(This is my dog Dash; he does not like to fight, and he has met a few bullies in his life.)
We as adults are tasked with protecting the children of our community from bullies, and with advising our own children and the children that come to us as trusted advisers on the things they can do to combat the bullies in their lives.
I think most people can agree that there will not always be a protector with our child when he or she encounters a bully. There will not be an adult or a bigger protective sibling there to intervene. Sometimes, our bullies will repeatedly torment their victim. This may affect a child, to the point that the child does not want to go to school, and experiences an increased level of anxiety. The child may not be able to sleep, or enjoy important activities or time with loved ones.
I think most people also agree that adults with even the best intentions will have limited means to get the bullying to stop. School officials will need evidence, and will need to start a process to get to the bottom of what is going on, before taking action. Parents cannot show up on the door step in an hour to confront the bully or his/her parents. Even if criminal charges are appropriate, that process takes time and evidence as well.
The bottom line is that we each should, if we can, help our own children and the children we advise learn skills to stand up to bullies, to fend them off, and most importantly, to preserve their own self esteem and sense of peace in their own lives.
The trouble, for me, is that the “experts” on bullying and our adult peers (parents, teachers, and school administrators) do not agree on the extent to which a child, even at a preteen or teen age, should be empowered to take a stand against a bully. Many experts will encourage taking no action, refraining from any physical fighting, and immediately referring the situation to a trusted adult. With this advise, I am left perplexed as to what am I then supposed to do if a child comes to me as the trusted adult to help with their bully problem — except the obvious first step, which is to talk to their parents. I know what I tell my own children, but I’ll leave that to stay between us.
The experts do not provide much clarity, and certainly do not agree on the best approach. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains that the research makes it clear that we do not know the best way to prevent bullying, or how media coverage affects bullying. stopbulllying.gov. A special contributor to CNN and author of a book on bullying, Carrie Goldman, argues against fighting back, and states: “if a child does succeed in hitting back (whether through physical intimidation or verbal taunts or cyberbullying), what message does this send? It teaches kids to out-bully each other, rather than to focus on restoration and restitution.” CNN article about bullying. Clinical psychologist David Coleman, who counsels children who have been bullied, says it’s OK to hit back. Time online article, quoting psychologist David Coleman. He explains that “children feel better if they stand up for themselves and are less likely to be targets the next time.”