Should kids ever fight physically in order to stop relentless school bullies? I’ve been interviewed a lot on radio and TV. But when I ask those interviewers how they stopped bullying when they were kids, all the men say that bullies were stopped when someone beat them up. More important, beating up a bully changed the target’s life. The targets now felt that they could succeed in the world – they developed courage, confidence and high self-esteem.
Nevertheless, many well-meaning parents tell their kids never to fight.
They say that:
- Bullies have a hard life so we should have sympathy for what they’re going through and how low their self-esteem must be.
- Don’t sink to the bully’s level by fighting back. We have it easy so we should rise above the bullies.
- If we’re nice enough, kind enough and loving enough, the bullies will respond by being nice in return.
- We should never push back – verbally or physically. If we push back, it means we don’t care.
- Violence is morally wrong and violence never solves anything. Mahatma Gandhi stopped the British without pushing back and by preaching tolerance and love.
Let’s not even argue with those false statements. If you watch the video about how being nice and caring doesn’t stop bullies, you’ll hear arguments disproving these statements.
Instead, let’s look at what bullies show us about what it takes to stop them.
Imagine a staircase going up. The harder the bully pushes on us, the higher up the staircase we have to go in order to stop them.
At the lowest steps we do nice, peaceful things to try to get bullies to stop. We ignore the bullying, we try to laugh it off, we make jokes to try to be friends with the bullies, we say how much it hurts, we ask them to stop or we try to rise above the hurt – that kind of thing.
If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful. We’ve learned two things:
- Some peaceful techniques that might work with some people who are bullying.
- The bully was not a relentless bully. The bully was a nice kid having a bad day.
But if the bullying does not stop, the bully is showing us that we have to be more firm in order to get that kid to stop.
So we go up to the next steps and push back verbally, and we learn how to do that skillfully. Sometimes that works. Bullies often respect other kids who show they’re not afraid and who have clever tongues.
If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful. And, again, we’ve learned that the other kid was not a relentless bully.
Relentless bullies and determined boundary pushers are not stopped by these peaceful methods. If we suffer in silence, if we whine, or if we advertise that we’re afraid, bullies think we’re victims waiting to be bullied. If we’re kind, bullies think we are weak. They’ll continue harassing and abusing us.
Now we have to go further up the staircase. At this point targets might talk to school officials they trust to protect and defend them. And they might get their parents involved. And they need to remind their parents to get experienced, expert coaching.
If principals, teachers and parents still don’t stop the bullying, the relentless bullies are telling their targets that they’re going to have to fight back. We’re close to the top of the staircase now. Basically, we have to beat up the bully really badly – the quicker, nastier and harder the better.
Parents, you should have made sure your kid knows how to fight. This goes for girls as well as boys.
A lot depends on the situation. Is it one against one between kids who are the same size? Is it one against a gang? Fighting in elementary school can be just fists, but as the kids get older it will probably involve weapons. There are many situations in which discretion is the better part of valor and the thing to do is to endure until we can get out of a rotten school or neighborhood, or away from a sociopath.
I strongly recommend three things:
- Don’t be a victim. You may be a target but you’re in charge of your response as you judge the situation. Keep a fire of courage and strength burning in your heart.
- Be willing to fight to protect and defend yourself. Decide whether warning the bully might end the bullying or whether a surprise attack is your best option.
- Learn how to fight effectively. Notice, I did not say, “cleanly.”
What if you get suspended for fighting? It’s worth getting suspended if you’ve stopped the bullying. You may be a target; don’t be a victim!
You must be determined, courageous and strong in defending and protecting yourself – not because you deserve it, but because you want to, you have to. “I want to” is more than enough reason to protect yourself.
I speak this way because I was a short, skinny, four-eyed kid who grew up in a tough, inner city ghetto. I learned by observation and experience, not by philosophy or wishful thinking.