I have never been in a physical fight with someone (okay, except my older brothers growing up, but they started it!) It has always been my feeling and practice to avoid a physical fight. My parents growing up taught and showed me that getting into a fight with someone was not acceptable, except when defending yourself. Is that clear, defending yourself? Oh well, fortunately I never had to defend myself, except from name calling, and hey... sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, right?
Well, that isn’t totally true, words can really hurt, but there is something to that old saying. I think the lesson that can be learned is that words can be just words, they can not hurt our bodies physically, so it is not appropriate to react to a tease by hitting the person who teased you. However, that is not the message that many kids gleam from “defend yourself”. In most cases I think this is unintentional. After all, none of us should have to put up with being assaulted without defending ourselves and we certainly want our kids to defend themselves if they are being physically hit by someone else. The danger is in the gray area of “defending yourself.”
I have had many kids after a fight, which started with name calling, say to me: “My Dad told me that if someone ever bothers me, I need to defend myself.” I have even had a parent or two tell me that their kid needs to defend themselves physically if they are teased. This always leaves me shaking my head in disbelief and concerned for that kids future. In life, we will meet and have to deal with rude people and we will receive insults from other people. That is a sad reality of our world. Not everyone is always nice. Is it acceptable as an adult to defend ourselves by assaulting someone who has ridiculed us? Of course as adults we cannot respond to people that we are having problems with by hitting them.
So why would we ever teach our kids this? Parents need to be very careful about how they define defending yourself and the example they set when resolving their conflicts. Kids need to know that it is never okay to hit someone because they called you stupid or made fun of your mamma. The only time it is okay to put your hands on someone is to get their hands off of you, until you can get to help.
If we ever hope to decrease the violence in our schools, culture, and world we must start with ourselves. The next generation needs to be taught that violence is never the answer to our problems. Our messages and the examples that we set for children, must show that there are better options available to resolve our conflicts with other people.
David McCord is a school counselor for Montgomery County Public Schools. His theoretical interest are in solution focused theory and play therapy