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Playgrounds and Battlegrounds

8/25/08
Just in time for the new school year, CNN has published a piece on how to help your kid cope with bullys. As a formerly bully'd kid, I have a little insight on this issue.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 30 percent of all children in grades six through 10 have been bullied or have bullied other children during a school year.

Clinical psychologist Mark Crawford of Roswell, Georgia, called the statistics unacceptable. "Bullying is not a rite of passage," he said. "It always has a bad outcome."

I dunno, I turned out alright. I think that the 30% number above is really too low. Unless middle school has changed a great deal since I was there the real number of bullys + bullied kids is WAY higher. Any kid who isn't rich, pretty, or of exactly average intelligence will get picked on and bullied. I wasn't rich, I was skinny, and I wore glasses. I also had a really smart mouth. I was a prime target. I think I came out well, but I don't know what I would have been like if I'd been the product of the mentality represented by this article.

He also conceded that some children won't open up to their parents about bullying. "One of the reasons kids don't tell their parents they are being bullied is the fear that their parents will run in and do something about it and they think that will make it worse."

That's probably because it will in most cases. This, I imagine, is because of the trickle-down effect of directed punishment. If your parents call Jimmy the Bully's parents they might punish Jimmy for being a jerk to you. He gets grounded or whatever and he knows that you're to blame because you opened your big mouth to your parents. Then he kicks your ass on the playground. It sounds a lot like a mafia movie, but that's how it goes down on the playground. What can we do about that?

But be judicious, she urged. Some parents can inflame the situation. "You will encounter situations where parents will tell their kids, 'If you are hit, I want you to hit back.' "

Experts point out it is important for parents to keep emotions in check and to not encourage a child to hit back or retaliate.

My parents never told me to hit back. My mother knew that I had a big mouth, and I generally didn't shut up when I probably should have in order to avoid getting in fights. (I've gotten a little better at that as I've gotten older.) She was never in favor of me hitting back, but I think she understood when I finally did. My father is a fan of defending yourself. He'd tell me not to attack anyone, but defending yourself is ok if you need to do it.

That's what kids need to hear. This rubbish about "just run away" or "don't retaliate" is not at all helpful on the playground. When the playground turns into a battle ground these weak maxims just don't work. All they do is paint you as a weak target for Jimmy and his crew. Turning the other cheek just gets you punched in both cheeks. Parents don't generally want to hear this, but sometimes you have to hit back. Generally you only have to have one good fight before bullys realize that you aren't a soft target and they'll move on to someone else.

I was picked on and beaten up and chased around for years before I figured out that running away didn't solve problems. I'm not saying that force is always the only option, but sometimes it is the right option. For me, that meant finally standing up for myself in (I think) 6th grade. This guy, Brian Something, would pick on me mercilessly every day. Pushing me around. Smacking me around. One day he hit me and I hit back. Actually, as I remember it, I punched him in the face and then gave him my own 6th-grade ground and pound. I don't swear that's what happened, but I know for sure that I punched that bully right in the face a couple of times and he never, ever messed with me again. Neither of us was really hurt, but I clearly won my freedom from bullys that day.

It would be really great to live in a world where children were always civil to each other and no one ever made anyone else feel bad about themselves. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen because little kids aren't civilized. When you're a little boy and you're bully'd there is nothing worse than being told by people you respect that you can't hit back. You only have so many options as a kid, and if the only ones left are Run Away or Get Beat Up you feel helpless.

That helplessness is what leads to the bad results that Dr. Crawford mentions. It's not the bullying that makes you helpless, it's the inability to respond to it.
Post Comment
Chris M said...

I find that 30% figure low too, but then again, I was never bullied, and I have been the smallest dude I know for as long as I can remember. Maybe it's the victim's place to retaliate, maybe not, but somebody has to put the kibosh on bullies, because if no one does, those fuckers will just become adult bullies, and face it, the world doesn't need more assholes like that around, breeding the next generation of mean kids.

Matteson said...

Chris, you're shorter than average, but you're also badass.

I don't mean to say that only the targets can address the bully problem. Parents who taught their kids to respect people could do it indirectly as well. I'm just saying that kids who are bullied by other kids shouldn't have tools (fists) taken away from them. Schools that ban all violence are missing the point. Self-defense should always be an option.

If a kid is being bullied and fights back then the school should have their back too. When I was in school all of the fighters got in trouble from the school. I wasn't fighting because I was a jerk, I was fighting because I was tired of getting my ass kicked. I don't believe that schools and teachers can't tell aggressor from victim in these cases. Justice should be enforced, not just rules.

Integrated said...

Without bullies, what would motivate dorks to study martial arts?

-Matt: Former Dork, Current Martial Artist-