Parent Wonders If Child Should Defend Themselves When Bullied

Should children be taught to fight back or to "turn the other cheek"? As Christian parents, we've drummed it into our kids' heads from day one that physical violence is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the school playground has turned out to be a pretty rough place for one of our sons, and the non-violent policy hasn't worked out very well for him. Should we try another tack?

We know what Jesus said about “turning the other cheek,” and we agree that fighting should be discouraged. At the same time, we have to face the fact that children can be unbelievably cruel to one another. Unfortunately, bullying is a serious problem with some kids picking on others as a way of gaining power or status, or simply modeling behavior that that are seeing at home. Here at Focus on the Family, we don’t believe that kids should be expected to stand back passively while other youngsters attack them. Instead, kids should be equipped with a plan of action and trained to respond, not simply react. We recommend that parents provide their children with goals and alternatives that are within their reach: truthfulness, faithfulness and a desire to cooperate with others as far as it is possible to do so. In cases where these options are impossible, they should also be prepared to defend themselves appropriately.

The first thing children need to know is that other people – parents, teachers, responsible adults – are available to help. Some kids are embarrassed to tell mom and dad when they’re experiencing bully troubles, but parents need to know. Together, they should contact the school, describe the situation, tell the administration that they’re concerned, and insist that something be done .

We realize, of course, that this may not be as easy as it sounds. Most bullies rule by fear. They threaten informers with even worse treatment. That’s why it’s important to proceed with care and discretion. To avoid sounding like a “tattle-tale,” your child might approach a teacher or school official by saying something like the following: “Another kid has been bothering me, and I really don’t want to hit him back. Can you help me?” Perhaps it would be possible for an administrator or security person to keep an eye on the bully and catch him in the act.

Your child should also be aware that kids who have lots of friends and hang out in groups are less likely to be targeted by bullies. Those who are facing aggression on the playground should put some effort into making new friends. They might join a campus club or some other after-school activity. Some school counselors actually run support groups where students have a chance to meet people and practice their social skills. If your child has already tried this without success, our advice would be to hang in there and stick with it. It may take time, but perseverance will pay off in the end.

If this continues to be a concern, you may want to consider enrolling your child in a self-defense class. Many organizations such as the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club offer free or low-cost martial arts classes that will help build a child’s confidence and teach him how to stand up for himself. If you’re acquainted with a Physical Education teacher or coach you trust, you might ask him or her for referrals to such classes in your neighborhood.

If you’d like to discuss your concerns at greater length, please feel free to call and speak with one of our staff counselors.



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