Despite the popularity of a recent celebrity dodgeball game featuring Michelle Obama, many are calling for the banning of the game among children. “We’re asking kids to hit other kids with an object and that’s no longer appropriate. We don’t use kids as human targets anymore,” says Judy LoBianco, former president of The Society of Health and Physical Educators.
“The aggressors are going after kids who are weak and afraid. The last thing we want kids to feel in school is weak and afraid,” she asserts. It fosters and encourages bullying, some claim; it teaches aggressive behavior, argue others.
Certainly, bullying should not be condoned. There should be no patience for behavior that physically harms kids, demeans their inherent dignity, or involves sexual aggression. But many in our increasingly snowflake-filled culture think the answer is to try and eliminate all contexts in which bullying, of any kind, might happen. This is terribly naive.
The human condition—and human society more broadly—make bullying impossible to outlaw. There’s a simple, unfortunate reason: people are quick to judge and quick to feel threatened; they are imperfect, proud, and prone to conflict. In a word, humans are sinful. Thus, humans will always bully. The answer to bullying, then, is not to outlaw every circumstance where bullying happens, but to teach children (and ourselves) how to respond to bullying and develop confidence in one’s self.
My Father Helped Me Learn How to Handle Bullies
I was bullied plenty as a child. I was short, had a funny-sounding last name, and was always one of the best students. Sometimes classmates called me names, ostracized me, and pushed me around. It hurt my feelings plenty. I didn’t understand why I was targeted for this kind of behavior and complained to my father about it.
My father, a Vietnam veteran and Tae Kwon Do instructor, had a surprising, but crucially important response. The wisdom of good fathers is essential to learning how to deal with bullying.
My father was also bullied a lot as a child. Once when he went home crying to his mother, she matter-of-factly told him to punch the next bully so hard he wouldn’t forget it. So my dad did and bloodied the jerk up. After that, the kids left him alone.
Probably against my mother’s wishes, my father urged me to take the same approach. So I did. The next time a classmate started harassing me—calling me names and throwing sticks at me on the playground—I promptly slugged him in the face. He went wailing to my teacher, who made me sit out recess for the rest of the week. But that kid (who later became the star quarterback of our state champion high school football team) never picked a fight with me again.
Of course, physical violence isn’t typically the right response to bullying. A knuckle sandwich is not a just or proportionate response to name-calling. Indeed, many of the ways I was bullied were not inherently physical, but social and verbal. Such incidents made me ashamed, increased my insecurities, and tempted me to try and become invisible.
Again, my father came to the rescue, urging me to ignore the haters and focus on excelling in whatever I was doing. He pushed me to discover my talents, academically and athletically. He knew that self-confidence would give me the resilience to resist and overcome bullying, whatever the form. It worked in spades, as I made many friends and even got in the local papers for my achievements in sports.
Learning How to Deal With Bullying Builds Character
These stories reveal something important about bullying. Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of some jerk’s callous words, text messages, or fists. But if one is capable of enduring and overcoming those verbal or physical attacks, the experiences become powerful reminders that one has been, and can be resilient. We all need stories of overcoming obstacles, including jerk people.
Moreover, sometimes bullying, although a blunt instrument, serves other productive purposes. Many kids develop all manner of inappropriate or problematic habits, such as chewing their nails or picking their noses. As I’m learning as a parent, no matter how many times I tell my kids to get their fingers out of their noses, they don’t listen to me. Something tells me, however, that once they’re in school and kids make fun of them for such behavior, those bad habits will stop quickly. Sometimes only a few well-directed comments from peers will put the arrogant, annoying, know-it-all in his place.
What about the kids prone to bullying? Many seem to think that such behavior is entirely context-driven, as if we can eliminate bullying if we just ban dodgeball or get all kids to feel affirmed and love. But sometimes bullying is more complicated. I know kids from stable, loving families who are aggressive and prone to pushing other kids around.
This, I’d suspect, is because children up into their late teens and early twenties are more susceptible to their senses over their intellects. They are full of urges difficult to control, including aggression, and they need an outlet. Trying to stamp out a fundamental component of their nature—which sometimes manifests itself in bullying—will only make them need psychological counseling. A better answer is to orient those urges towards positive outlets, such as athletics, games, or art.
Bullying Will Always Be With Us
The reality is that bullying will never stop. People’s weaknesses, insecurities, or injured pride will tempt them to find a target to obscure their faults and puff up their sense of self-worth. Indeed, those on the left who are so eager to eliminate bullying do plenty of it themselves.
Liberal media, social justice warriors, and LGBTQ activists bully those who disagree with them or get in the way of their political and social agenda. Reputations are tarnished and careers are ended for those who resist progressivist ideology. Universities intimidate those who stray from certain ideological commitments. Even pop star Taylor Swift now bullies religious conservative “haters.” If liberals can’t practice what they preach about bullying, can it ever be stamped out?
One of my favorite sports in elementary school was dodgeball. Being small is an advantage in that sport, and I was fast enough and had a strong enough arm to beat most kids. Indeed, several times I landed a good hit on one of the school bullies. Man, that felt good.
To eliminate dodgeball, like so many other things in a classic American childhood, just because a few kids might have their feelings hurt, won’t solve the problem. It will only reorient bullying elsewhere, and probably to things far more dangerous than a big red ball. Smartphones are a far more dangerous source of bullying than any kids’ sport.
The answer to bullying—again, apart from the kind that truly threatens a person’s welfare or fundamentally attacks his dignity—isn’t to wipe it out via nanny-state interference. It’s to give kids the tools and confidence to overcome it.