I want to thank Craig for agreeing to let me write to his audience: parents who are highly invested in their kids. If you’re like me, you enjoy reading about Craig’s adventures in parenting. Craig and I parent in a very similar way, as we strive to adhere to the same principles. It’s from those principles that I wish to speak now.
I want to talk to you today about something that is very ugly, but very real. I will be using four letter words from time to time simply because I do not want to use euphemisms for such a serious subject. I want to talk to you about Bullying.
I recently watched the documentary BULLY. I was very moved…moved in much the same way as the victims, the friends, and parents of the victims. I can relate. I was bullied in school, as well.
When viewing BULLY, I was also moved in ways that I think many were not. I was angry. But not just at the bullies. Not just at the parents of bullies. Not just at the teachers, or bus drivers, or principals, or assistant principals, or superintendents or any administrators…I was mad at the parents of the children getting bullied. Yes, I was mad at the PARENTS OF THE VICTIMS.
I believe (as does the legal system) that a parent is responsible for the physical and psychological health of their child until that child is an adult. Many parents will cry helpless when it comes to bullying. “We didn’t know.” Parents, knowing is your job. Find a way to know. You cannot fathom the costs of failure.
Many parents will cry helpless when it comes to schooling. The U.S. government does not require your child to attend public school. Yes, I know times are tough and you and your partner both have to work to make ends meet. If your child is not safe at public school and you cannot change the environment at school, you must get them out of that school. That is your job and it is more important than any other job. Find a way.
That deals with the short-term priorities related to bullying, but your responsibilities extend further. As the great American Dr. Phil says, “We’re not raising children. We’re raising adults.” Your job is to make sure that your child not only reaches adulthood, but reaches adulthood as a functional member of society.
Included in that description is the job of preparing that soon-to-be-adult for all foreseeable occurrences. Those occurrences include bullies. You will not be around, a teacher may not be around, or a police officer may not be around when your child is faced with the threat of physical violence….and God forbid your child does not survive that violent encounter.
But if your child doesn’t survive, will you be content with blaming the bully, blaming the bully’s parents, blaming the school, blaming video games, blaming the TV, blaming the culture…will you be content with blaming everything and everyone else? Are you certain you are not culpable in your failure to prepare your child for violence?
Many say we have a “violence” problem in this country. Bullshit. We don’t have a violence problem. Our problems start well before that. There are precursors to violence. Precursors that parents and other adults ignore.
What happens before violence? Aggression: The act of infringing on others’ rights…their right to psychological and physical health.
Name calling? Aggression. Coming into one’s bubble or peri-personal space? Aggression. If left unchecked, aggression can easily evolve into violence.
And so, how is aggression best addressed? With assertiveness. Assertiveness stems from the belief that no one is allowed to mentally or physically abuse you. It is a psychological stance of: “How dare you talk to me that way! How dare you come into my space! How dare you threaten me!” Assertiveness includes indignation over abuse.
Parents, how can your child reject verbal and physical abuse away from home if he or she receives it at home? Good parenting is not enacted through threats and punishment. “Don’t do this or I’ll hit you” may sometimes be a necessary strategy for adults toward other adults or children toward other children, but never from an adult to a child. There is no excuse for abuse. Find another way.
Parents, you must teach your child assertiveness because other parents allow aggression. They minimize the harm in aggression. “That’s just boys being boys.” “That’s just what kids do.” Wrong.
Not all boys, not all kids, abuse other kids. Some do. Kids do what they’re allowed to do. The fragile social order can all too easily devolve into “Lord of the Flies.” This happens when parents abdicate their role in stopping bullying…but most don’t.
Most parents on a whole do a good job of teaching our children to, “Give no shit…” They don’t allow bullying in their household. But far fewer do such a good job when teaching their children what to do when other parents allow bullying. We need to teach the second half of that equation, “…Take no shit.”
The assertive “Take no shit” stance must be internalized. Your child must believe it is NOT OK for someone to mistreat them. If they don’t believe this, then no amount of self-defense or martial arts training will significantly help. If they do believe this, many possibly violent encounters can be defused.
But before violent encounters can be defused, acts of aggression must be addressed…immediately (Addressing things immediately is far more easily learned by your child if you address your child’s misbehavior immediately).
If your child is called a name or otherwise verbally abused, your child must confront the bully.
Teach them to:
- Stand up.
- Look the bully in the eye.
- Step towards them.
- Project their voice and say,
- “Don’t say that to me.”
Predictably, the bully will respond with,
- “Make me.” or
- “What are you gonna do about it?” or
- “What are you gonna do about it if I don’t?”
Teach your child to say,
- “I’m going to tell the teacher.
- I’m going to tell my parents.
- And someone is going to make you stop.”
Unfortunately, aggression sometimes turns to violence even when combatted with verbal assertiveness. And sometimes that violence calls for a violent response. And that’s not going to be easy.
Most, if not all, of the children who need to learn violence are those who are least emotionally attuned to it. It is not going to come easily to them. They are naturally and likely “nurture-ally” more prosocial than bullies.
They will be worried about the Bully. They will be worried about getting in trouble at school. They will be worried about upsetting you. They will be worried about getting hurt. They will be worried about hurting the Bully. They will be worried about getting embarrassed. They will be worried.
It is your job to address each of these worries. It is up to you to teach them that none of those worries are more important than their physical health. It is your job to make sure they can stand up for themselves independent of how they feel about it. They have to believe that violence is a viable option for them.
Tim Larkin says, “Violence is rarely the answer but when it it is, it is the only answer.”
Understand, I’m not advocating your child use anything other than the minimal effective amount of physical intervention to make the bully stop. I am advocating for a proportionate response. But understand what proportionate is.
One of my violence instructors, Adam Glass, and I like to describe the winner as, “…the one who is willing to go further faster.”
And even if your your child doesn’t win a fight, he signals to the bully his willingness to fight. All things in nature, including humans, follow the path of least resistance. To dissuade bullies, teach your child to not be the path of least resistance for that bully.
There is a child in the documentary BULLY who does just that. He finally gets fed up with his bullies and fights…and in his words, now they just treat him “…like a normal kid.” Will that work in all cases? Nope. But will it most likely work for your child? Yes.
Here is the first thing I teach:
If your child’s personal space is invaded in any way,
instruct your child to immediately communicate,
If the bully doesn’t comply 100%, teach them to physically remove that person from their space by doing two things:
- Step on one of the bully’s feet
- Push the bully in the chest as hard as they can.
Once the bully has fallen down, teach your child to move forward and say,
- “I said, back off!” (or “don’t touch me” or whatever phrase works for your child)
This level of violence will often, but not always, be sufficient to end the violent encounter. If it isn’t, ask yourself, “Do you want your child in an environment where any more violence than this is a necessity?”
Proficiency in violence is beyond the scope of this article. Two of my favorite sources for violence education are Tony Blauer and Tim Larkin. I believe being competent psychologically and physically in violence is an absolute necessity. Please educate yourself and your child to the level of competency.
After the bully no longer aggresses, teach your child to find the closest authority figure and report the incident. And teach them to tell you about it. And that is where you come in again.
Parents, it is so important that you emotionally regulate yourself in these situations. Your child needs to return to a state of calm and will be unable to do so if you are not in that state yourself. Stay calm, calm them down and take immediate action.
Let the teacher know that you are going to contact and inform the parents of the bully, the school counselor, the vice principal and principal of the occurrence….and do so, immediately.
(NOTE: Some schools have a zero tolerance policy. But it failed to protect your child from being bullied…so your child had to take action. Inform them of this if they decide to enforce any policies on your child.)
When you contact the bully’s parents, state what happened and ask that it not occur again. Keep it polite, direct, and simple.
If aggression or violence occurs again, communicate to the counselor, vice principal and/or principal to inform them that if it happens again, you will be contacting the police.
Contact the bully’s parents again and inform them if it happens again, you will be contacting the police and Child Protective Services, as their child has learned violence from somewhere and this violence must be stopped.
If the aggression or violence happens again, and especially if it escalates, pull your child out of school, contact the police, CPS, and the media.
In all things, act as if only YOUR actions can make the bully stop…and don’t quit until he or she does. I know it’s hard. I know it’s not fair. But it’s your job. Make it happen. Find a way.
If you and your child can deal with the short term physiological and psychological results of a fight, they will likely be unburdened from the psychological albatross that fear of aggression, that fear of bullies, creates.
What’s the worst that can happen if your child doesn’t learn to “take no shit?” Your child will likely find himself or herself under the tread of that bully and other bullies their entire life. That is a psychological burden one does not want to live with. I think it is why too many of the bullied individuals enact the ultimate act of escape: suicide. To be honest, I don’t know if living with the fear of being bullied or killing one’s self from that fear is worse.
What’s the worst that could happen if your child does learn to “take no shit”? Your child fights…and dies in the process. That event is so unlikely. So unlikely. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that possibility.
However, I believe that you would rather your child die by someone else’s hand…die because your child stood up, than your child die from their own hand because you didn’t teach them to stand up. I know it’s hard…but it’s your job. Find a way.
Your child’s psychological and physical health is no one’s responsibility but yours, as long as your child is a child. The only way to protect your child from the world is to prepare your child for the world. The world is filled with shit. Shitty parents. Shitty kids and some of those shitty kids are bullies. Don’t be shitty yourself and leave your child unprepared.
Teach them to “Take no shit.” Teach them to be assertive. Teach them to be violent. And in teaching them violence, teach them to be selective in its application. Teach them to “Give no shit.” It’s your job. It’s no one else’s. Find a way.
Reader, I cannot tell you what to do with your own child. If you decide to implement any of this information, you, and only you, are responsible for what follows. If you choose to not implement the strategies, tactics and techniques I mention, find some others that will work. It’s your job. Make it happen, Find a way.
To learn more from or about Frankie Faires you can find him at