Moms

New anti-bullying trend: Teaching victims to fight back

Nov. 27, 2011 at 9:00 AM ET

If you found out that bullies were hassling your kid, what would you do? Help him rehearse comeback lines? Or show him how to open a can of whoop-ass, and knock those jerks into next week?

Bully-prevention efforts in recent years have focused on identifying the tormenters and enacting zero-tolerance policies. But the new trend in anti-bullying efforts is reaching out to the bullies’ targets, the victims – and teaching them to stand up for themselves.

Scott Thompson, an openly gay Canadian actor and comic best known for his work in “Kids in the Hall,” told PrideSource.com in a recent interview that the bullying he endured as a kid “scarred him terribly.”

Fred G. Korth / Getty Images file /
Put 'em up! Some parents are going old-school when it comes to dealing with bullies.

His answer: fight back. “Here's the thing: The world is not kind to us; it never really will be,” Thompson told the interviewer. “But you have to fight back … Fathers should start teaching the boys how to punch. He does that to you, here’s what you do: You f****** punch him in the face,” Thompson told the interviewer.

Thompson’s advice may be extreme, but bully-proofing classes across the country are taking a more aggressive approach to teaching kids how to avoid being victims.

The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, based in Torrance, Calif., has a Bully-Proof Summer Camp for ages 5 through 14. And Miller’s Martial Arts Academy, in Kirkland, Wash., offers bully-prevention classes.

But hold up: Your youngster won’t learn how to kick the stuffing out of the Mean Kid in these 8-week sessions. At least, not until the last week. Miller believes kids should start with words.

“Learning to set a verbal boundary and getting the kids to set a clear demarcation line is the first line of protection – not whacking someone with a kick or a punch,” said Korbett Miller, owner of the martial arts academy. “I’m giving them the courage – and the permission – to be loud with someone who’s physically threatening them.”

And if that doesn’t work, Miller teaches some “real basic front kicks,” and how to “stun and run,” versus a knockdown, drag-out fight.  

“I don’t want to teach kids to be violent – the world is a violent enough place,” he said. “I’m giving the kids pat things they can do, little routines they can practice with their families.”

Of course, it’s possible to take the whole “focus on the victim” approach too far. The London Standard reported recently that students in Essex County were told by teachers to “act less gay” when bullied.

Teens picked on for their appearance, according to the “Anti-Bullying Work” report, were counseled to wear their hair differently. The report was based on evidence compiled from 250 students and teachers in the county, which is less than an hour outside of London.

“That’s just nuts. That’s just sad,” said Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and parenting expert. Borba, who has spoken to countless educators, students and parents about bullying, stressed that children shouldn’t have to change their entire demeanor to avoid persecution.

What kids can do, she said, is learn some basic assertiveness skills that will serve them well with bullies – and in life. In her blog, Borba suggests that parents role-play with their kids, teaching them good comebacks, strong, confident body language and how to stay calm in the face of verbal abuse. (Bullies just want a reaction, she pointed out.)

And if that’s not enough, there’s always a good front kick.

What approaches do you take in “bully-proofing” your children? Do you think a class is the answer? And do you think words are better than fists in fending off bullies?

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