Perfectly Imperfect Parents On Bullying: Is Violence Ever Helpful?

Our partners over at The Chopra Well have a new show called “Perfectly Imperfect Parents.” In it, working moms Mallika Chopra, Dr. Cara Natterson and Dani Modisett get together and discuss the various challenges that face parents today, challenges like bullying. One episode especially caught my “Perfectly Imperfect Parents” prove, smart moms don’t always agree about parenting choices.

On this episode, the moms discuss bullying and how to help your child with this difficult and widespread problem. I complete agree with Dr. Cara Natterson’s approach of helping kids learn to use their words, even also to watch out for signs that your child might be bullying others. But I just can’t get behind comedienne Dana Modisett’s assertion that sometimes you have to encourage violence to stop bullying. Call me crazy, but I don’t feel like increased violence is helpful in any situation.

Modisett shares that her first grade son has been the victim of bullying, even coming home with a bloody lip. The response from Modisett and her husband was to teach their son how to throw a punch, how to respond physically if he was being picked on. She says of her husband, “He thinks that’s the best way to deal with a bully.”

When Mallika asks how Modisett would feel if the school calls and tells her that her son just beat up another child, Modisett says that she would be proud of him for defending himself. Even if the other child hadn’t taken the first swing, if they were just “in his physical space” or “threatening him.” And if it wasn’t self-defense? Well that would never happen. “That would be another universe.”

But I disagree. Instead of arming our kids in any way, why not teach them more constructive ways to handle their problems? For young children, encourage them to talk to teachers and seek out help when bullying starts. Teach our kids to be good friends and to stick up for other kids who might also be victims. And try to give them the independence and self-confidence to stand up to bullies before the fights become physical.

More than anything, I think this idea that our children are always the ones defending themselves and never the aggressors is part of the reason why bullying is such an out-of-control problem, which Dr. Cara Natterson brings up briefly in the video. We want to believe that our children would never do anything wrong. Who is to say that the little boy you taught to punch out at bullies won’t become a bully himself? At what point is it still self defense and not just a child who hits people whenever he’s unhappy with them?

For adults, physical violence is never the right way to handle stress or confrontation. This is not a lesson that will help or empower them later in life. It’s a lesson that could lead to dangerous consequences as children get older if they continue to believe that their fists can solve their problems.

Check the video out and let us know what you think. Would you teach your child to punch back at their bullies?

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  • Almost A Mom

    My parents taught me to never hit someone or start a fight, but that if someone actually assaults me, then I had a right to defend myself. Just because they taught me that doesn’t mean I turned into some raging bully. In fact, in all my life, I’ve never started a fight and I wasn’t a bully.

    I’m pregnant with my first child now, and you better believe that if some other kid is putting their hands on mine, I will tell my kid that they have a right to hit back. There isn’t always a teacher or adult around to “tell.” In the meantime I’m not going to tell my kid that the only way to defend themselves from physical violence is to get beat up and tell on the other kid later.

  • C.J.

    We had an issue where a neighbour kid bullying my youngest daughter. We tried talking to the parents who insisted their child was little and didn’t know any better. She was also tired (apparently all the time), she was having a bad day (again, apparently all the time) and a variety of other excuses. My daughter tried walking away and asking her to stop. Last summer my daughter didn’t even want to go outside and play any more. This child bullies every child she comes in contact with, including her older sister. My older daughter has actually pulled the child off her sister and told her to run. The sister is not allowed to fight back because she is bigger. Now the mother complains because none of the other children want to play with the child. I told my daughter if the child hits her again to push her away. Not hard enough to hurt her but hard enough to make her stop. Not sure if my daughter will. Sometimes trying to talk or walk away just doesn’t work and kids should be able to defend themselves. Luckily my older one always goes out to play when my younger one is out there. At least I know if there is a problem she will get her sister away and bring her in. My younger one is very non-confrontational. My older one is the kid that stand up to bullies, even at school. Unfortunately she can’t really do anything about the neighbour kid because she is three years older than her.The bullying problem is way out of control and from what I see schools don’t really do anything about it. Luckily neither of my kids are bullied at school but I know children who are. Excuses get made and nothing gets done. Kids should absolutely be able to defend themselves. Defending themselves does not make them a bully. If someone is hitting you sometimes there isn’t any other choice but to hit back or it won’t stop. Bullies are usually cowards, if you hit them back they usually stop. It makes no sense to teach children not to defend themselves, they will just keep getting bullied then. As an adult if someone was beating the snot out of you, would you hit back to defend yourself or would you try to use your words while someone is actively assaulting you?

  • Véronique Houde

    The issue with fighting back is that often times, you’re encouraging your child to defend him or herself against someone who might be bigger or stronger, or to defend him or herself against a group (because bullying is rarely an isolated issue between two people at a school. there are most often witnesses, and kids tend to gang up on others). This is dangerous, and the bullied child might end up getting even more hurt than you would want. Since hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, this also leads to retaliation and escalation. When I counsel kids about bullying at my job, I try to go with their strengths: if the kid is shy, it’s not realistic to tell him or her that she should talk back. In that case, I teach the kid how to look “neutrally” at the kid bullying him or her (I ask them to practice in the mirror watching the most boring show on tv – news) for 3 seconds and then turn around and continue what he or she is doing. If the child has a friend in common with the bully, I ask whether it’s possible for the friend to intercede and help resolve the conflict. If the child is whitty, then we might practice a few lines to throw out when they are being bullied that are not hurtful to the other child, and might just extinguish the issue.

    Another thing that I like to work on, especially when I do group presentations at schools, is to talk to the kids about the group effect. I explain to them that most often, the other kids around the bullying incident don’t agree with what is going on, but are afraid of speaking up and getting bullied themselves, and no one ever speaks up to make the situation stop. However, the best way for bullying to not happen is if the kids don’t tolerate it in their surroundings. We practice ways in which people can interject when bullying is happening. This is scientifically the most effective way of stopping bullying.

    Another trick that works is to have a peer system set up at school, where you pair an older “bully” (who has been caught) with a younger kid being bullied. The kids who participate in the program get training on bullying, and then are paired with younger children. The older child has the responsibility of bringing the younger one to class, to spend some time with him or her at lunch time. This often times helps the bullies build self-esteem (because kids bully when they feel like crap about themselves and feel the need to bring others down) and encourage them to feel helpful. It also helps the younger ones feel safer at school, and often times the pairs end up being close. This of course is a program that needs to be lead by a counsellor or a teacher that feels passionate about the program, and so it’s worth discussing in PTA meetings or administration board meetings to see if this might be a good idea for your school.

    Finally, I ALWAYS repeat over and over again to the kids that the bullying won’t go away the first time that you try a trick, and that the tricks that can be used against bullying will start working after maybe 10 times (or 5 times for younger kids – you don’t want to discourage them), so to not give up and call me back after one day and say that the trick didn’t work! I often specify that sometimes you need to try a few things, and not get discouraged. I make a contract with the kid that they will call back regularly if they need help to get more ideas, and to keep at it. I explain the difference between “stooling” (which is reporting something to a teacher that is none of your business solely to get the other kid into trouble) and seeking justice, which is an action that you must do when someone does something harmful. I say this to help them understand how it’s okay to talk to parents.

    I could go on and on…. But perhaps this isn’t the place!!! anyway, here’s a good website to check out: it has loads of tools and tricks that can be used to counter bullying.

  • Gangle

    I don’t really know how I feel about this, on one hand I hate violence. Period. On the other, I would hate to think if any child was cornered they would feel they didn’t have the right to fight back.. Interesting story: When my husband was a kid there was a ‘gang’ of older boys at his school who would single out a kid and beat him up. One day they picked my husband. He fought back, tooth and nail. Ultimately he lost against the older boys, but they never EVER targeted him again. My husband is someone who always backs down from a fight, he will stand up for himself if there is no other option. I don’t know what the moral of the story is… Perhaps making yourself an uncomfortable target?

  • Byron

    I’m a calm and peaceful fellow but I grew up in a less…”soft” country than the US and fighting was commonplace. You know what wasn’t commonplace? Bullying. This American flavor of it where people would like, get tortured all year by this one big, fat, dumb-looking idiot while being helpless to it, getting stuffed in lockers and their head dunked in the toilet and whatever else.

    EVERY kid was tough, every kid could kick your ass if they wanted to where I grew up. Some were bigger than others so they won more fights but every time anyone would try to do something they knew they were taking a risk.

    You know what? The fights, they weren’t something filled with fear or stress. They were fun even at times. They were a way to prove yourself, to stand your ground and show you’re not a pushover. Even if you lost just putting up a fight was commendable.

    All throughout grade-school I had a “rival”, you would call him a bully here but he was just the one who initiated the fights beyond anything. I was never victimized by his actions because I simply won more battles than I lost, including one where I punched his big brother who was 3 years older than me so hard he cried and defecated on himself, oh boy, that was a proud victory! I got called to the principal’s office and once they realized I was a third grader and he a sixth grader they punished HIM for picking on someone half his size! Talk about a double whammy. :D

    As you can see, I am not traumatized by any of these things, here people go throughout their entire life being victims, they go to therapists saying “Billy used to do this and that to me so now I have hookers burn me with cigarettes while I masturbate” and all kinds of sick stuff. When I’m thinking back on these times they were a “boys will be boys” kind of thing, fun childhood adventures and memories and stuff.

    The last fight I ever got in was in the first year of middle-school, people eventually grew out of that mentality. It sounds incredibly odd to me hearing about all these high-school students acting up like little kids and bullying people. I guess the ease with which they got away with it due to others not fighting back made them enjoy the role of the bully so they never grew out of it.

    I think parental fear of what will happen if the fight goes “wrong” is brewing a batch of softies, softies are fine too in adult life but…kids need to be tough. At least that’s my view.

    • Véronique Houde

      I’m sorry, but I’ll have to politely disagree with what you’re writing. To just assume that because you’re a boy, you need to be violent is incredibly offensive to me, and I want to remind you that, just because your experience was pleasurable as a kid, because as you said, you were able to beat up guys that were bigger than you, doesn’t mean that all the other boys felt the same way. If there isn’t room for those boys who perhaps are not as interested in fighting to say and act like they aren’t interested, you’d probably never know it. To say that people develop mental disorders because they didn’t defend themselves physically as kids is absolutely ignorant. Mental illness isn’t culturally specific, it touches every single culture on this planet. The difference is that, in some cultures, it is taboo to talk about or even acknowledge the existence of mental disorders.

      I sincerely hope that you never have a son that is completely disinterested in violence and probably doesn’t have the physical makeup to be able to beat someone up… Because if you push him to defend himself, there’s a chance that your son (or daughter) will only get severely hurt, which isn’t much better. Please, do your research before stating things like this again.

      I have spoken to WAAAAAAAY too many kids that are bullied to ever be able to agree with what you have written (on a full-time schedule, I would probably get at least 5 calls a day personally that had to do with bullying).

    • Byron

      Umm, I think you misunderstand. “Tough” and “violent” are two different things. “Tough” is having an air of respectfulness amongst your peers, that you are not “weak”. Being violent is to actively seek out fights, to actively challenge others, it is something I do not favor and something that I see as wasteful. I didn’t get in many fights simply because I was NOT violent, I was silly and fun-loving and I’d share my toys with everyone. I just would also stand my ground if need-be. I think your occupation somewhat dehumanizes fighting. It is a very natural thing, it’s a form of communication primal and true. It may be destructive if completely left unchecked but that is not what I described.

      One caveat about the fights, something I remember to this day; I always would try to not actually cause serious harm. No going for the eyes, no teeth, no genitals. I would actually be actively concerned about the welfare of whomever I fought, while the fight was ongoing, even if I was losing! I really don’t think that’s something that a “violent” individual would do and I most definitely don’t identify as one. I felt compassion for them, I just valued my self-worth more.

      As for the mental disorder thing, a life of being a victim, of being weak which causes low self-esteem and feeling scared all day in school, it affects a person. I’m not sure how ignorant that is but it makes sense to me.

      As for your second post, ostracizing and isolation and that stuff, that’s not so bad. I was into video games and Japanese animation (back when it wasn’t cool and mainstream to like these things) in high-school so most of my friends were older people or students who went to a different schools. I didn’t really associate much with most of my classmates. It was alright, it was mainly dull, I did not need to use my fists because I did not give a damn about those people, I kept to myself and my interests when in the same environment as them, practiced my Japanese writing or red a book or played something on my gameboy. It was a good time. :)

      I seriously don’t think of kids being mean or poking fun or being jerks as “emotional abuse”. I had many rude or belittling comments made towards me by random people who didn’t matter to me at all and…you know what…comments of people who don’t matter are even less important to you than the people are! No, emotional abuse is being screamed at by an insane mother at 3 in the morning cause you didn’t put the toilet seat down. Kids in school have so very little power over anyone that their words don’t garner nearly as much oomph behind them as ones that constitute any kind of abuse. At best it’s “rudeness” and if a child is being victimized by rudeness then the child is overly soft.

      Lastly, I shall apologize for my overly gendered and possibly old-world (I am from Europe originally after all) wordings but the saying I grew up on pretty much was “you don’t swipe at girls unless it’s with a rose” (appropriation of the Greek saying) and…yeah, girls wouldn’t really be a part of that whole fighting thing and since this topic was about the violent flavor of bullying I neglected to address the other kinds.

    • Véronique Houde

      I think that there is a lot that you don’t understand about bullying and you should probably get more informed before taking a stand like this again. Let me clarify a few things for you: right now you are thinking of children’s words with an adult perspective. But children aren’t adults and don’t have the ability to understand why other kids bully them. The ostracizing, name-calling and harassment can actually be a lot WORST for children than it is for adults since left unwatched, children don’t understand limits and don’t understand the consequences of their actions. A lot of the stuff that is done between children could actually be prosecuted in courts between adults. It is considered a form of abuse, and it can cause HUGE consequences for kids. It’s not because the kids are “weak”. In a kid’s world, kids have as much power as our peers have in our world.

      Let’s factor in cyberbullying, which can be HUGELY detrimental, and we get into a whole other realm of harassment and abuse.

      Secondly: i have many friends, girls and boys, that do MMA and BJJ, so I do in fact understand quite well the difference between violence and fighting. But children in a playground that are fighting because they want to hurt each other are being violent, no ifs ands or buts. You say that you never wanted to cause harm, yet you did flaunt that you beat up an older kid so bad that he shit himself? That makes no sense, Byron, I’m sorry.

      When talking about gender-specific bullying, i’m not talking about guys beating on girls, i’m talking about girls bullying other boys, bullying other girls, guys bullying girls, etc.

      Finally, my boyfriend is European too. Your perspective, I’m sorry, can’t be excused by having a european mentality. Bullying exists there just as much as here.

    • Véronique Houde
    • Rachel Sea

      Kids understand bullying better than you think. All kids know that bullies have power and the bullied don’t. Physicality is a form of communication among all humans, be it hugs or punches, and nothing says, “I will not stand for being hurt,” like a willingness to defend oneself physically.

    • Rachelle

      Thanks. I’ll try not to take it personally that I couldn’t fight back and defend myself. I tried when I was younger. It didn’t work. It actually got worse.

    • Rachel Sea

      I should have been more specific, the willingness does have to be backed up with know-how. The kids who beat the hell out of me when I was little knew more about fighting than I did, and my flailing attempts at defense were no match for them. When I did get in a lucky shot, I got a reprieve, but it was only ever luck, and they knew it, so the bullying continued. If I could have landed a punch even half the time, I’d have been left mostly alone.

    • Byron

      I was conveying my 13-year-old-self’s perspective, not my adult one. This is what I thought back at those times! I don’t understand why these kids now thing any different but maybe even by age 13 if you’re conditioned to feel like a victim to others’ affronts and you have such low self esteem as a result, it may explain it.

      Adults are prosecuted because adults should know better than to act like that, kids will be kids so we have a grander degree of tolerance for their misbehaving.

      Ok, again you try to make me look bad for having positive memories of events which contained violence in some aspect, simply because I won despite having never initiated the fight. I think there’s a distinction between crapping your pants and chipping a tooth or breaking a finger or damaging an eye. One is permanently harmful, the other is mainly just very embarrassing. The way you think back on those fights, they’re like battles in a war. You don’t think on war saying “millions died, hell yeah!” when you proudly proclaim your victory against a much stronger force. Similarly, when I flaunt my victory against literally a kid twice my size, I mainly rejoice in the fact that I managed to survive it, I don’t take sadistic glee in it but rather I celebrate it as underdogs would in this scenario, I’m remembering how good it felt, how much “school cred” that earned my 8-year-old self and whatnot.

      As I said, the initiators of the conflict in the playground, those do wanna hurt people, sure. I was simply explaining that the one who stands up for himself, his sister, his best friend, THEY, they are not violent. They’re just strong enough to stand firm and fight back.

    • Véronique Houde

      ok fine tough guy. you made your point. but you’re definitely not speaking for the masses.

    • Byron

      Nope, i never claimed to speak for the masses in the first place though so that’s fine. And hold the irony please. Why the “tough guy”? We may disagree but there’s no reason for negativity.

    • Véronique Houde

      you called yourself a tough guy yourself, no?

    • Byron

      Not directly. I don’t really consider myself one either. I don’t work out, I am not particularly physical and stuff. (and yes, not violent either!)

      I said I was tough as a kid. I grew out of needing to be tough around age 14. It’s pretty much how most people were around my time. Nobody ever had any reason to fight, people moved on to more creative endeavors and stuff. Mine were card games and Japanese culture stuff! :D

    • Véronique Houde

      “I’m not saying I was tough, but I’m saying I was tough as a kid”

    • Véronique Houde

      Oh. And I find that your view on bullying is very gender-specific. Boys aren’t the only ones that bully, and physical violence is actually the least frequent type of bullying. Most of the time, we’re talking about emotional abuse, ostracizing, isolation. Do you think that boys AND girls should defend themselves with their fists in these situations?

  • Paul White

    From my own experience, it sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. But I wouldn’t take back any case of fighting back against a bully, even when I lost the fight. Sometimes violence really does work. It isn’t *perfect* but we’re not in a perfect world.

  • Rachelle

    I was severely bullied as a teen. I tried physically fighting back, I wasn’t strong enough. I only got hurt, and the bullying intensified because they had a new reason to laugh at me. It’s not always the answer. Especially not when you weigh 100 pounds when soaking wet and the idea of throwing a punch makes you shake like a 7.0 earthquake. Just sayin.

  • Rachel Sea

    “Ignore them” and “use your words” were the worst advice I was ever given when I was little. That advice is why I got the snot beat out of me on a semi-regular basis. If I had known then what I know now, that bullies only respond to strength, I would have known that one good punch to the ringleader’s nose can end serious bullying for good.