By Dr. Mark Wiley
Bullying is dirty and inexcusable. The cycles of what happens to create a bully, of what happens to make one susceptible to being bullied, and how these interactions lead to substance abuse and suicide later in life, are related to how children are treated and treat others, and how parents raise their children. There’s just no excuse for the bully phenomenon in a humane world.
When kids complain of feeling ill, skip school, express fears about things that may otherwise seem benign, we need to ask questions.
I was bullied in elementary school and I was beaten up a few times.
Thankfully, my mother enrolled me in martial arts classes, which turned the tides and also led to my interests in Asian healing systems and spiritual traditions. By middle school I could defend myself a bit, but more importantly I had developed confidence, which allowed me to be more secure about myself and not care about what bullies would say to me. It made me less of a victim. By high school I had turned all the bullies into either friends of mine (and thus helped change their behaviors), or I stood my ground enough that they left eventually me alone.
But everyone isn’t that fortunate. The harm that bullying does can carry on into adulthood. That’s why it’s an issue for all of us.
The reason I decided to write about bullying today is because of several videos that were shared with me online featuring kids being bullied. Some found the bully roughing up the kid. Others found the so-called victim stand his ground and fight back. Other times it was imposing peer pressure, wherein the group mentality was the bully. A kid may not win every fight, or win every argument, but they can keep their self-esteem intact by standing up for him and others.
I felt disturbed by these videos. I had my own ideas about why kids bully others, and why some kids are more likely to be victims of bullies. But I wanted to get more information so I visited stopbullying.gov and learned more about the phenomenon, from which the next sections are pulled.
Kids Who Are Bullied
Kids who are bullied are at risk for experiencing depression, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These emotional changes become the new normal for kids, and tend to stick with them into adulthood.
Bullied kids also experience decreases in their academic achievement and school participation. Not only that, they tend to skip school, pretend sick, and even drop out of high school. The scariest part is that, according to the site, “a very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.”
Kids Who Bully Others
Kids doing the bullying are at risk for substance abuse in adolescence and adulthood. Then tend to violent behavior, getting into fights and engaging in vandalism. Early sexual activity, dropping out of school, and spousal abuse and criminal convictions as adults are not uncommon among those who bully.
This is all very upsetting, so with this information I called my old friend Coach Kevin Kearns for some feedback and advice.
Q&A with Coach Kevin Kearns
Kevin used to be bullied as a kid, his father died when he was young and he hadn’t a male role model to look up to or lean on. But he got into martial arts and weight lifting and turned his life around. Today, he is one of the Top 10 MMA Fitness Trainers in the country and leads anti-bullying programs in schools all over the country, in person and via Skype. Here is a bit of our conversation.
Why do you think kids are easily bullied?
“When you look at children today we have in effect made them weak and afraid. ‘Helicopter parents’ are everywhere! Little Johnny can’t climb the rope in class because he’ll burn his hands. Actually little Johnny can’t climb the rope anymore because he’s weak and obese.”
Do you think this comes down to parenting?
“I understand as a parent about protecting our children. At the same time we can’t handcuff them in the house and hope nothing ever happens to them. Then when they get into the real world how will they manage their lives? Life can be hard at times for some children harder than others.”
How does your anti-bullying program help kids the most?
“Our Program is designed to not only enable children to deal with bullying but also how to instill and build confidence in our young people to face this and other situations like this during their lives.
“Let’s face facts bullying is not just happening in schools it happens in the workplace as well. Building a foundation today in confidence with these intimating situations I believe is the key to healthy well balanced child, adult and life.”
Kearns’ 4-S Formula to Stop Bullying
Kevin has a simple 4-part “S” formula for schools and parents to follow to help them understand the breadth of bullying and how they can relate with their kids, and instill in kids, the methods to stop bullying.
Speak Up – The biggest challenge facing young people is telling someone else what is going on. Informing someone like a parent or teacher is the first step in ending the situation. Being bullied is a very lonely place and can be isolating. It’s of primary importance that adults know what the kids are going through and what is happening. Besides speaking up to an adult it’s also essential to “speak up” to bully.
Stand Up – At some point in time kids need to stand up to bullies. Bullies prey on fear. They expect a fear response from their victims. When their target turns the tables on the bully by physically, emotionally, and mentally standing up for themselves, it starts a spark to build confidence. Sparks create fire and that is what we want. We want to ignite the flame within them to build their confidence for life. Life lessons learned early carry on to adulthood.
Stay Together – Bullies prey on isolated children and attack them verbally or physically. Everyone in them has something that speaks to them even at young age. That one thing they enjoy doing. For me it was martial arts. For others it could be chess, horseback riding or swimming. The key is to help kids find something they relate to and join up with a group of like-minded people. Safety is in groups and confidence and acceptance is built in groups.
Self Defense – I am a firm believer in self-defense, protecting oneself mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. The physical is the last line of the defense. You can defend yourself without ever throwing a punch. Sometimes all it takes is a look at the bully and situation diffuses. When this is repeated and the bully is mentally and emotionally thrown off balance it can end the trauma for the child. Imagine your child being able to end a confrontation without ever saying a word. At the same time we will give they the tools for basic self-defense physically as well.
These are the basics of anti-bullying: education, communication, team effort, and developing kids’ bodies and minds to stand on their own feet and not be victim. You can learn more about Coach Kevin Kearns’ struggle with being bullied growing up, how he turned his life around, and how his amazing anti-0bully program is taking schools by storm. All of this and more is in his life-changing book, Always Picked Last: A Guide to Finding Your Way in Life and Conquering the Bullies Along the Way.
Praise for Always Picked Last
“Always Picked Last” is a must read for parents and kids alike. Kevin’s unfailing positivity is contagious, and his anti-bullying strategies that lead to feelings of self-worth are something everyone should know. An empowering read that re-defines the meaning of turning something negative into something positive” —Hayley Gripp (Actress, Celebrity Chef and Anti-Bullying Activist)
“After reading Always Picked Last I was eager to let people know about the book and Kevin’s work. Parents, teachers, coaches: get this book and share it with your kids. I train anti-bullying and know the subject well. Nobody does it better than Kevin… nobody!” —Ken Baum, Author and trainer to the world’s best athletes
“Most people are afraid to be who they are, to be open and transparent for fear of ridicule. Not Kevin. He’s not afraid to put himself out there, whether in his training or sharing his story of having been bullied. I really respect that about him. He is where he is today because who he used to be drove him to this point.” —Marcus Davis, UFC Veteran
“Kevin’s book was such an inspiration! I had a great time reading it to my kids. We could all relate to Kevin’s story. My kids now understand they have a choice. They can let bullies bring them down and steal their happiness or they can rise above them and become whatever they want to be! A must read for any age!! Great book to read with family.” —Kitty Mcafferty, Founder R.I.S. E. And Stand
“An inspirational story of a victim turned survivor through hope, faith, and discipline.” —Dr. Kate Roberts, Boston based psychologist and bullying expert
“The message of Always Picked Last is powerful and the narrative is engaging and relatable. Kevin Kearns does an excellent job of bridging the gap between personal reflection and accessible wisdom, making this a worthwhile read in every way.” —Kwill Books