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The Problem with Using Violence to Stop Bullying

The Problem with Using Violence to Stop Bullying

Let's face it, being bullied can cause very similar traumatic stress responses to being physically assaulted. Even worse, bullying can easily escalate into assault. Being ostracized from a group, being called names, or being emotionally manipulated can be just as traumatizing or even worse than a physical attack. Since each situation induces similar responses it can be confusing, especially for children, on how to choose the right course of action. Children need to be taught the difference between being assaulted vs. being bullied so that they can act in a way that best serves them.

One of the most destructive responses parents may teach their kids is to respond to bullying with violence. The anger a parent feels when they find their child in this position is very understandable, but can make a situation even worse. Your child being called names or being emotionally abused is not the same as your child being pushed up against a wall while being punched/kicked by other kids and calls for very different responses. Responding with violence to being bullied is often taught to children and comes with mixed results and often escalates a situation. However, if it has already escalated to assault, your child may have to defend themselves.

Responding with violence may stop the situation with the bullying, but it creates more victims a lot of the time. How this happens lies with the reason why someone may want to bully someone else. To put it simply, people bully others to make them feel better about themselves. It may be to look "cool" in front of peers or to stroke their own egos. This goes all the way through adulthood with an abusive boss or spouse. Adults do this to compensate for childhood traumas or some other sense of inadequacy so that they may feel powerful. With children, if a bully gets beaten up or embarrassed in front of others, they will most likely take out their frustrations on another child. They may leave your child alone, but it has passed the problem on to another child instead of solving it. Now potential trauma is passed on to yet another victim.

We see this behavior with adults all the time as well. The jerk boss losing face in front of his/her bosses taking it out on other employees. We see abusive spouses escalating their level of violence at home if a police officer or other outsider steps in to stop them. This is why women are encouraged to leave and go to shelters instead of staying with their abusive spouse after the abusive spouse has been confronted by police, or anyone else for that matter. It is a terrible and dysfunctional cycle that should be stopped before it escalates.

This all being said, there is a time when your child may have to defend themselves physically. No one has the right to harm another, so everyone should be taught that they are worth defending and how to do so. It just has to be done responsibly and not from a place of anger, but a place of necessity and tempered with compassion.

The best way to deal with this possibility is to deal with the bullying early on before it goes that far. Choosing what to teach your child at this stage can be challenging as every child's situation is different and even differs depending on the age of the child. The type of bullying an elementary school kid may face can be drastically different than what a high school student faces. This means the response has to differ depending on the severity and type of bullying.

Here are some very basic guidelines for dealing with bullying for younger children:

  1. Teach your child the power of saying "Stop" or "No".

  2. Make sure your child knows to tell you immediately when being bullied.

  3. Make sure it is reported to school staff. Parents need to make sure actions are being taken and to escalate the issue if needed.

  4. When being bullied let your child know to go tell their teacher.

  5. Tell your child to go find a group of friends to be with and avoid the bully whenever possible until parents & teachers get involved.

  6. Reassure your child that whatever negative things a bully says is not true and make sure they know that they are loved.

Even though it may feel good at the time, violence should never be used unless absolutely necessary. This means it is extremely important we teach our children the difference between being bullied and being assaulted. This is done by having an open and honest dialogue with our kids about both scenarios and to watch for the danger signs of it escalating to assault. Bullying should be dealt with immediately to minimize the chances of it getting worse. Make sure to to let your children know it is okay to talk to you and they are safe talking to you about whatever is going on in their lives.

Symptoms of bullying vary widely, but look for changes in personality, your child becoming withdrawn, bouts of anger and/or depression, or any other behaviors that are out of the ordinary. Stopping things early is vital for your child's development and mental health. If you suspect something is wrong, talk to your child, their teachers, coaches, etc. if needed. Don't be afraid to get help from a counselor if needed. The worst thing you can do is to do nothing and hope the problem goes away.

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