We were always taught to ‘walk away’, ‘talk it out’, and ‘violence is not the answer’ when dealing with bullies as children. By the time we were in Jr. Hi. we knew our parents were so out of touch with reality. I think by 6th grade we knew we were on our own when it came to bullies. We had tried all the ‘tricks’ our parents and teachers taught us, but on the playground these rules just didn’t apply. In fact looking back some of us know that bullies just like the feeling of strength and control. You can’t ‘talk it out’ with a 10 year old who is nearly 6 foot, wears a men’s size 13 shoes and just wants to push you around for kicks. His major motivation is to look cool in front of his friends.
Most of us understand then, and now that we are grown, that these kids would make things up to pick on you. Purely fictional reasons and you can’t ‘reason’ with irrational behavior in these cases. ‘Talking it out’ just isn’t an option.
I can still see a small boy in my middle school trying to ‘reason’ with his 6ft nightmare and all his buddies. Sean was scoffed at, made fun of, and pushed around day after day, endlessly.
See, Sean was an easy target. He had yet to grow into his lanky legs and scrawny arms; his body was still thin and small. He was a shy loner and with victim written all over him to a predator. The issue with bullies is to intimidate and scare, and there was no finer target than Sean. I look at Sean’s last picture in the yearbook and can see that this boy would have grown into a fine looking, handsome, young man one day; as all the little geeky boys did. But Sean was so tortured he didn’t give growing up a chance. One morning he brought a gun to his Mormon class before school and shot himself in front of his entire class.
I wish I knew what I know now as an adult who understands. I wish I could have told his parents to home school him through some of those years if necessary. It could have saved his life. I wish I could have told Sean that these were just awkward years and that indeed when he went to college he would be a different person, all the girls would have loved him. But he didn’t survive. Although this happened 25 years ago, it didn’t hit the news the way things like this do today.
I believe the worst years for bullies are between 12 and 15, after that most of the bullies have set their place in lives and are either in sports or on drugs. Getting kids through the ages 12 and 15 who are not bullies is more complicated than ‘child experts’ suggest. Oh, child experts with no children of their own, no teens of their own, and there vast college knowledge that keeps the money rolling in…and their greatest ignorance of real life for our kids.
I too remember at about 12 or 13 I was bullied endlessly for about a year or two. It all started when I made out with a boy for the very first time. We just kissed in his basement, nothing more; I was far too scared and inhibited to let this boy go any farther. To this day I can’t understand why this boy started calling me a ‘hooker’ and getting all his friends to join in at summer camp. It was the absolutely worst church camp week of my life that carried on right into school. I was a bit shy and hadn’t a clue on how to defend myself. This had carried on into middle school, and I believe I never recovered from the endless teasing till I ran away from home at the age of 14. I left long enough that when I did return those boys had moved on to other people to bother. The rumor I had lived in LA (which I had) and lived with the Hell’s Angels (which I hadn’t) really helped me out with bullies later. And after living away from home I developed a thicker skin, some self-defense attributes, and self confidence that would help me later.
Now you’re asking yourself, where does violence prevent violence? Well, I must go on then.
In the 10th grade there were two girls who endlessly bothered me. When ever they walked passed me in the halls, they would cough, pretend to choke, and muffle out ‘Bitch’ or some other appropriate (or un-appropriate) word. I chose to ignore them the first half of the year (as suggested by well-meaning adults). But I also had to attend choir and math class with these girls. Finally I had it!
One day between classes I was in the bathroom and my two bullies were in the bathroom with me. They snickered and did their things and on the way out the bathroom door. I had to put a stop to this. My adrenelin pumped as I threw down my school books and threw my heavy backpack against the wall, puffed up my small chest, and angrily said,
“That’s enough, let’s go right now!!! I mean it; let’s get it on because I am sick of your shit.”
The power surged from inside my small, petite body, but I met business. Was I scared…terrified, but I knew I had to fight them Even if I lost; I had to do it to stop this. Better a couple of black eyes now, going down with a fight, then endless provocation and humiliation the rest of my high school days.
Suddenly both Julie and Andrea looked at me with shock. For a moment they were speechless. Then they asked what I was talking about, as if they hadn’t done anything to me for the last 6 months. Courage became stronger as I realized these two girls were not the GIANTS I thought they were, and so did they.
They argued that the tardy bell was about to ring and so on, but I stuck to my guns…no more. Finally, they walked away from me. There I was standing alone by the bathroom doors, face flushed from fear and a new found courage. I had won with out a fight, even though I was prepared for one. They never bothered me again all year. In fact at the end of the year, to open the doors of communication, when they asked me to sign their yearbook, I put in a positive, but self confident message about friendships in the new year to come.
Ironically, we became best friends over the summer and to this very day Andrea and I are best friends. We have seen each other give birth, raise kids, shared time in prayer, and helped each other through difficult times. Julie is also still our good friend, although very busy with her career now.
After I chose to defend myself, even if it meant a little violence (speaking in their own language), they gained a respect for me that lasted a lifetime. In fact after we became friends I got a reputation for being the quiet one who could go insane and beat anyone up…if driven too. Which really wasn’t so true , but I let them think that.
Later I would have the opportunity to physically even defend one of these friends to be from a bully of her own.
Let’s use another example. I have a daughter Heather who at 14 had one girl who picked on her endlessly. Heather was afraid to go to school. I tried the original route of answers, such as calling the school counselor for assistance, reported this girl to the principal. And even after an incident where the girl hit my daughter the girl had been suspended. However, finally I told my daughter it was time to learn some moves to defend herself. That this could not go on forever and it was with in her power to stop it. She must learn to ‘talk softly but carry a big stick’ if I can borrow those words from former President Reagan.
I took Heather to the Gym at the Navy base and taught her some things I had learned when I was her age and sought out some self defense moves. We practiced a few. I also told Heather if she stood up to this girl, she might be surprised to find that they become best friends in months to come. It seemed rather impossible at the time, and Heather laughed at the thought. But the day came where Heather completely defended herself. AND with Heather, as well as I, it didn’t end up in physical violence. She merely got right back in the girls face and accepted the challenge as I had.
The bullying stopped and with in a month they had become best friends! They still are good friends today, even if life has moved them on to marriage and children.
Another horrible experience my daughter went through was when we moved to a new town when she was 15. This ended badly. An obnoxious girl there, in trouble with the law, was jealous of my daughter. I kept Heather at home safe as much as possible. She lived in a prison. One day, a 7 year old little blonde boy from down the street came to the back door and asked Heather to play with him at the park because he had no friends. My daughter is so kind hearted that she couldn’t resist helping this child. But it was a set up.
Once Heather got to the park, she was jumped by her bully and her friends. There were witnesses and the police were called. I took my distraught daughter to the hospital. She was destroyed. The black eyes weren’t the worst of her injuries…her spirit was deeply wounded as she sat on the stretcher and wept with such anguish. The nurses were even in tears.
I filed charges and was very aggressive. I told the police I would be buying a gun and if the girl even drove by my house I would kill her (which of course, I didn’t follow through on). I was so hurt and angry for my child I could scream. We immediately made plans to move to Oregon, which was where we wanted to go in the first place.
When we got to Oregon, Heather was tough. She wasn’t overly friendly to anyone. I found a group of kids who I liked and asked them to take Heather under their wing. Fortunately I found the right group of kids, they were great. About a month after we were there I got a visit from the police though. Heather had hit another girl. Later, after talking to Heather, I found that the girl had started picking on her and making fun of her and Heather didn’t let it go any farther than 10 minutes, she just clocked her. She wasn’t going to let anyone get the impression she could be bullied…ever again! Maybe this other child did pick on her; maybe she didn’t deserve to be hit. I wasn’t there. But I will tell you that no one else ever bothered Heather again. With one defensive move she had developed a reputation and was not ever known again as a push over. Heather became empowered. Heather never abused her status as a tough girl. I never saw, received, or heard of any other stories where Heather bothered anyone. She had developed confidence and a resolve never to let another take away her right to feel safe and free.
Now days we hear stories of bullied kids being the ones to bring guns to school. In fact in Columbine, Springfield, and Arkansas, Los Angeles, and other places the facts are always the same…the shooters were in middle or Jr. Hi. School and were known as weaklings who have been bullied endlessly. There may be absolutely no excuse for these murders but there is much more to these shootings than most will ever know. I understand that if someone is ‘held hostage’ and ‘tortured’ enough they will lose it.
There is no way to stop bullies; they have been around since the beginning of time. School officials and parents can’t watch all kids all the time. But parents have to find a way to:
1. Make sure they aren’t raising a bully
2. That they instill self confidence (not arrogance) in their children while they were young.
3. Sign children up for self defense and Tae Kwon Do classes when they are young.
4. Send your kids out of town for a family vacation during ‘hazing’ events that kids hold.
Hazings that kids put on in High School or Jr. High School are NOT to be trusted. In college they aren’t great either, but in most cases these young adults are far more mature. Children putting on such events should be punished. The whole idea of hazing is really out of date and unreasonable in itself.
The reason I suggest that you sign your kids up for Karate classes is because these classes don’t teach violence. The instructors are very clear to they are teaching physical fitness, self defense (in life threatening situations only), self confidence, self respect, and empathy for others. Some instructors I knew wanted to see kids report cards to make sure they continued to get good grades to continue in the class and wanted to make sure that parental respect was something the children were learning. They were taught NEVER to use what they learned to instigate problems…if so, if they bullied or used any techniques they would be banned from classes forever and could even face extra criminal charges for abusing Karate knowledge.
Now I don’t know what the instructors are like all over the nation, but this was my experience with my son’s classes in my home state and in Oregon. When a child knows he can physically defend himself, it gives him the confidence to mentally stop a bully (in most cases) before it goes to far. And if in a physically violent situation, the child has the physical ability to defend themselves against undue harm. I wish I had put my daughter through those classes, but I thought mistakenly that most violence was between boys.
Now, I can’t speak for defending oneself in the ghetto. I have never lived there, and if it is true that guns are the rule rather than the exception, I have no tips for families living in this kind of environment except to move out. I am speaking for small towns or average places in the country where oppression is not the overwhelming factor in a youth’s life. And by no means am I considered an ‘expert’ in child psychology. However, raising several kids I do consider myself an expert in parenting.
Yes, sometimes, response ‘violence’ IS the answer to a youth defending themselves against bullies. If a child is not equipped with the self-confidence in their physical abilities or mental attributes they may too become a target of bullying. In the real world, talking ‘it’ out, going to the school counselor, or walking away can only make things work. When a child seeks outside remedies, to the bullies this is a sign of weakness. When a child relies on their own abilities and strengths, this is the only thing a true bully will respect.
Also, if your child is shy and small and becomes the target of endless bullying over time, DO change your child’s school, home school them, or just move. The common belief is that bullying is part of life; to remove the child teaches him that running is the answer. But if you cannot teach your child how to defend him/herself and ‘modern’ severe bullying continues your child will not LEARN social skills but may become a statistic…one who shoots his bullies and others…or one who commits suicide.
Keep in mind that if you were to daily work in a threatening environment you would legally have the right to quit, collect unemployment, or file civil claims against your employer. This is because as adults we don’t tolerate having to suffer living daily under such a threat. Imagine being a child and living life this way.
Help your child through these difficult years, really listen because this is a real threat to your child, and take real action that will result in real solutions. Give your child the tools to defend themselves, but if all else fails I DO advocate taking your child out of a dangerous, threatening environment!
Bullying will always be there; sometimes it is a harmless, brief thing. But as the population grows, children grow up with less self-control, and know no consequences for their actions; we must prepare our children completely to confront this head on, so that they do grow up and become productive members of society.