean adults if their behaviour isn’t checked. So, if you truly think that we shouldn’t teach our kids to fight back – to rightfully defend themselves in the face of abuse – then I call B.S. Because, I know that NO parent wants their child to accept victimization.
Here’s the reality. By telling our children to constantly ‘stand down’ and ‘walk away,’ we’re impeding their self-confidence and ability to defend themselves when threatened with violence. In fact, ‘zero-tolerance’ policies on the playground may actually prevent your child from protecting him or herself against a bully’s attack. Most of the time, these policies don’t stop bullies from hurting others. But, they may prevent more obedient children from defending themselves with equal force when attacked.
Don’t get me wrong. NOBODY has the right to hurt another person. However, when it does happen, a victim’s fear of being disciplined for responding with force only punishes that child further. Succumbing to a playground bully’s abuse and walking away may mean your child is unable able to play in a specific area or with a certain friend without being picked on. This teaches our kids to accept defeat, which often only feeds the bully’s power. Some psychologists even argue that when physical attacks are not met with some degree of physical response, they tend to happen again. If the bully discovers that they can push your child around, they will continue to do so.
Several studies on primary school-aged children argue that submission to bullies only increases a child’s risk of ongoing abuse at school. One U.S. survey actually found that the most successful anti-bullying strategies reported by victims is counter-aggression. Others even suggest that ‘fighting back’ can increase social cohesion and mutual respect in the long run.
This is why many professionals are urging parents to give their children permission to ‘fight back’ against bullies – even if it means getting detention. I say, instead of overprotecting our kids and sugar-coating conflict resolution strategies, we should let them fight their own battles. By teaching children to stand down, or worse, by rescuing them from facing their bullies (be it that playground a**hole or your kid’s first boss), parents are sheltering kids from realizing their own courage and responsibility. This fails to prepare them with the experience and confidence they need to face the hardships of real life.
No, I’m not suggesting we allow our kids to beat the crap out of each other. This is not what we teach. We recognize that responding to violence with violence, often only leads to more violence, and that doesn’t solve anything. But, what we should NOT do is frighten our kids with zero-tolerance policies that limit their ability to defend themselves. Instead, we give them the courage and permission to stick up for themselves and for others. And sometimes, that means fighting fire with fire.
The key is to know how and when to use that fire. That’s where Martial Arts can help. We teach our students the wisdom of self-defence, and the virtues of respect, self-control, and accountability – critical tools that help our kids protect themselves against bullies.
So, I’ll end with this. As parents and teachers, it’s our duty to ensure our kids know not only how to defend themselves, but that they can defend themselves. If we don’t teach them to stand tall and fight back, then how do we expect them to survive the realities of the real world?
For more on helping your kid ‘fight back’ against bullying, check these out:
- Fighting back may stop some children from being bullied
- New anti-bullying trend: Teaching victims to fight back
- When To Teach Our Kids To Fight Back, So We Don’t Raise Bystanders
- 5 Ways Martial Arts Can Completely Stop Bullying
For other (more conservative) bullying prevention tips, check out the Public Safety Canada’s Overview of Approaches to Address Bullying and Cyberbullying.
Professor Jason Figliano
Owner and Head Instructor
Canadian Black Belt Academy