Should a child fight back in self defence when bullied?
At least five or six times a year parents approach me and ask for advice on this. It is usually a beginner student, as our experienced students rarely get bullied. She explains that “since the sensei said it is not ok to use karate at school”, her son did not fight back when the bully kicked him. What do I tell her? First of all let’s define bullying. In this case, it means your child has been physically attacked by another child. It does not mean verbal attack, which should never result in retaliation with physical violence.
The school’s viewpoint
If the bullying took place at school, teachers or administration will usually intervene. They do not want fighting at school. They understand that children need a safe learning environment. Many schools have instituted “no tolerance rules” where both combatants get suspended, regardless of who started it. It eliminates the problem of finger pointing as to who started it. Bullies will seldom take the blame and witnesses (usually friends) will lie to cover for their mates. Although many parents and students feel this is unfair, it does cut down on violence at school.
The parent’s viewpoint
Parents just want to ensure that their kids are safe. The vast majority of parents want their kids to stand up for themselves. I rarely encounter a mother or father who say “just turn the other cheek”. On the other hand, they do not want their children starting fights, so many kids are taught by their parents to fight only if another child starts it.
The child’s viewpoint
If they fight back, they will get in trouble. If they do not fight back, they are more likely to be bullied again, not only by the bully involved this time, but also other bullies who will see the child as an easy mark. I have also heard kids say “my dad says if I don’t fight back, I’ll get in trouble at home too”. The child cannot win in this scenario.
The self defence instructor’s viewpoint
I make it clear that violence is not an acceptable way to solve our problems. There are many things the bullied child can do before hitting back. Among them; running away, getting the teacher’s help, blocking or evading the attack, or using words to calm the bully down. However, teachers and parents are not always on the scene to protect bullied children, and sometimes it is not possible to stop the bully without striking back. Every child has a right to defend themselves if they are attacked and being hurt. I tell the mother or father that it is ok to fight back if the child cannot escape and is in danger of being hurt badly, and if no one is around to help them. The child may get in trouble, but as I point out to the parent, the schools have a good idea who the bullies are, and if they are involved, in many cases the student defending himself or herself will receive more lenient treatment. I also agree with the child’s viewpoint that putting a stop to bullying sometimes means you have to be able to stand up for yourself. The first line of defence rests with the teachers. If physical bullying happens in school, report it to the teacher and principal. If it continues, write a letter. Putting something in writing is always the most effective way to get action.
How do you feel about this issue? Is it ok for a bullied child to fight back in self defence?