I want very much to raise kind, compassionate kids. My husband and I try to model generosity and philanthropy for them. My son is a Cub Scout. We talk to our kids about what they should do if a shy kid at school is struggling to make friends—go up to them, give them a compliment, and invite them to join an activity. I follow groups like The Bully Project and share these stories with my kids, as I believe we all need to do our part to combat bullying.
We do not promote violence in our house. We have two boys, and like many boys, they make anything and everything into a gun. We instill in them the knowledge that guns are weapons and can hurt or kill. We reprimand our children if they hurt each other. They often wrestle for fun, but if someone gets hurt, the game stops and apologies and hugs are shared.
However, I teach my kids to fight, or more precisely, to fight back. For as much as we value raising children who are loving, giving and kind, we also want our kids to survive and feel empowered. The harsh truth is that our world is unkind. Kids can be mean, and mean kids often grow into mean adults. We refuse to allow our children—our smart, unique, funny kids—to be pushovers. We refuse to let them accept bullying, to let someone victimize them. No one is allowed to crush their spirits. For that reason, we teach them to fight back against anyone who attempts to do so.
We have two boys and one girl. All three are taught this same lesson: If someone attacks you, you defend yourself. You get back up, stand up tall, look that person in the eye, and show courage. Show strength. Show that person who hurt you that you will not be hurt again. We know that bullying often becomes a cycle, and a child who is targeted in first grade can be continuously harassed throughout childhood. Therefore, despite our commitment to kindness and compassion, we are also realistic. We are committed to preparing our children for the realities of this world.
I’ve read article after article lately asserting that the appropriate response to bullying is to address the cause of the behavior and work to prevent it. I completely agree. It is our job as parents to ensure we do not raise bullies. It is the job of educators and administrators to address bullying in schools and work to keep our kids safe. But if you tell me that I should not teach my kids to fight back against a bully, I call bullshit—because that ain’t happening around here.
I know that too often a bully is bullied at home. He or she learns this aggression somewhere, and it saddens me to think of a child suffering, even a kid who is being mean to mine. I wish all children felt loved and validated at home and were taught about kindness. But I am realistic, and I know the sad reality. My children will encounter mean kids and mean adults their entire lives, those who have been raised without compassion. That is an unavoidable fact. I believe passionately that my job, as their mother, is to teach them to survive—with dignity and pride and with the strength to continue on—after being hurt.
We’ve enrolled our kids in karate, taught them effective wrestling strategies, and showed them how to punch the right way. We teach them how to carry themselves. “Even if you are afraid,” we say, “you don’t show fear.” You stand up tall, look that person directly in the eye, and let him or her know with words first that you will not be victimized. And if you are hit, you hit back. Hard.
Cyberbullying is trickier. How does my kid “hit back” if she is attacked online by her peers? I am still figuring that one out. But my hope is that if she sends the message from early on, two effects occur: First of all, she lets kids know she is not to be messed with, and secondly, her confidence strengthens as she grows up and she believes she can handle whatever comes her way. My goal is that my kids feel empowered and see themselves as leaders. If they are picked on, whether with words, physical action or via the internet, I hope they realize that they can stand up tall, rise above, and come out on the other side—strong and proud.
So yeah, I teach my kids to fight. And I’m not sorry about it.