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Good Question: Should We Teach Our Kids To Fight Back?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s something no parent wants to have happen: their kid bullied by another. A suburban Baltimore mother got so fed up with it, she told her young son to fight the bully, and was caught on tape egging him on.

“Put your hands on him because I’m going to [expletive] cut him loose on you, buddy,” she said in the video.

But should parents teach their kids to fight back physically against bullies?

“If you’re getting bullied, it’s going to keep going unless you stick up for yourself,” said Dave, a Twin Cities dad of four. “I’m not gonna show them how to punch, on the same side, they should stick up for themselves.”

“I was bullied,” wrote Lisa on my Facebook page, “and I defended myself with one blow to someone once. It was the best action I could have taken because it sent a message. That person never really messed with me again, because it sent a message. That person, nor others, ever really messed with me again.”

“It’s a good question,” said Joe Cavanaugh, founder and CEO of Youth Frontiers, a Minneapolis nonprofit dedicated to training young people how to build respect and be courageous.

“It’s a hard thing to commit (to an answer). In any given situation, you need to respond differently,” he said, stressing that Youth Frontiers wants young people to make decisions that “build respect” rather than destroying it.

“We want easy answers,” he said. “Where is the book to tell us what to do? There are no easy answers.”

“Obviously there are some situations where a child has to act in a mode of self-defense,” said Marti Erickson, a nationally recognized parenting educator and co-host of the Moms Enough podcast.

She wants kids to take a stand, not take a swing.

“Bullies go for vulnerabilities. Kids need to role play how to stand up for themselves, instead of matching the bully in terms of physical violence,” she said.

Indeed, while there are plenty of examples when fighting back physically shuts a bully down, Erickson notes that there are also plenty of examples when the physical fight escalates things and someone brings a gun to school.

“Occasionally it does work. I just think the risks are too high to teach that as the standard response,” she said.

Both Erickson and Cavanaugh recommend teaching kids to make eye contact with bullies and stand up by calling out the behavior as bullying.

Cavanaugh noted that bullies make up 10 percent of young people, victims are another 10 percent, but bystanders make up the vast majority, 80 percent.

“They’re the problem,” he said.

Youth Frontiers teaches elementary students a technique for bystanders called ICI: “Interrupt, Compliment the Victim, and Invite them Away.”

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