Archive for February 2010

In Defense of Teasing – How To Take A Joke & Give As Good As You Get

February 27, 2010

Teasing is a double edged sword- by definition, it can either be playful razzing or harsh, bullying ridicule.  A little needling is an essential social tool, and is part of every healthy relationship.  When abused or overdone,teasing is a malicious form of social cruelty – applied correctly, it serves many positive functions, including: conveying acceptable group standards, managing conflict, and showing affection.

A child’s disposition and sensitivity has as much to do with the interpretation of teasing as the intent of provocateur. Not all jibes are hurtful personal attacks. Kids with a delicate nature can benefit greatly by learning to distinguish between a joke and an insult, and how to deal with both.


  • Don’t Tease A Stranger.  Or anyone you don’t know very well.
  • Avoid Eye Poking.  Never joke about sensitive issues, like their appearance (weight, complexion, teeth, etc), their family, or religion.  And if you accidental touch a nerve, back off and don’t touch it again.
  • Know When To Quit.  One or two playful pokes is plenty.  3 is annoying.  More is harassment.
  • Don’t Hurt Feelings. It seems obvious, but if the receiver seems distressed, they don’t think its funny.  Don’t tease anyone who doesn’t tease back.


  • Consider The Source. If its coming from a loved one or friend, always give them the benefit of the doubt, even if they do push a hot-button.
  • Don’t Let It Get To You. Be Cool. I can guarantee this- if you over react, get angry,or hostile, you will get teased 1,000 times more. If you smile and shrug and play it off as no big deal, you’ll be seen as a good sport.
  • Give Back.  Someone jokes with you,they’ve opened the door. It’s Okay to return the favor, but remember,don’t be insulting or mean. You don’t want to create or escalate a conflict, you want to participate in a game.

Kids are universally teased about certain things. Coaching them how to handle these situations when they arise is easy enough with the use of preparation, role-playing and mental rehearsal.

The keys are to stay calm (no one thinks clearly when they’re upset), and turn the attention back on the other person. Keep it brief. Don’t argue or stoop to insults.  After you’ve scored your point, you’re done (even if the other person isn’t)… just smile, say “whatever” and move on.

Lots of kids don’t possess the verbal agility to parry and thrust.  Don’t stress. Standing silent and maintaining your dignity is a perfectly good answer.

“Amy has a boyfriend, Amy has a boyfriend”
Responses: “You sound jealous.  Are you lonesome?”  “I have lots of friends.  You should try to make some”

“You’re the worst player on the team!”
Responses: “Congratulations.  I didn’t know you were promoted from MVP to head coach”  “Thanks for pointing that out, Captain Obvious”

Hey short-stuff.  How’s the weather down there?”
Responses:  “Good.  Are you getting enough oxygen up there?”  “The weather’s fine but the company could be better”

Remember, there’s a big distinction between joking around and demeaning persecution.

Be Excellent!


Bullying and the Bystander Effect

February 22, 2010

Never A Hero Around When You Need One

There are a huge number of anti-bullying programs being instituted in our schools based on very flawed theories.

Central  to these programs is the magical thinking that clever slogans featured on posters and wrist-bands and entertaining assemblies with plays and puppet shows actually do any good at all.  Another laughable core idea these programs share is the idea that teachers have the ability to play “case investigator” or discern which interactions constitute bullying – and then have inclination to stop everything they’re doing to write a report on each incident.

Another common thread is the idea that peer-abuse can be stopped by ‘deputizing’ witnesses to stand up and intervene. This idea is so defective that only the intellectual elite (or the government) could support it. Here’s why:

Diffusion Of Responsibility or “The Bystander Effect” – One person is likely to assist someone who clearly needs help.  In a group, (3 or more) no one person feels it’s their job to take action (Darley & Latane did the first lab experiments on this in 1968).  In groups, our individual judgment is subsumed; we monitor others for their reaction, and figure that if they deem the situation is serious,some one else will step forward.  If no one takes initiative, that’s enough social proof to justify our inaction.

Schadenfreude –  Defined as “taking pleasure from the misfortune of another”. Yes, its unattractive.  Yes, we’ve all been guilty at some time or another.  A witness to a bullying spectacle has to come to terms with what they’re seeing.  If they see an innocent or helpless person being tormented, then they have to accept that by doing nothing, they’re cowards at least, or even complicate. If they see the victim as somehow ‘deserving’ or ‘asking for’ bad treatment, then their self-concept as a good person is preserved.  Either way, an observer thinks, “better him than me”.

Fear – The intense emotional state brought on by danger.

  • Fear of Embarrassment from saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Fear of Injury- if they come to the target’s defense, they might incur the aggressors wrath for meddling.
  • Fear of Rejection – their peers might turn on them.  Social stigma, like cooties and viruses are contagious.

In the heat of the moment, when a child is being made fun of, threatened or shunned, its wonderful when a brave soul defies inertia and calls a stop to the abuse. But let’s face it – being courageous isn’t easy. Considering the obstacles and risks, its completely understandable why more children don’t come to the rescue of a classmate who’s being ganged up on.

And while a guardian angel may save a peer from a particular incident of abuse, it doesn’t help the targeted child to develop the tactics and techniques to handle or prevent the next incident.
Hoping that a bystander will become a hero isn’t a success strategy for a kid who’s being bullied.  “Hope” is not a strategy.

For school officials make bystander interventions the foundation of their anti-bullying programs is deplorable.

“Never Hit Back”

February 18, 2010

During my tenure as a martial arts instructor, I’ve sat with many intelligent, involved, caring parents who’ve instilled a “never hit” code in their children.   Eventually, after months or years of bullying and torment, when their child’s spirit is all but broken, they’ve sought me out in hopes I could undo the damage. All respect to parents who are trying their best to raise enlightened children in this world-but the true test of any philosophy is how it preforms when the rubber hits the road.

Toddlers often express anger and frustration by lashing out; that’s inappropriate and must be corrected.  As a child grows older and gains a broader base of experiences, being constrained by a “never hit”  rule will teach him some very poor lessons.  Never Hit is usually coupled with “Tell A Grown-Up”.   That’s all well and good, but if running and telling is a kids only recourse to resolving interpersonal problems, we’ve conditioned him to be an informant as well as a victim.

The “never hit” policy creates as many dilemmas as it’s supposed to solve.  It makes a kid (or a grownup for that matter) completely reliant on outside forces to intervene and clear up conflict. It assumes that either reason and kindness can win over and change the behavior of an aggressor, or demands that some “authority” step in and use its power to protect them.

PACIFISM: A philosophy of non-violence, preached by those who rely on other people killing and dying to defend their privilege to hold that philosophy.

A 4 year old who pushes down a playmate and takes his ball isn’t the incarnation of evil.  He’s trying to figure out how the world operates and where he fits in. If aggression works, it’ll be repeated.  The kid who winds up on the floor crying learns things as well.  Mean kids get what they want and bad behavior often goes unpunished.  Maybe they learn that ‘might makes right’, and start to bully kids smaller or weaker than they are.  Or they might start to feel insecure and powerless.  None of that’s good.

Allowing the use of physical force as an option of last resort (coupled with “how-to” training) gives a kid the courage to employ other strategies of conflict resolution  . It also makes those more nuanced strategies more effective; an antagonist can sense that it’s in their best interest to back off.

I’ve noticed, time and time again, that once a kid develops the functional fighting skills, is taught guidelines about when using force is appropriate, and is given the autonomy to make their own choices, they find it easier to avoid confrontations.  They have the confidence to defuse an ugly situation without resorting to violence.

Beware The Crusaders

February 15, 2010

Crusader has a dynamic ring to it.  It speaks of a person of action,with a cause, driven by passion.  Someone who does good.

Everyone has a favorite crusader. Before becoming president, Theodore Roosevelt was a crime-buster. He was police commissioner of New York where he not only fought departmental corruption -he personally patrolled the streets in the middle of the night!

Ghandi was a crusader for the independence a nation.  Using peaceful means such as civil disobedience, he galvanized millions and won liberation for India.

Susan B. Anthony’s committed efforts were pivotal in gaining the right to vote for women.

And then of course there’s Batman.

But there’s a dark side to the crusader game that ranges from  annoying to intrusive to outright unjust.  And upon closer inspection, many of the people bearing the standard of their cause, blowing trumpets and beating drums, are kind of… pathological. Some of these men and women are on a mission “raise awareness,” to save us from ourselves, to restrict our  rights “for their our own good”.They raise the alarm of crisis, build fear, play on emotion, create an emergency,  capitalize on ignorance, and eliminate alternatives, and make big promises.

The insidious problem is that on the surface,their goals seem sensible.  Noble, even. To argue against a moral ideal would be wrong.  So we are inclined to go along with their program, or at least give them a pass.  When the crusaders true motives and agendas are brought to light, a new and disturbing picture arises.

For example: Clean Air and Renewable Energy Crusaders.  Sounds good, right? Bring on the “bio-fuel”! Because the general population gave a shrug of tacit agreement, the government has mandated that the gasoline in your tank be diluted with ethanol. Ethanol is more expensive to bring to market, creates more smog than regular fossil fuel, decreases gas mileage by 30% or more, and is highly corrosive to your engine.  The diversion of grain away from the food market has been the largest contributing factor to the global food shortage.

A big win for the crusaders. A big loss for everyone else.

There are the health crusaders.  (A private business owner should be able to decide if he wants to allow smoking in his bar or not.  And I don’t want to pay a ‘fat tax’ on my fast food.)

The public safety crusaders. (I’m tired of insipid warning labels ruining everything. I say let natural selection remove the idiots who try to iron their clothes while they’re still wearing them)

Animal rights crusaders. (PETA and their pals want to eliminate all dietary meat, leather products, and even liberate your family pet!)

Global Warming crusaders. (Possibly the biggest scam in history. The climate of Earth has fluctuated forever.  Based on faulty / misleading data, and hyperbolic forecasts of doom, this crew is organizing the largest re-distribution of wealth ever.)

Political agenda crusaders. (If you feel strongly about an issue, by all means,get the word out.  But don’t hold a rally on the main street during rush hour and choke traffic for hours.)

Anti-drug crusaders.(How did Prohibition work out? Exactly.  Right now, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other civilized country in the world, largely on drug offenses.  It’s shameful)

Religious crusaders. (Every day in the news, Muslims are setting off bombs that kill and maim scores of innocent civilians.  Most of whom are also Muslim.  The murderers are lauded as heroes by their community)

And in my small corner of the world, there are “anti bully” crusaders.  For the most part,these crusaders fall into two camps: 1)  Politicians & 2) Damaged People.  The politicians are looking to score easy points. Anti-bullying is a popular cause, and there’s a ready made enemy to unite against.  With no opposition, they’re free to talk tough and push for action.

Sometimes, the damaged people have lost a loved one due to bullying (a tormentor takes the next step and actually kills, or their child commits suicide to escape from the cruelty of their peers).  I can’t begin to imagine the depths of their pain, and I can understand why they would need to devote themselves to doing something positive.  Seeking a way to find meaning in personal tragedy and spear-heading legislation intended to prevent another family from suffering so horribly makes sense. (Although I can’t see how it makes any measurable difference).

Often, the damaged crusader was the victim of bullying.  Their traumatic experiences have left deep scars that have never healed.  Inside, they harbor all the fears, the self-doubts, loneliness and rage of the bullied child they were. It comes through in the programs they create, too.  Sadly, being hit by a car doesn’t make you an authority on driving safety. You have to feel pity for these people who’ve never gotten themselves “sorted out”.

What about me? Well, I don’t claim to be the smartest guy in the world.  I haven’t invented some amazing new technique to transform bullies into best friends, or zap them instantly or any other such nonsense. There have been a lot of wise people throughout the ages that have discovered practical ways to decisively stop bullies. What I’ve done is assemble the best, most effective methods, organize the information, and streamline the process.

I am NOT a crusader.

The Caped Crusader

NOW They’re Listening

February 13, 2010

From The Record (Canada)

The mother of a nine-year old boy in Ontario is suing the Waterloo Region Catholic School Board and the Region of Waterloo for failing to protect her son from bullying.

Apparently, her kid has been coming home with bruises, cuts, black eyes, fat lips and pencil stab wounds for TWO YEARS.

The  mother has tried to resolve the problems with the parents of the bullies and written dozens of letters to the principal. The school board, trustees, and superintendents haven’t taken her seriously.  Until now.  Maybe because they’re facing a $25,000 lawsuit .

The region’s anti-bullying program (“Imagine … A School Without Bullying”) doesn’t seem to be very effective.  Imagine that.

“Permission To Defend Yourself”

February 7, 2010

Hmmm, ignoring these kids doesn't seem to be working.....

Anyone who has children (or who has been a child) knows that  kids tease eachother, kids push, kids hit, kids wrestle around.  All perfectly normal, all perfectly natural.  Ordinary  conflicts, including hurt feelings and bruises from rough housing are a vital part of childhood, and present opportunities to learn a range of social skills.  Bullying, on the other hand, is normal, but not healthy.  Behaviors intended  to harm, belittle, ostracize, intimidate, or cause injury need special consideration.

A parent who’s done their best to raise a well mannered, peaceful child often encounters situations where their kid’s kindness is mistaken for weakness.  At that point, a peaceful, polite child becomes the target of his (or her) more aggressive, predatory peers.

Many times, I’ve heard parents confronted by this situation finally say “I give you permission to defend yourself”.  And they think that somehow, this magic green light is going to solve a the problem.  Let me be clear.  It wont.

Can you imagine a parent being proud of telling their child, “if you fall into the ocean, I give you permission to swim.”  Ridiculous, right?  No one should need permission to assert an inherent right. And besides, the time to learn to swim is well before you find yourself in deep water.  The good news is that a parent doesn’t need to be Michael Phelps to teach their kid to tread water.

When it comes to parenting, almost everything is a balancing act and this is no different.   When your kid has the training and the go-ahead  to use force when appropriate, you want to be sure they don’t become the new  uber-bully. The when, why and how of using physical force needs to be discussed before hand, so that when a kid is on the firing line, they aren’t paralyzed by indecision.

“Defending Yourself” does NOT mean waiting till the other guy hits you – no one is going to be very effective after they’ve been pummeled.  If circumstances call for it, and a child does  need to fight, you need to stand behind your child 100%. In today’s environment, the kid who defends himself always gets in as much or more trouble than the kid who started it. “Zero Tolerance” (which equate to zero thinking, zero judgment, zero discretion) policies are becoming the norm.  So if a physical altercation happens on school grounds and your child is suspended, give them 100% support, and encourage them to accept their punishment proudly.  There’s no honor in becoming a willing victim.

Real fights are ugly, messy and dangerous.  They can result in serious injury.  Fighting is a very serious option of last resort- but it needs to be an option.

“Permission to defend yourself”  is a good place to start- when it’s followed by, “here’s how”

Chronic Bullying Changes A Child’s Brain Chemistry!

February 1, 2010

The stress resulting from chronic bullying, teasing, harassment and social cruelty can change a child’s behavior and even damage their brain!

A certain degree of stress is unavoidable in daily life, and can even be beneficial in helping a child develop resiliency and good coping mechanisms.

However, extreme or prolonged stress (like the kind that comes from being bullied) has profoundly  negative effects.

Bullying causes both ‘external’ stress (being assaulted, embarrassed, shunned by peers) and ‘internal’ stress (anxiety, fatigue, etc.).  Each incident is a micro-trauma; each micro-trauma causes the release of powerful hormones into the blood stream.  Respiration, heart rate and blood pressure spike and stay elevated until the body’s ‘calming’ mechanisms can restore balance some time later.

(The sympathetic nervous system switches on the fight of flight response – the parasympathetic nervous system regulates the relaxation response.)

Depending on a child’s age, developmental level and experience, they may respond to extreme stress by:

  • having aggressive or defensive outbursts
  • throwing tantrums
  • crying without reason
  • getting clingy
  • developing headaches, stomach aches or other physical symptoms
  • escaping into sleep / being unable to sleep
  • becoming depressed
  • avoiding social situations / withdrawal
  • twisting/chewing hair, nail biting, thumb sucking
  • eating too much or too little
  • self-mutilation
Scientific researchers have linked excessive stress to weakened immune systems, skin conditions, memory problems, digestive issues and even shrinkage of the hippocampus (Gunner & Barr 1988, Lombroso & Sapolsky 1998).
Stress can either be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long term).  One of the insidious characteristics of bullying is that victims experience both ends of the spectrum.  They are subjected to the ‘instant panic’ each time they are targeted, and they also develop anxiety about the next incident even when no danger is present.
Stress is experienced in 4 stages:
  1. Alarm – shock and startle reaction
  2. Evaluation- trying to understand what’s happening, getting meaning
  3. Searching for Coping Strategies – ways to adapt, deal
  4. Action – putting the plan into motion
A kid who’s been repeatedly bullied develops toxic attitudes and emotions such as: self-pity, guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, anger, helplessness, negativity, alienation and depression.
An adult can help a child deal with the stress of being bullied with the following formula:
  • Help them anticipate the next possible event so they aren’t caught off guard
  • Provide a supportive environment
  • Help them recognize, name and appropriately express their feelings
  • Teach them techniques to calm and comfort themselves
  • Create an action plan, rehearse it, and implement it

Teaching a child how to manage their emotions and providing simple strategies to deal with bullies will improve their health as well as their quality of life.

Avoid the following mistakes:

  • Ignoring / Minimizing the problem (“its just a phase”, “you’re being too sensitive”)
  • Offering Bad Advice/ Reciting Cliches (“just ignore them”, “have a snappy comeback”)
  • Expecting Someone Else Will Fix the Situation (“its the responsibility of the schools, or the police”)