When To Teach Our Kids To Fight Back, So We Don't Raise Bystanders

by Joelle Wisler
Originally Published: 

Unfortunately, we’ve entered a gross new age of bullying. Emboldened and empowered, a lot of assholes are out there throwing around racial slurs and small-minded insults at people who they deem different from them. These bullies are everywhere — at work, in schools, and hiding like cowards behind their keyboards.

A bully is defined as a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Bullies are driven by hate and fear. Hate for people who they don’t see as being on “their side” and fear that they might be as awful as their inner voice is telling them they are. Bullies use their hate and fear to make others feel weak and small, because they themselves feel weak and small. They crave power, but as we’ve seen, even being elected president of the United States won’t ever be enough because of that constant scared little voice inside of them.

So when do we teach our kids to ignore a bully and when to fight back?

I’m going to go with…always.

You always fight back, especially if you aren’t the one being bullied. That’s why I’m not going to stop talking or writing. It’s why I will always point out when I think someone is being treated wrong. It’s also the reason why I’m going to teach my children that it is hugely important to stand up for yourself, and it is never OK to walk away when someone else is being victimized.

I teach my kids to fight back with their words mostly because they have scrawny little chicken arms but also because I believe that words have a lot of power. Oh, and I’m not a huge peddler of violence, that too.

We teach our kids to stick up for themselves.

Recently, a grown-up wanted to hug my 5-year-old daughter after she had given them a gift. Her body language clearly said, “No,” but she seemed helpless to stop the situation. It broke my heart. I stepped in and cheerfully suggested a fist-bump, overriding my years of “just be polite” conditioning. When we got home, I made damn sure (again) that my daughter knew that she never ever had to touch anyone whom she didn’t want to. We role-played over and over how she could handle the situation if I weren’t there, because not hugging someone you don’t want to hug is one of the first steps in sticking up for yourself.

We teach them to stick up for others.

Recently, a fight broke out on the field at my son’s soccer practice and the coach yelled at the wrong kid. He benched him from the next game, and while the child tried to defend himself, the coach wouldn’t listen. My son had seen the entire thing go down and knew that the wrong kid had been punished.

When I showed up early to pick him up he just wanted to go home and not talk about it. He didn’t feel like he had any power against a big, powerful grown-up who had already made up his mind. So we talked (a lot), and at the next practice, my son gathered everyone who had seen what happened, and they stood up for the kid who had been falsely accused. And the other child got to play in the next game.

We teach them that they have voices.

Even against us. Especially against us. If we’ve done something that seems unfair as parents, we want to know — or we should want to know. Last week, our son brought home a crappy math test, and I found out he’d missed handing in his homework for a few days. I freaked out on him and threatened to take everything away forever and hollered like I had lost touch with reality, and it was not very constructive. And then I had the thought, I actually want him to fail right now. I want him to fall flat on his face, and then figure out his own solutions, and then hopefully grow from this. So, that night, we celebrated his failure (yes, really) and then he had to come up with an action plan and a consequence using his own voice.

In small and big ways, I see that these lessons are sticking. This year, a few kids in fourth grade got hurt on the playground and some of the teachers started cracking down on all of the kids running at recess. Yes, they literally banned running at recess. The kids decided to protest and talked to their principal to come up with a plan to get everyone running again. It was awesome to watch them band together to fight back against something they didn’t feel was fair.

These are small steps. Small conversations. Small situations. But if every single one of us contributes in these small ways to our own children’s self-confidence and their collective knowledge on what to do in situations where they feel people are being unfairly targeted, the world is going to go around in a much kinder way.

Because I’m getting older and don’t care as much what people think about me, I’m learning to use my voice more too. I want to be a better role model for my kids. I don’t want to default to being “polite” anymore when I see something that isn’t right. I found this video to be a helpful tutorial on what we can do if we see someone being bullied or mistreated. I encourage you to check it out.

This is not the time to sit back and be polite. It’s the time to be loud and annoying and to never back down.

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