Bullying is a hot topic nowadays, but bullying has been around for a long time. The methods may have changed a bit — from threatening to take someone’s lunch money to sabotaging someone’s social media profile — but it still exists. In fact, a 2019 study from the National Center of Education Statistics shared that one out of every five students reports being bullied. And of those students, 13 percent were made fun of, called names or insulted; 13 percent were the subject of rumors; and 5 percent were pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on. In addition, data collected in 2019 from a nationally representative sample of 4,972 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 showed that percentages of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying have more than doubled (18 percent to 37 percent) in the last decade.
Unfortunately, no matter what we try to do to protect them or prepare them, kids of all ages are susceptible to bullying, whether they are the instigators or the recipients … or both. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to start preventing bullying behaviors by taking all smartphones away from children. And I’d also love to put my own kids in some kind of protective bubble. But since both of those are highly unlikely to occur, the least we can do as responsible parents is talk to our children about bullying and prepare them to avoid it, escape it and even defend themselves against it. (Weird how those are exactly the same three steps we teach in concealed carry/home-defense classes … but these concepts can work just as effectively in this case.)
If possible, it would be great to just avoid bullying in the first place. For instance, I tell my own kiddos that if there are certain students or groups that have been known to pick on others, those would be the ones to steer away from or to get distance from whenever possible. Of course, we don’t want kids wasting away their days trying to avoid uncomfortable encounters at all costs. But if they can use a different hallway, sit in a different seat or even have a buddy with them to change the dynamics of the situation, they may be able to prevent some confrontations with bullies. This avoidance also involves using good situational awareness — being observant of surroundings and circumstances — which is a very useful skill for more than just bypassing bullying.
On the flip side, children — especially those who may be prone to picking on their peers — need to learn to treat others with respect. This includes more than just teaching youngsters not to hit, shove or tease others. Kids should learn that being judgmental and making hurtful jokes also constitute bullying. Just remember that all kids can be taught the importance of not spreading rumors, keeping away from cyberbullying, reporting bullying behaviors, ignoring mean remarks and refusing to actively add to bullying in any way.
Sometimes bullies and their negative ways are impossible to avoid completely. In this case, kids can still escape conflict by simply walking away — literally and/or figuratively. How? Shut off the phone. Delete the app. Stop interacting. Stop reacting. Or just turn and go in another direction.
Additionally, kids who find themselves facing a potential conflict with a bully may be able to successfully utilize skills from threat de-escalation, such as remaining calm, patient and neutral. This can be difficult for a child, but if he or she understands that a lack of response and/or the appearance of self-assurance can remove the potency of a bully’s attack, he or she may be willing to give it a try. Be sure to work with your children on developing some strategies and skills that make them feel the most comfortable and confident. Rehearse specific words, phrases and actions that they can use in response to bullying. And identify safe places and safe people to go to for help.
Defending Against Bullies
I certainly don’t want my children to confront a bully on their own or subject themselves to conflict and confrontation. But I do want them to build assertiveness and self-esteem. And with this, they know that if someone attacks them, whether with words or with fists, they have every right to defend themselves. Just keep in mind that defense doesn’t automatically mean getting in a knock-down, drag-out fight with a bully because he or she won’t leave you alone. Defense from a bully could mean firmly and calmly asking him or her to stop. It could mean shouting, “No! Get away from me!” It could mean running for help. It could mean reporting him or her to authorities or seeking out a trusted person for assistance or intervention. And as a last resort, it could mean kicking, punching or hitting the bully in order to protect themselves and get to safety.
Undoubtedly, we all have a role to play to keep children safe from bullying. And it’s just as important to empower kids to speak out against bullies as it is for them to speak up for themselves and for others.
About Beth Alcazar
Beth Alcazar, author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals and associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, has enjoyed nearly two decades of working and teaching in the firearms industry. Beth is passionate about safe and responsible firearms use and enthusiastic about teaching others. She is certified as an instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.