An Irish psychologist has opened a parental Pandora's box by suggesting the best way to end playground bullying is to "let children fight back."
It's important, claims David Coleman, that the victim who is being "pushed, poked or tripped in the schoolyard" learns to assert themselves. And I wholly agree - yet there are ways to assert yourself that don't involve throwing punches.
Saying that on one hand that it's wrong to resort to aggression and violence to solve your problems, but actually it's perfectly OK in some situations, is a deeply confusing and contradictory message to send children.
Though many of us grew up with the "fight fire with fire" approach to school bullies, we also grew up being struck by our parents because spanking was then considered an appropriate means to discipline kids. Times, thankfully, change.
Should kids be encouraged to solve their own problems and to stand up for themselves? Absolutely.
But in cases where the bullying is serious, prolonged and physical in nature, then adults do need to get involved. We have a joint duty to protect kids.
While I'm not suggesting we create a generation of wimps and "tattlers" who run to the nearest teacher or parent every time someone annoys them, we shouldn't encourage them to stoop to the same level as the bully, either.
Kids must learn to speak firmly (or shout) in a way that tells the other person they should back off, and may also serve to alert others that there is a situation cooking.
This is the approach I'm currently taking with my son because he is a very black-and-white thinker and unfortunately schools - and police - don't care who "started it."
Every time my son retaliates, he gets punished.
Through role play, he is learning problem-solving skills that don't involve fighting back. And hopefully he will grow into a confident and empowered man whose first instinct won't be to deck every guy in a meeting room or parking lot who happens to piss him off.
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