When we think of bullies, we think of Biff from Back to the Future. Bullies have a certain “hard” look (buzz cut or not). They’re big. They push kids around, physically. They drive the big cars or ride the big bikes, right up in your face. They’re not afraid to swear; they don’t care who listens.
All these aspects speak to the classic characteristic of a bully: Exploiting an imbalance in power. Bullies perceive that someone’s “under” themselves, whether physically (they’re smaller), culturally (they’re different, from someplace else), intellectually (they’re supposedly “dumber”), or just younger, less experienced, or new to the game or scene.
For kids, it happens in school or in the neighborhood. Bullies see kids who seem like a good target, all for the reasons above. Bullies gain status this way; other kids see how they act, and they either fear or admire the behavior. Either way, this leads to more bullying, through passive or active validation.
Kids who validate the bully actively carry the insults further. They stand alongside, high-fiving the bully for being a jerk, because they think it makes them look cool by association. Passive validation is just as bad; it’s kids standing by and not saying a word. It gives the impression that nothing’s wrong with the situation.
A misconception is that battling bullies means literally fighting back. It doesn’t. The movies show us that beating bullies up is the way to win. But this just escalates the situation. The real way to win against bullies is to show solidarity. Teach your kids that if they see someone being bullied, they should do one (or all) of three things:
- Speak up. Say this isn’t right.
- Be a leader. Help the person being bullied by guiding them away. (You can simply say “come on, let’s go.”)
- Tell a parent and teacher. Take it up the chain of command—the adults are here to help, but they don’t see everything that goes on. Let them know, and talk to them about who needs help, and why.
Karate, and specifically earning a black belt, helps kids gain the confidence to exercise these skills. In the course of earning a black belt, kids spend years supporting each other in an environment that supports them. Parents are supported by instructors who have the same goal: making kids confident, dependable, outstanding human beings.
Remember this on your course to black belt, and help us stamp out bullying.