Garth George: It's time to bully the bullies back


Too often we read in our newspapers of cases of bullying. The sad fact is that there have always been, and always will be, bullies in our communities and all we can ever do is our best to mitigate the problem.

I know it won't be popular in this milksop, politically correct age, but I have gold-plated advice for those, male and female and particularly children, who are the victims of physical bullying: All bullies are cowards, so the best thing to do is to hit back - fast and hard.

Administer a black eye, a bleeding nose or a dislocated jaw and you can be sure that those who use physical force to try to terrorise others won't do it again - at least not soon.

And when it comes to mental, emotional or cyber bullying, be it via cellphone or one of those dreadful social websites, then the obvious answer is to reply in kind, or, rather, to reply in even stronger and nastier terms than the perpetrator.

Those are perfectly legal actions of self-defence to deal with problems that are really no one else's business but the bullied and the bully.

That's how it would have been in my schooldays way back in antiquity and neither parents nor teachers would have become involved. One set of parents would have said "It serves you right" and patched up the bully; the other would have said "You keep sticking up for yourself" and put a plaster on skinned knuckles.

My parents never became involved in childhood disputes because they knew that while adults who fell out over their children's tiffs could hold bitterness and resentment for years, kids generally made up in a matter of days, if not hours.

A few years ago a British Government adviser on children's play wrote a book in which he claimed that minor playground spats were being blown out of proportion and branded "bullying".

Tim Gill said that youngsters must learn to cope with teasing and name-calling so they are able to handle awkward situations as adults.

He said the extent of bullying was being exaggerated by over-protective parents and teachers, who applied the label to childhood squabbles which were previously assumed to be part of growing up.

An article at the time in Britain's Daily Telegraph noted that police officers had warned that a target-chasing culture in the bullying "industry" was forcing them to make "easy" arrests for offences such as bullying.

In one example, a child in Kent was arrested for throwing a slice of cucumber from a tuna sandwich at a classmate.

But Mr Gill warned in his book against mollycoddling children by describing every-day teasing as bullying.

He claimed it is part of a trend to "bubble-wrap" children, which meant that they did not develop the resilience needed to deal with adult life.

Parents, teachers, police and officialdom were all to blame for over-reacting to risks such as injury, abduction and abuse. "Children are not always nice to each other, but people are not always nice to each other. The world is not like that," Mr Gill said.

"Bullying is where the victimisation is sustained and there is a power imbalance. I do not mean we should allow unbridled cruelty, just that one option is asking, 'Can you sort it out yourself'?

"A few years ago, interactions that would have just been seen as children being children are now treated as something much more sinister and troublesome that we have to stop ...

"We are running the risk of children growing up who are not going to be able to look after themselves in social situations."

I agree with Mr Gill wholeheartedly and I suggest that school principals, teachers, parents, counsellors and police officers take careful note.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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