Bullying stories are everywhere in the media these days. With more and more cases out there such as Rehtaeh Parson’s suicide, we’re stopping to think about bullying and what it means, and we’re trying to help each other figure out how best to deal with bullying within the constraints of modern society. I was surprised at the amount of interest my previous article on bullying garnered on this blog, and it is inspiring me to continue to write about it in a constructive way!
I have to admit something though: there is something that I didn’t expect to see from my post on bullying. I never expected so many fathers to come out of the woodwork and take the time to write what they suggest to their children when they are being bullied. Great! And… not so great…
Dads, I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed in some of you! I know, I know, I promise not to judge people. It’s just that, well… predictably, I guess… the main suggestion that came out of your finger tips was the suggestion that I dread the most.
Fighting back physically. Ugh.
It’s hard to discuss why to not physically fight with people who say that it was the only thing that worked for them. I think it’s awesome that it worked for some people! Unfortunately, fathers tend to see physically fighting back as the end-all of all bullying, and it’s sad to say that it’s rarely the case!
So, let’s push this discussion further! I want to explore the act of defending oneself physically, when and why it works, and when and why it doesn’t work. Hopefully, more awesome discussions can come out of this!
When Fighting Back Actually Does Work
Yes, I know. There are many stories out there of kids getting bullied physically and socking their bully in the nose, just to see the bully cower away never again to be bullied again. Let’s look at why that works:
Anton is 7 years old. He doesn’t have many friends – people think he’s kind of weird and doesn’t know how to play fair in the playground. When he tries to make friends, he tends to take control of the game that he’s joining, and the other kids just push him away. Over time, Anton gets angry about this because he doesn’t understand why the other kids don’t want to play with him. He starts to pick on the kids that he really wanted to play with. He calls them names, and he starts pushing them around. All of a sudden, he notices that these kids aren’t pushing him away anymore. They let him into the games, and they let him decide how to play things. Some kids are even trying to make nice with him! We now present you Anton, the schoolyard bully.
Anton is a socially awkward kid. He doesn’t understand give-and-take, and he has a difficult time reading social cues. He uses bullying as a way to gain respect and popularity because he doesn’t know any other way of relating to others. Because kids are afraid of him, they let him act out the way he is.
Kids like Anton will never be considered “cool kids”. They will be feared, and people will rally with them, not because they respect them, but because they fear them as an enemy. They would rather go along with what the bullies want rather than become their prey.
If your kid is being bullied by a kid like Anton, chances are that fighting back might, in certain circumstances, actually work. If your kid is bigger or stronger than his bully, the chances of fighting back succeeding increase. If the bully doesn’t have a big social circle, chances once again increase that the physical defense strategy might work. After all, kids like Anton have little self-esteem. They fight because it’s their only way of knowing how to relate to others. Therefore, if someone stands up to him and wins the fight, there’s a chance that the bully will back off.
But there’s also a chance that the bully might get even angrier, and try to seek revenge – especially if he has a group of followers willing to back him up. Hate breeds hate and violence often breeds violence. The last thing you would want for your kid is to be stuck in a battle zone with another kid, where every week, he has to prove himself to a crowd of people who think it’s wrong to bully but won’t do anything to help your child because they are too afraid of being bullied themselves.
Also, always remember that it’s not because this type of bully stopped picking on you that he stopped bullying altogether. After all, fighting back doesn’t teach the bully social skills. It only leads him to go find someone else to pick on. If your kid is getting picked on by this type of kid, always remember that there will always be someone else to fall prey to him unless something is done to help this kid out in more constructive ways.
In the end, it’s up to you as a parent to evaluate the situation and see if it’s worth it for your child to punch the guy back. I’ve spoken of little boys in this scenario, but I do acknowledge that girls can fight this way too! If your kid is a little one though and the bully is the biggest person in the class, it might be a bad idea to have him get into a brawl.
Never Try to Beat Up the Jock!
Not all bullies are the socially awkward kids that you see in all of the cartoons. There’s another class of bullies that we all know and dread crossing in the hallways: the school jock.
Josh is the guy that everyone adores: he’s drop-dead gorgeous, the star of the school’s favorite athletic team. He’s tall and strong, and has a huge following. He has the prettiest girlfriend, who is also the most popular girl in school.
We rarely think of what it means to the Top Jock to be in his position. Josh feels a tremendous amount of pressure to stay at the top. He constantly feels the need to prove himself, on the sports field and off. Being the Alpha Male, his life revolves around plays of physical strength, and he simply can’t allow anyone else to be bigger, better or stronger than he is.
Often times, the Josh will choose the loser on the bottom of the social pole to poke fun of. He needs to remind people of his power and authority at the school, and will most often choose the weakest in his mind to make an example of.
Let’s say your child is getting bullied by the Top Jock of his school. Chances are that if you encourage him to fight back physically, he’ll come back with a black eye, or worse. Top Jocks don’t fight fair. They involve their following. And if your child makes a show of strength, the jock won’t allow him to win. Even if your child wins the battle, he will never win the war. Fighting back physically will only lead to your child to want to leave the school.
Fighting Back on Social Media
Social Media has changed the way bullying happens. You used to be able to walk through your front door at night as a kid, close your bedroom door and go about your favorite activities knowing that you are safe and won’t be bothered until the next morning. Kids don’t get that privilege anymore. The bullying follows them everywhere they go. It’s in their rooms, on their phones while they’re at the mall. It follows them even when they try to change schools and it is incessant. Instead of having 15 people throw insults at you when teachers are not around, you have 50 people sending you a minimum of 5 messages each with no adults watching over to make sure that the kids are playing fair. And if you do change schools, chances are that the bullies know at least one person there and will do their best to make sure that the people at this new school continue to taunt you.
On top of that, cyberbullying allows kids to say things online that they would never dare to utter in person. It’s almost a competition online to see How Low You Can Go. How exactly are you supposed to fight back to what is actually considered harassment online? Finally, what is written can’t be unwritten. Social media is an impulsive media where you type before you think and you can’t take back what you’ve typed.
Consider cases of sexual harassment online, where nude pictures are found or faked and sent around a school (this happens a lot more than one might think). How exactly are you supposed to fight back when the entire school is calling you every name imaginable? Should you doctor up your own nude photos of your bullies and send them yourself online? Should you try to sneak into someone’s bathroom stall in order to take pictures of them while they are peeing? Should you try and spread nasty rumors around about their recent bout of chlamydia when you have 0 reputation to lean on? Punching your socially awkward bully might be an effective solution, but trying to turn the tables on a crowd of possibly hundreds of students is harder to do.
All in all, what I’m trying to say is this: fighting back isn’t that simple. I wish, and I’m sure that you wish too that it would be. You might hear about your child being bullied more often that you would hope. You might even get annoyed by it, and think that it’s just part of growing up. But please remember this: what kids do to each other on a regular basis would be considered crimes if they were adults. We don’t tolerate bullying between adults – we call it harassment, abuse, rumor-mongering. They are crimes that are punishable by law. Why is it that we so easily accept it between our kids? Why is it that we don’t bother to find real solutions that are personalized to our kids?
So please, next time you hear about a child being bullied, whether it be yours or someone else’s, your neighbor or simply a child that you’re reading about in the papers, stop and think a little bit before you suggest that he fight back.