Friday, October 21, 2011

Are You Teaching Your Children any of These Dangerous Bullying Myths?

"Just Ignore Bullying." "Just Walk Away from Bullying."
Are You Teaching Your Children any of These Dangerous Bullying Myths?

Why Parents Shouldn't Say, "Just Walk Away from Bullying"

Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior involving an imbalance of power, in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally.

If you tell your children to ignore an abusive pattern of behavior the message that they can get is that they are not worth defending. Through experience, they learn that they are a victim and can begin to accept this as part of their identity.

o What parent wants to communicate the message to their child that they are weak, incapable of defense and not worthy of standing up for?

o That it is OK to for a bully to abuse them?

o That their only option is to cower, hide, skulk away without dignity, take the abuse and be subject to harassment from a bully?
Just walk away from bullying is not teaching a child to take the high road. It is teaching a child to take the road of abuse as a permanent victim who gives permission to others to continue bullying without consequence.

In my experience in teaching thousands of children to deal with bullies, this is the case. Many of them had been told by well-intentioned parents, teachers and adults to "just walk away" from the bullying. The results ranged from broken noses, clumps of hair torn out, emotional scarring, poor academic performance, depression, scratches, bruising, and situations that could have been much worse.

Self-defense is a fundamental human right and should not be encroached upon by anyone.

The unintended message of "just walk away from a bully" can be that the child does not have the capability, strength or capacity to effectively handle the problem. It places them in what I call a victimization box that can lead to some very bad choices and consequences. If reinforced, it can become part of their identity and lead to a lifetime of hurt. Furthermore children indicate that the message they get is that their parents and teachers are incapable of helping them. It can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. For some children it can lead them to more drastic measures.

While passivity, compassion, peace seeking measures are critical and have their place, so does self-defense. They are not mutually exclusive. Although an unpalatable thought for some, it is a reality of living in an imperfect world with people who do bad things. Despite your best efforts, you cannot always control what others do and some people do evil, cruel things to undeserving others.

To equate self defense to violence is dangerous, ignorant and irresponsible form of denial. The consequences to the child can be catastrophic. Bullied students can feel isolated, trapped, alone and feel less of value.

It also sets an individual up for a lifetime of abuse from those who would bully or harass them. Let's assume that you tell your child to, "Just walk away from the bully."

What coping skills did they learn from the bullying experience?

What safety lessons were learned from the bullying problem?
This overly sweeping advice does not fit the variegated experiences and social complexities of bullying, harassment and personal safety. There are multiple factors to be considered, and paramount is the safety and well-being of your child.

In my experience, most parents don't know what else to say so they revert to guesswork or their own limited life experience. While sometimes this can be good, most often it is not appropriate.

Years ago Karate Champion Keith Vitali appeared on television as a guest of the OPRAH Winfrey Show. He was introduced as "a martial artist who believes children should fight". This was a total distortion, but one that some alarmists in the media seem quick to try to make. What he really teaches that it is that using self defense (not fighting) is only a LAST resort, but an important step in teaching child safety.

He challenged the administrator, who was horrified with his self defense approach, by asking the school official what would he recommend once the child is being beaten. The school administrator could offer nothing other than to cry and beg for help, take the abuse and try to get away to tell. Is that an acceptible response for you child? You can read more in his book:

Bullyproof Your Child: An Expert's Advice on Teaching Children to Defend ... By Keith Vitali, Adam Brouillard

A good martial arts instructor can offer force appropriate techniques that manage damage and resolve the physical engagement with little to no serious harm to either child. Like a cornered rat, a child without training may resort to mid-brain, panic options and may have little or no control.

I have had numerous similar experiences working with teachers, school administrators and ivory tower idealists who could defend themselves as children and out of fear and denial were influencing children today with the same ineffectual and impotent ideas. You know the types, the ones that use emotional placebos in place of common sense and practical universal wisdom from natural law. Denial offers no safety.

Deniers are quick to try to make sweeping rules, dramatic gestures and overly simplified policies such as "zero tolerance". As anyone with common sense and practical wisdom knows that these can be well intentioned but often lack common sense and the judgement to view each case on it's individual merits.

You don't make the boogeyman go away by closing your eyes or pulling magic blankets over your head. (I know this from personal experience - although I cling to the idea that my mother had enchanted fabric softener she used to wash blankets with. As long as I just don't put a toe on the floor...)

The other types are just academics so fearful of legal ramifications and liability that they think that their hands are tied along with their God-given common sense.

Surely there are sensible options that teach appropriate steps to respect others, be compassionate, exhaust all options before resorting to physical intervention for self-defense. That's what I have spent my career doing - providing practical evidence based solutions to self defense situations to give people more peace of mind.

I believe that bullying, harassment and learning to deal with aggressive behavior are teaching moments that require us as loving parents and mentors to equip children with the character, confidence, tools and coping mechanisms to be used throughout life. That is not to say that they will be trying to handle a bullying situation alone - not at all. We may have to step in, however we want to give them the chance (if possible in the early stages) to learn that they can stand up for themselves, have choices, options, and therefore some power. It doesn't mean that it will work (although it usually does). But it does send the message that they can exercise some power and regain some personal dignity. They will be better individuals for it.
Putting off or delaying a problem is not resolving it. Problems have a way of resurfacing if we fail to properly address them. This is especially true for bullying, harassment and personal safety self-defense.
Another myth is that confrontation leads to escalation of violence. All confrontation is not escalation. Of course, antagonistic confrontation can lead to escalation but there are methods of confronting bullying to put an end to it that don't encourage escalation. We teach students how to give the bullying person an "out" so they can keep their dignity and have a chance at reconciliation, peace and even friendship.

Just walking away from bullying, just ignore the bully and other simple token phrases may be an option as an early/temporary stop-measure to bullying, however, it is important that we distinguish the real lessons from catch phrases and overly simplified bullying advice.
We need to treat the cause of bullying not just the symptom of bullying.
Rather than rely on luck, shouldn't we use the proven tools for personal safety we have?

Not all bullying situations are the same. The bullying advice needs to fit the situation and that takes a bit of training and practice to learn. Let us be part of that solution and help your child develop the social skills, leadership confidence, inner-strength and tactics to have peace of mind.

For more information on BULLYING PREVENTION please contact me.
Bully Prevention Workshop for Phoenix AZ Children, Parents and Teachers
October is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Month. To celebrate, we are offering free bully prevention training to any boy, girl, parent or teacher.
You must contact USA Martial Arts Phoenix at:
or visit

Sponsored in part by:

1 comment:

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