Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tooch offers advice for those afflicted by playground miscreants

Last week, the mother of one of my wife's patients mentioned that her son is being bullied by a gang of kids at school. She asked my wife for advice.

My wife was at a bit of a loss. She's not unfamiliar with the dilemma of bullying, she's just never really come up with a solution. So she made some helpful noises, and then consulted her on-call specialist in you-don't-have-to-be-bigger-just-meaner -- that is, she called me.

So here's a brief rundown of the advice I gave her to pass on to patients and their families, based on my own experiences in those Lord-of-the-Flies emporiums we call public schools (government schools for you Brits).

Bullies generally run in packs. Sometimes there's just one, but it's usually some sadistic asshole and his favor-currying henchmen. You can't take on the whole pack, and it's usually the fact of that pack that's the most intimidating -- a mass of howling, evil cannibals thirsting for your humiliation.

But you don't have to take on the pack, and while you do have to fight, you don't have to win.

Look for the ringleader. He (I'm assuming "he" for ease of pronouns -- make adjustments as necessary) is often prematurely tall and filled out, not-so-bright, and a cruel son of a bitch. He participates in the bullying, but really specializes in egging on the other kids.

He's the one that matters.

If you can do some damage to the ringleader, you can end the bullying -- or at least shift it off to some other hapless victim. The next time the pack comes after you, don't worry about the minions. Get close to the ringleader, and then go for the softest, most vulnerable spot you can reach.

Remember, "rules" are for boxing matches. They have no place in fights. So if you don't have any faith that your punch has enough oomf to make an impact, go for the bastard's throat with a pencil, stab him in the solar plexus with a ruler, or swing a textbook at his jaw (the nuts make a more difficult target than advertised).

The idea is not to win; it's to inflict pain.

When I was in the fifth grade, one of the class bullies decided that it was my turn to play target and came at me with two of his buddies. It was winter in New York, so they grabbed my wool cap planning to play toss in a circle while I chased them helplessly around and around, providing great merriment for all, except your truly.

I didn't play that game.

Instead, I charged the ringleader and proceeded to punch him in the face until we were pulled apart. He got in some licks too -- I got a chipped tooth for my troubles. But his mouth was swollen and purple for two weeks after that.

And I was never targeted again.

You see, bullying is only fun if the target doesn't retaliate. If the bully ends up with a split lip or a broken nose, it loses its entertainment value.

Hey, you're getting pounded anyway. You might as well get in some licks of your own.

Yes, I know that the disciplinary and legal environment has changed since I was a kid and passive submission to the worst abuse is now required in most schools. Fuck that. So maybe the cops get called on a juvenile fighting complaint. Oh well. Even if the authorities want to be completely ridiculous, the record can usually be expunged before it matters.

And that's as good an excuse as any to get out of that tax-funded holding pen and get a real education someplace else.

That's better than life as a punching bag.


Blogger Socialism Sucks said...

Superb advice. I went to a government school run by nuns where they were full of this 'turn the other cheek' nonsense.

As I got older I saw that most teachers, being inadequates themselves, were as scared of the bullies as the other kids were, and went along with it.

I teach my kids that nobody has a right to make them miserable or push them around, and they should aim to do as much damage as they can with the heaviest possible object they can find at the time.

Of course government teachers discourage anything like this just the same way government in general discourages any notion of self defense or self reliance, as people who rely on themselves are a major threat to government power.

April 22, 2009 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Illryion said...

perhaps a better idea is to enroll your child in a martial art that teaches them the abilities to take total control of the situation, without the necessity of causing serious permanent harm...leaving that as a final option of course...

other than a child who dealt with that shit and didn't put up with it forever, I agree completely.

April 22, 2009 8:17 PM  
Anonymous MacK said...

I'm with you 100% on the take a stand early by physical force. You will never see a kid stopped being picked on because he coward in a corner.

My father told me that a stick makes a great equalizer. I was a small kid so it did not take long to find a bully in my path. I used my dads advice, and did not stop beating him with that stick till the teacher pulled me off. After that I did not get picked on, because I was a dirty fighter LOL.

April 23, 2009 5:42 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

I agree about the usefulness of studying martial arts. But that has to be done before the fact, given the time it takes to learn useful skills. If a kid is being bullied now, the response has to come now too.

April 23, 2009 7:17 AM  
Blogger AzraelsJudgement said...

I wish I got that advice when I was a kid. Eventually I just became friends with the biggest kids in the school and that solved the problem, but that took many long years of taking crap.

If I have kids they will be taught right.

April 23, 2009 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I was no bully, but I was extra-tall from an early age. In my experience, it was mostly the *petite* girls who were meaner than hell, although they definitely ran in packs. Our family moved around a lot, so we were usually the new kids on the block.

In some of the junior highs I attended, I'd get ganged up on in the bathrooms by the little nasty bitches. Or I'd get ganged up on in the PE locker rooms (especially when we were herded inside in case of bad weather).

I don't remember my parents saying much of anything about the bullying I received, but even though I sometimes fought back, and even though I was a foot taller than some of the bitches, there were usually *lots* more of them than there were of me.

Fortunately, once I got to high school, I was rarely anyone's target.

April 23, 2009 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I wouldn't assume that bullies are always bigger. Some of the runts can be pretty mean and nasty too; and some of us big 'uns can be pretty intimidated by the idea of a smash-face fight.

April 25, 2009 4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, one more comment. Several women of my acquaintance have told me that one reason they won't date shorter men anymore is that in their experience, some of these shorter guys were worse control freaks (bullies) than the taller men, whom the women tended to prefer anyway.

April 25, 2009 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tooch, This is lame. You wish you'd done something like this when you were a little geek but didn't have the balls, and now it's easy to sound like you have them when no one is around to actually make you do it. A pencil to the throat is grounds for expulsion and a criminal record.

The right answer is that responding to violence with violence is the cowards way out. Courage and indifference in the face of bullying may not always work to stop the bullying, but it will always build character and confidence in the practitioner. In time, a bully always moves on, but the strength that comes from withstanding the temptation to run or to strike lasts a lifetime.

As a supposed opponent of government bullying, you should know this, but apparently appearing tough is still more important to you.

April 27, 2009 6:08 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Gee, Anonymous. Accusing me of a lack of balls and of "appearing tough" is so persuasive coming from somebody refusing to use his/her real name.

And by the way, your advice to be a doormat is idiotic.

April 27, 2009 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the first "Anonymous," and BTW I agree completely with teaching a bullied kid to fight back.

April 29, 2009 4:28 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Thanks, first Anonymous. I didn't mean to malign all anonymity. ;)

April 29, 2009 5:16 PM  
Blogger braney said...

Hey Tooch, I'm the formerly anonymous "doormat". I stand by my comment that you're a paper lion. Giving children advice to take up arms against their aggressors is irresponsible and easy to say from your relative safety. I wouldn't blame a child for fighting back, but standing up to an aggressor by refusing to fight doesn't mean one is a doormat, it means one has standards that one sticks with regardless of how others behave. I'd think you'd respect that.

April 30, 2009 1:29 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Well, Braney, formerly known as Anonymous #2, while I commend you for establishing an identity of sorts, I still think you've chosen an odd and confrontational way to advocate for principled pacifism.

That's what I'm getting glimpses of through the attacks on my character, right? You're a pacifist who likes to ... provoke people?

Anyway, I'm not sure what you're basing the "paper lion" charge on (assuming you even care about having a foundation for your charges). I've already described a school-years experience when I practiced what I'm preaching now. Not that I was following some philosophically conceived will to power, but it worked as I hoped.

Maybe I'm lying, of course. Am I? Damned if you know.

For what it's worth, I'm passing on what I think works to my own son.

You can teach your kids whatever you please. May you find the satisfaction with your approach that I have found with mine.

April 30, 2009 8:43 PM  

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