A 40-second video of a bullied kid fighting back has become the talk of the internet. It struck a chord with parents who were feeling helpless about their own children being bullied. But, should a child ever be taught that it's okay to fight back?
Watching your child be hurt is excruciating. While schools are trying to crack down on bullying, they can't be everywhere, and see everything. Bullied kids often feel like they're up against a wall with nowhere to turn. So what are they supposed to do?
At the Appalachian Karate Academy, kids get a lesson in backing down a bully. Larry Bullard teaches his kids to draw the line, and if they must, fight back.
"You can kick them, or you can block, or you can elbow them,” Bullard told his students. “Or you can block, and then you can punch them. But we don't do that first-- you do that as a last resort. Parents would rather their kids come home the victor than the victim."
On YouTube, a video of a 15-year-old Australian boy reaching his bullying breaking point has spawned an international debate about how far kids should go to defend themselves. After turning the other cheek, the boy snapped.
"He wasn't just pushed, he was actually hit!” Bullard said of the video. “And I was rooting for the Australian guy whenever he slammed the kid down."
Donald Kell, a father of three boys, had the same reaction. He says over time, he’s changed his approach to bullying with his oldest son.
"I always taught him to never hit back, to always go tell a teacher and let the teacher take care of it, and just to never do anything about it,” said Kell. “And as he got older, I just started noticing he was a little timid."
So with his middle son Jonathan, now 12, Kell changed tactics. He says he told Jonathan, “First, to always tell the kid, ‘stop,’ and make sure he hears you, and makes sure he understands."
"If he continues to pick on you, the second step is to go find a teacher, or an adult," Kell says.
If the kid won’t stop? Kell says it’s time for step three. "You hit him,” he says. “And you hit him hard. You hit him as hard as you can."
In third grade, that day finally came for 12-year-old Jon Kell.
"He comes up and keeps slugging me in the arm,” Jon remembered. “I went, like the first time, I went "okay that's enough."
Jon says he warned the boy to stop and told the teacher.
"And the next time he slugged me,” Jon said, “I punched him right in the nose. Both feet came off the ground and he landed flat on his back."
But fighting back can backfire. Child psychologist Nancy McGarrah says bullying has become more violent and far-reaching, so telling a child to fight a bully could place him in serious danger.
"The worst thing a parent could probably say is either, ‘You go deal with it. You teach that bully a lesson!’ or, on the opposite extreme, ‘Don't even worry about that. You shouldn't even worry about that, that's nothing,’” said McGarrah.
For many kids, especially middle school and teen girls, the bully isn't some thug just waiting out here on the playground. He or she online waiting for you to log in. Welcome to the world of cyber bullying. The weapon of choice here is words that cut deep.
"They will call them names, they'll talk about what they've done sexually, which could be totally fabricated,” said McGarrah.
Yet, fighting mean with mean may just turn up the heat.
"If you go back and you say, ‘you think I'm bad, let me tell you about what she did with this guy here,’ it's not ending it, it's going to make it worse,” McGarrah explained, adding that instead, it’s time to get an adult involved.
So what can parents do?
"I think all parents need to find out what their schools do about bullying-- way before there's a problem," McGarrah advised.
In Jonathan Kell's case, the principal called, and his dad backed him up. Now, he’s in 7th grade, and there’s never been another problem.
Back at the karate academy, Bullard teaches his kids that if push comes to shove, sometimes you just have to push back.
“I would rather people be a victor than a victim,” Bullard said.
Every school system has rules about bullying, and in most, if students fight, both are punished. So, even a bullied student could face a suspension. The bottom line for parents: if your child hits another child, it doesn't matter why-- they're breaking the rules.