Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

I’m going to state my opinion about something and I have a feeling some of you may not agree with me.  But that’s okay because I think it’s about opening up a dialogue.

About a month or so ago, I wrote a post about Jack and an episode of bullying he endured in transitional kindergarten called “In the End, Our Kids Will Still End Up In Therapy”.  I talked about how I felt like I dropped the ball when it came to looking out for Jack’s emotional well-being and how I felt I needed to be more aware.

Today I got a call from the school nurse at about 12:30 p.m.  Jack was crying hysterically in the clinic because two boys bullied him on the playground during recess.  One aggressor and one sidekick.  The Aggressor slammed Jack up against the corner of the steel monkey bars while the Sidekick chanted “push him! push him!”  They left a giant purple welt on the back of his left shoulder.

I ended up speaking with the Vice Principal of the school who assured me that administrative action would be taken against the children as there is a zero tolerance for bullying in our school system.  Fine.  Just as long as it never happens again.  I will trust in Jack’s school until they have given me a reason not to.  So if they say the kids will be severely punished (they would not tell me how though), I will believe them.  But I will be watching and making a plan B in the meantime.

So here’s where I may get a tad controversial.

Jack handled everything correctly.  The incident happened quickly and he ran immediately to his teacher on the playground and told her what happened.  He spoke out.  Good job.  I’m proud of him for that.  But what happens when there isn’t a teacher around or the incident doesn’t end quickly or they aren’t on school grounds where someone is bound to see what’s happening?

There is a rule in the Steele house.  “You are never allowed to throw the first punch.”  In theory this means that nobody at any time is allowed to lay their hands on anyone else.  They just have to stand there with their dukes up, waiting and hoping that the other throws a fist.  Know what the second part of that rule is? “But if someone does throw the first punch….swing away!”

I believe that it would have been well within Jack’s right to fight back today.  Physically fight back.  And I would have supported him tooth and nail if he had chosen to do so.  In fact, if Jack (or any of my children) are in a situation where they are being physically attacked, I hope they DO fight back.  I hope they beat the hell out of the person(s) trying to hurt them.  And after Jack and I talked about everything else concerning this incident, that’s EXACTLY what I told him to do.

Bullying has become a hot topic lately and I’m happy about that.  The “It Gets Better” campaigns came out (they’re a good start)  and I appreciate the efforts the schools are making to eliminate the problem.  But I don’t think there is enough being said about fighting back.  Maybe a little “It Gets Better” added with “But until it does, stand up for yourself and for what you believe in.  We got your back.”

Is this  generation teaching our children to be too pacifistic? Should we be asking our children to “wait it out” until they are old enough, mature enough to gain more self-confidence or should we be asking them to “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence ” in a little self-defense ? What are they supposed to do in the meantime? Curl up into a ball, emotionally and physically and wait until the pain subsides?

Forget it.

Today I told Jack that next time someone lays a hand on him, he should swing away.  “Knock their lights out, Jack.  You have my permission. And feel free to fight dirty.  Go for the privates, use your fingernails, bite until they bleed.”  And you may disagree with me that I told my kid that but I’m okay with that too.

Because the next time my kid is being slammed against a wall, I don’t want him to wait until “it gets better”.  That hopefully someone will show up and put a stop to the fight.  Or The Aggressor will realize s/he went too far or get tired enough to stop.  I want my children to have the inner and outer strength to stop it NOW.

At least try.  You always have to try.

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20 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t disagree with you at all! And am honestly happy to hear someone else tells their kids the same thing. Michael was having a problem with a kid at school who is actually smaller then him. He’s a big kid, I’m pretty sure my family has something to do with that and not my husbands. lol He can’t get away from this kid….they sit in alphabetical order, lockers are right next to one another, etc….No escape. So, one day the kid did something to him and MIchael just looked at him and said “Do you want me to punch you right in the face cause I will?” He said no and that has been the end.
    I hope that Jack doesn’t have another run in and the school does actually do something about it. If not……well, I hope he gets in some good punches!


  2. Posted by Jill on October 14, 2011 at 6:53 am

    I agree with you Jenny. Unfortunately, I don’t think my kids even have the personality to fight back (I didn’t). They can’t even bump up against opponents when playing sports! But what I think is important is that they learn to protect themselves… If someone (stranger, “trusted” adult, boyfriend or girlfriend) attacks them in the future (scary thought, but sometimes you have to go there) they need to be able to call upon the natural instinct to fight back. I wish I had one time in my life, but I was too scared. I’m definitely teaching my kids to protect themselves.


    • It’s part of the reason why I have my boys in karate. You don’t have to be the biggest or the strongest but you have to have some skills to protect yourself. We definitely talked about that with strangers but I also think it applies to bullies. My Benjamin is very passive and I think he would just curl up into a ball. I’d like to give him tools to stand up for himself.


      • Posted by Jill on October 14, 2011 at 7:02 am

        Logan is in Tae Kwon Do as well and I think it’s a great way to learn self-defense. Bullies need to be put in their place, which means someone has to threaten them back. Unfortunately, I don’t think “school administration” inflicted consequences pose a threat. They’ll stop when they feel they’re no longer the one in power. Cue ax kick, round-house kick, PUNCH!

  3. Posted by mike veve on October 14, 2011 at 7:27 am

    can i just say, as an educator and as a parent, that i completely understand where you are coming from in your visceral emotional response while disagreeing with you at the same time?

    there’s a distinct difference between a situation that occurs in a dark alley and one that occurs in a school, where there is a support system purposefully and carefully set up to handle fights between kids. learning the social skills necessary to functioning in a society of rules and laws is a key component of education. i get that there is (naturally) a lot of emotion for you in the bullying event, but this needs to be a society that respects the rules and structures set up to enforce and scaffold the rules, otherwise all you have is “eye for an eye” chaos, and other “old testament” style reprisals. i’m not a person of faith, but i am pretty sure that jesus christ would not go recommending that your son punch another kid back in lieu of going to a teacher and letting an ugly moment become a teaching moment for an entire learning community. it’s an elementary school, not “Oz” on HBO. i can see saying to yell and push back, but i can also see that (and have, many many many times) response exacerbating a bad situation.

    what i think teachers and parents need to never lose sight of is the fact that encouraging students to speak up, self-advocate, and feel safe and supported is so important. too many kids are indoctrinated with the confusing and counter-indicative lesson of “not snitching”. telling kids not to tell, at times, and then asking them to speak up at other times creates a situation in which they literally become paralyzed for the fact that they are not socially able to decide the appropriate response to situations they find themselves in. kids need to be told that the most powerful and useful weapons they can have in this society are the voices that speak up for them, beginning with their own. they should know that a school is a place where bullying is punished in an appropriate and stern manner, and that speaking up is a virtue and a responsibility.


    • I do talk about the difference between bullied in school and when there is no one around to “tell”. I do believe that Jack acted appropriately given this situation. He ran to an adult and told immediately. And I think in a controlled setting like school, that is the right approach. However I would not have been angry or disappointed if Jack had pushed back. However, I am talking about whenJack is alone with a bully and he’s getting beaten. Where there are no rules or procedures in place to follow. I want Jack to fight back. I want him to defend himself.

      I think that people can empathize with the situation but may feel quite differently when it’s their child getting hurt.


      • Posted by Leslie on October 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm

        “I am talking about when Jack is alone with a bully and he’s getting beaten. Where there are no rules or procedures in place to follow.”

        I would venture to add to this: “…or when a teacher or administrator clearly doesn’t care to get involved”, as was the case in Jack’s old school. Not every school has “…a support system purposefully and carefully set up to handle fights between kids.” If administration can’t be bothered to get off their butts to stop bullying, if they think the kids should handle it themselves, then they should be prepared when kids DO handle it themselves, physically. And I would encourage my son to respond physically, as long as he didn’t throw the first punch and acted in self-defense.

        In other words, I’m behind Jenny all the way.

    • Posted by kecia on October 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      That is great until your teacher is tired of you telling..When you are bullied and the teacher doesnt want to be involved or allows the children in the class to laugh and call names then what… My child (because she is overweight) has been the object of jokes name calling and people throwing things at her since middle school. Now in high school the teachers turn a blind eye. Bullying comes in many forms… So Mike Im not sure how she is to respond at this point.


      • Posted by mike veve on October 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

        I wouldn’t have any respect for a school system, administration, or school staff that permits that kind of treatment to go on. That definitely isn’t the case in my school, but I would say that if there is no cessation or censuring of the bullying in your child’s school, I’d take my case to the next tier, be that the superintendent or the school board or the letters page of your local paper. email a congressman, too, because bullying is a hot topic in education right now, and there is a lot of pressure on schools to show they are being proactive against it. those issues need more remediation, however, than just pushing back. blind eyes need corrective vision. threaten to get a lawyer and watch them jump.

  4. Kids are in school to learn lots of things. One very important lesson is how to deal with people who are not easy to deal with (like bullies). As a kid who was bullied I know that kids get picked on because the bully sees them as an easy target.

    While it is really important to teach them how to solve problems in a non-violant way, sometimes bullies just need to know that the kid they chose isn’t one they should pick on again. One good swift kick should say that loud and clear!


  5. Posted by Tina on October 14, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Amen. Again, as probably the only one here who doesn’t have kids, I may not have a right to say anything, but I’m surprised you personally haven’t gone after these kids’ parents. Where the hell are they in all this? Who allows their kids to do this to other kids? I can’t even imagine the rage I would feel if this happened to one of my children and I think telling your child that it’s ok to hit back is fine. Being able to speak up is one thing, but sometimes a swift punch in the nuts will show those kids that they better stop what they’re doing. Who knows? Maybe it’ll keep them from doing it to the other kids who aren’t as empowered to do the same.


  6. Posted by acherry on October 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

    First off, I hope Jack’s shoulder heals quickly and that he knows those bullies are just jealous of him b/c he gets to hang w/ all the girls at lunch!! :) I always feel sorry for bullies b/c they are reacting like that for a reason, whether jealousy or problems at home or lack of self confidence and they need to bring someone down with them to feel powerful. Of course I don’t feel that sorry for them to not fight back! I agree with both comments regarding fighting back is appropriate as well as learning ways to solve problems in a non-violent way. However, as with most situations, I believe there is a time and a place for everything. For instance, in a school hallway, the bully decides to trip you, try and solve in a nonviolent way. But stuck in the locker room w/ 1 or 2 bullies and they throw a punch..I say hell yeah fight back, otherwise you will always be the kid who gets bullied. But there are appropriate ways to fight back too, I concur that martial arts is a fantastic way for kids to learn the right and wrong ways of fighting back, I’m a strong advocate for learning that special art and plan to put both my girls in when they reach age 5. (I love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga). I also believe that having a strong self-confidence in yourself also helps keep bullies away. Having two girls, I fear that the bullying they might receive won’t be physical but alas emotional, so I’m doing my best to instill a good self confidence as well as good defensive and offensive moves! Of course as an adult we run into bullies too, right, and handling them most of the time has to be non-violent especially in work enviornments (or rather passive aggressive violence…’oh, I’m so sorry, I’m so clumsy, I didn’t mean to spill my coffee all over you’)! Great topic of the day Jenny, however sorry it was brought on b/c of Jack’s experience!


  7. Posted by kecia on October 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    wow this is a serious subject and i love the discussion. However i deal with bullying on a different level my daughter has been taunted since middle school and is now in high school. There is nobody around teachers in high school dont care. She does not have the personality to fight back with words… I believe parents need to have the discussion with there kids about words too. As far as fighting Jenny i totally agree with you.


  8. Posted by Stephanie Blakeman on October 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Jenny, I haven’t stopped thinking about you, sweet Jack, and the asshole kids who hurt him! I have also thought about what makes an 7 or 8 year old so angry they do this to another kid!! Why? Where does someone get off on thinking they have the right to hurt another person??
    I have read and reread all the comments and have learned so much. What an awful thing that happened to Jack, but thank you for sharing and helping me have a plan to use with my boys, myself, and with the world! I agree with you, your brother, and many that posted! I found myself more confused, but my eyes are much more open! My heart is broken and so sad for Jack and for all our children! As an educator, where were the adults at recess?? I have wondered this before when I have driven up to school and seen kids playing!! In my day, we had teachers stationed ALL around the playground!! I know this isn’t a solution, but its a start! I believe in a healthy mix of love, logic, and fear!! Fear of what will happen if…!!
    Team Steele is stronger, more resilient, and more loved than any bullies words or actions!!


  9. Posted by liza on October 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    i have mixed feelings. i agree that a child should defend himself against a bully. i believe a child should use words first, actions second. AND i believe a child should do everything he can to remove himself from the situation in the least violent way possible. my son had a disagreement with a friend. the friend started hitting him. he smacked the friend’s arm away and walked off. one physical action in order to get away is defending yourself to me. he did what he needed to do to leave the situation, but continuing to “fight back” would have only created a much longer fight with many more injuries and a lot more drama. i would not support my child “beating the hell out of someone” to defend himself when he had the opportunity to walk away. if he was chased, thrown the ground and continued to receive blows? i would want him to punch or kick his way back to his feet. and still, walk away. lucky for me, my child is a big kid and an exceptional athlete. i don’t anticipate him being bullied. my other kiddo is not big, but he isn’t likely to be a target. he is very good with his words and doesn’t tend to stand out one way or another. (and he has a brother who loves him who happens to be bigger…) of course, my kids are different from jack. the older has little impulse control and would follow his instincts to defend himself as necessary. and the younger gets loud and ticked. so he would not likely stand still and take it if someone pushed him.


    • I see your points, Liza. I think the whole topic is situational. It absolutely depends on the bully, the location, the child being bullied and the circumstances. I also think age and gender play a major role. I absolutely want Jack to use his words and speak out. No doubt about that. But I also want him to defend himself physically if the bully(s) are attacking him. If Jack is yelling “help” and “stop” but the bully keeps going, I want him to fight back. Often one good swing, one good shove is enough to make the bully stand down. I don’t expect Jack to go breaking jaws because he got shoved around. It’s all about reacting appropriately and I believe if you are being attacked (and definitely by more than one person) you have the right to kick ass and take names.


  10. Posted by Christine on October 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    The first time, follow the rules. If there is a second time, it means the rules don’t help, and Jack should rip-snort his way out the best way he can. Then file a protective order against the aggressor – that should get his (and the school’s) attention! There is no excuse for a second time in this arena. Any chance you can casually “stop by” during recess?


    • There is, Christine! I also have a friend on the school board who is going to bring up the teacher:student ratio out there. Three teachers for 100 students doesn’t cut it.


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