Helicopters and Snowplows

I’m often struck by the stark differences between life here in the burbs of NorCal and my childhood back in Montana. We live in a day and age in which we’re able to invest so much into raising our children. We are fortunate to get to participate so much in our children’s lives – to volunteer in the classroom, to watch them play sports, or to simply walk them home from school. I can’t help but ponder, however, if too much parenting may be detrimental to our children’s development.

I have vivid memories of biking to school with my friend, Steve. As fifth/sixth graders, we covered the entire two miles completely unsupervised. On summer break, my siblings and I left the house after breakfast with the admonishment, “be home before dark,” and spent our days out and about with friends, riding bikes & horses, shooting tin cans with b.b. guns, exploring “the woods,” or abandoned lumber mill, with nary a parent in sight. We crashed our bikes, fell off the horse, and got into arguments & fights. Occasionally, we came home with cuts, scrapes, bumps & bruises, and hurt feelings.

Growing up this way taught us to be independent, to think for ourselves, and to be proactive. We learned that we weren’t immortal, but that our wounds would heal. We also learned that our feelings were temporary. We could stomp off in anger, but be back playing the next day. We learned how to settle disagreements without a referee, to compromise, to apologize, and how to forgive – not because we were told to, but as a matter of course.

Fast forward to the here and now. Very rarely do I see children walking or bike riding, to/from school, or playing at the park unsupervised. At the park, the parents are ever-vigilant. They warn their children of imminent danger with a “be careful,” when the child tries to climb the rubberized, sanitized, age-appropriate play structure, and intercede like a referee anytime there is an interaction with another that isn’t completely joyous and cooperative. Indeed, it is becoming so rare for children to be unsupervised, that people are calling the police, and families are being reported to C.P.S., simply because their children went to the neighborhood park alone!

As parents and teachers, we play a vital part in our children’s development, however the largest part of learning comes not from being told or shown, but from the experience of doing. We can give our children information, tell them right from wrong, and explain cause and effect. We can teach by the example we set, and we can offer counsel when needed. We must also allow them the opportunity to do things on their own up to, and including, failing. We must restrict our natural desire to protect our children to when it is absolutely necessary. They need to fall down, make mistakes, feel the sting of failure, and savor the pride in getting it right.

See you on the mat.

Enough with Bullying

Those of us who teach martial arts recognize the transformative nature of our chosen craft. We have experienced first-hand in our own lives, as well as those of our students just how powerful life on the mat can be. Through training, we identify our weaknesses, as well as our strengths, and strive for improvement on all counts, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It turns out we’ve been promoting the growth mindset (Dweck, 2007) for decades. We need to “lead by example,” and grow some more – it is time for the anti-bullying rhetoric to be shelved, and the bully hysteria to end.

As I pointed out in previous posts, the current definition of bullying has become too broad. By lowering the threshold of what constitutes bullying the lines between pathological and normal have been blurred. This lowered threshold diminishes or trivializes the severity of any actual pathology and the suffering of those targeted. Simultaneously, it demonizes children for behaviors typical for their cognitive development, while turning others into victims. As martial artists, educators, and parents, we must push back from this inaccuracy for the well-being of our students and children.

The concepts of the bully, the victim/targetand bystander (B, V & B) reinforce dichotomous, or black-and-white thinking. This oversimplification is convenient, but forces children into preconceived roles. Such labeling creates what psychologist Carol Dweck, (2007) calls a fixed mindset as opposed to a growth mindset, and precludes the many other very real, and more-than-likely, possibilities.

Given the age of our junior martial art students (4 – 15) most of the behaviors currently listed as bullying are, more often than not, unintentional – the result of the social ineptitude, lacking impulse control, and cognitive ability common at these ages. When adults view such common childhood behaviors as bullying, we are projecting an adult level of understanding and intent that simply isn’t there for children.

Likewise, the “Bystander” concept is problematic. A person in this “role” is taught to act, thus inaction becomes tacit support of the offense. It is unreasonable to expect a child with cognitive abilities similar to those of the purported “bully” to not only distinguish between typical behavior and pathological, but then to take action. While we want to teach children about empathy and compassion, it simply isn’t age-appropriate to saddle them with such responsibility.

The current B, V & B model is contradictory to our message. The martial arts teach us to recognize our individual agency, and pigeonholing children into these roles does the exact opposite; it reinforces a fixed mindset. It’s time for a better paradigm.

How the martial arts should lead the way.

As educators, we should be focusing on the behaviors rather than the roles.

  • We must foster a greater understanding of the numerous phenomena currently lumped under the bullying title, and help our students recognize that teasing, joking around, rough-housing and peer aggression are normal aspects to childhood development; we all must learn to distinguish from the pathological.
  • Just as with sparring, we can teach appropriate responses to each phenomena. Being prepared to respond in a cool, calm manner as opposed to reacting in a hot, emotional one is key to de-escalation.
  • We should be helping our students become more courteous and respectful, and to develop better self control, for over time, these are the traits that eradicate so-called bullying behavior.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we must teach our students they are not victims to other’s words, nor their own often volatile emotional state. They need to learn they are not fragile, but anti-fragile. (Taleb, 2012) We need to reinforce the admonishment,

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

See you on the mat.


  1. Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books
  2. Porter, S. (2013). Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House
  3. Taleb, N. (2012). Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. New York, NY: Random House, c2012.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

Who remembers the kids on the backs of milk cartons? If you grew up in the 70’s & 80’s you surely pondered those poor kids’ fates as you poured your umpteenth bowl of Cap’n Crunch®.  These images were part of the missing children campaign, which quickly gained the nation’s attention in the early 80’s, transforming America’s perception of reality. Our children were in danger – Stranger Danger, and something had to be done.

The Birth of an Epidemic

The 80’s saw an explosion of public awareness to the plight of children as victims. Advocacy groups for the victims of abuse & neglect, child snatching (by a noncustodial parent), runaways, and child abduction were all working to bring their individual issues to prominence.  Through their concerted efforts, and with the horrific stories of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh being burned into the public psyche via the newly created 24-hour news cycle (CNN was founded in 1980) , Congress created the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984. What had previously been recognized as separate issues became the monolith that it is today, and this was intentional. Kristen C. Brown of Child Find (a child snatching advocacy group) said it herself in a 1981 Senate hearing:

“It is absolutely critical that we establish a policy which guarantees that the various criteria used to determine whether or not a child is to be considered a missing child be subject to the most generous interpretation. We must not begin by discriminating kinds of missing children.”  (Best, 1990)

The specter of a dangerous stranger became the social norm; the result of an emotional campaign based on disingenuous manipulation of the statistics. There was never a huge increase in these horrific crimes. They greatly overstated the estimates, lumping in runaways (90%), and kids taken in custody disputes (5%) with the visceral images of actual stranger abductions (less than 1%), thereby inspiring us to take action.

“Now Gentlemen, I am going to indulge in one of the favorite techniques used in the past to generate a reaction on the part of legislators. I am going to tell you a story from real life, imply that it represents the tip of an iceberg and infer that only you can offer redress, justice or correction. It worked before, why not again?

-Charles A Sutherland (U.S. House 1986c, 92)

The martial art industry was perfectly positioned to help in the war on this apparent epidemic. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s we were all caught up in the fervor, doing our part to teach our students about Stranger Danger. (What a terrible message to convey to our children.) While we may have had the best of intentions, we were wrong. In fact the NCMEC finally admitted this in 2017 (better late than never).

I am afraid that once again we martial art instructors are going to end up on the wrong side of history. Today’s buzzword is Bullying. A quick google search brings up 1000’s of books, websites, and programs devoted to the menace, and advising you on how best to protect your child. The rhetoric and statistics used to warrant the products being peddled are just as scary as those used for missing children back in the 80’s. State legislatures have passed laws directing school districts to establish policies to address the epidemic. Even the martial art industry is on board, developing programs to help “bully-proof” students – and why wouldn’t we? We are supposed to be experts in self defense, right? While all of this is done with the best of intentions, we’re often missing the mark. Our over-reaction to a threat that barely exists is in many ways harming the very children we’re trying to take care of.

Currently there is too much misleading hype and rhetoric surrounding the concept of bullying. This has led to public misconception as to what the threat is and it’s severity.  As this plays out in the public forum, the public’s understanding of what bullying is, and what it is not, should evolve into a better, more concise picture. This clarity will enable us to develop better responses. The question is, are we leading the way, or will we end up on the wrong side of history?

Next week: How martial arts should help lead the way.

See you on the mat.

 

Best, J. (1990). Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child-Victims. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Haslam, N. (2016). Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology. Psychological Inquiry, 27(1). Retrieved from: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2690955

Porter, S. (2013). Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House

What is Bullying?

The Federal government, via their StopBullying.gov website, defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” (click here to read the definition in its entirety.) Try teaching that to a group of elementary school children! Indeed, even adults struggle with clearly understanding what constitutes bullying. Yet before we can seriously address an issue, we have to understand what it is.

Just joking around, rough housing, or bullying?

Much of the confusion comes from the fact that what society has tried to define as Bullying is in reality an entire spectrum of different, but often related, phenomena. The spectrum of behaviors spans from being inconsiderate to defamation, from rough housing to assault, from mean to sociopathic. The Venn diagram below is an attempt to give clarity to the federal definition – to more precisely delineate the different phenomena using the current vernacular, with a couple slight modifications. The physical is represented by purple spheres, the verbal, or Communicative, by blue, and Social, or Relational, by green.
bullying venn 3

Consider that teasing, name-calling, taunting, and rude hand gestures, as well as hitting, pushing, pinching, and tripping are listed as bullying behaviors on the Federal site. How does the joking around and rough housing of childhood become symptomatic of pathological behavior? One way to distinguish between healthy play and having gone too far is the willingness of the participants. Once verbal acts are “unwanted,” they could be viewed as rude and inconsiderate. Unwanted physical acts, on the other hand, become assault.

The acts labeled Social, or Relational, Bullying are different than the other two in that there isn’t really an acceptable level. Telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, and embarrassing someone in public are all rude and inconsiderate. Purposely leaving someone out seems to be the exception – are people really expected to invite everybody to their party?

What transforms these otherwise typical human behaviors from rude & inconsiderate into bullying is three-fold. Rude, or inconsiderate behavior becomes bullying when: (1) there is an imbalance of power,(real or perceived) (2) the behaviors happen repeatedly, (or could be) AND (3) it is intentional. (note: intentionality was part of the earliest definitions of bullying, but is missing from the current official definition)

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

-Abraham  Maslow (The Psychology of Science)

It should be apparent that there is no simple, one-size-fits-all fix for such a multifaceted issue. It is a detrimental mistake to lump so many common juvenile behaviors under the pathological umbrella Bullying. A sincere proposal to teach our children how to deal with all of this must therefore acknowledge the full-spectrum of what we term bullying, accurately differentiate between phenomena, and develop an age-appropriate set of skills for dealing with each.

More on this topic next week…

Until then, see you on the mat.

image credit: Acoso escolar

Know Your Enemy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

One of the reasons most of us train in the martial arts is self defense. We want to know what to do in the event someone tries to harm us. There are other threats to our well being besides so-called bad guys, and any serious look at self defense would be remiss if it didn’t address these very real threats. While we are taking steps to protect ourselves from being the victims of violence, we should also consider how to prevent becoming victims of poor lifestyle choices, and the chronic diseases that follow.

Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. (this holds true world-wide) violent crime doesn’t even make the list. There were 13,455 homicides in the U.S. in 2015, the most recent year for which we have the statistics on chronic disease. The FBI just came out with the 2016 crime statistics, which sadly show another increase, with 15,070 homicides.To be fair, it should be noted that these numbers only represent the worst outcome of violence (death). More often than not, victims of violent crime survive. A more accurate number to compare, therefore, is total violent crimes, which in 2016 came to 1,248,185. In a country with a population of 323,127,513, that works out to about 386 incidents per 100,000 people.

Compare that to just five of the top ten killers in the U.S., namely, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and diabetes. Over 1.5 million United States citizens succumbed to these killers in 2015. This number only represents those who died. It’s estimated that nearly 1 out of 2 people are suffering with at least one chronic illness! That’s about 50,000 cases per 100,000 people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) further estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as 40% of cancer could be prevented by eliminating the risk factors. Even if we were to take a much more conservative approach, say just 10%, that still works out to 144,963 lives saved in one year. Four of the major risk factors are things we have complete control over: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Boil all these numbers down and we’re left with this realization. For every victim of a violent crime in the U.S., there are 130 people with a chronic illness, and up to 103 of those could be prevented simply by living a healthy lifestyle!

If we’re serious about protecting ourselves and our families, training in the martial arts is a big part of the picture. It can give us the physical skills, and the mental capacity to “take care of business.” Here’s a five point plan to help us build our bodies like a fortress, ready to defend against all adversaries, including the ravages of chronic disease.

  1. Train like a warrior every day.
  2. Eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats.
  3. Avoid highly processed, sugary foods with little nutritional value, smoking, and drinking alcohol in excess.
  4. Drink a lot of water.
  5. Get plenty of sleep.

By choosing to live an active, healthy lifestyle we are developing the most powerful self defense skills we can.

Food For Thought

This BJJ lifestyle is intense. Each class is an exhilarating mixture of illumination, and frustration, as we enjoy those occasional ah-ha moments in between surviving bone-crushing defeats. We grind out each and every workout, as frequently as our other obligations will allow, knowing we’re the better for it. Such training takes it’s toll, and it doesn’t take long to realize that appropriate rest and a healthy diet are mandatory components of a successful journey.

What constitutes a healthy diet? The answer to this question isn’t that complicated, but with the number of fad diets that are in constant circulation, it’s easy to see why people think it’s rocket science. Of course, there is an entire industry looking to cash in on everybody’s desire to lose weight/look great with a quick fix, but again, it’s not that complicated.

Here’s the simple version we’re promoting in the children’s program.

We eat to live, not the other way around. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone state, “I deserve this,” “life’s too short,”  or some other equivalent. If one’s consumption is justified by some sense of entitlement, perhaps it’s time for a re-evaluation of priorities. Food is about sustenance, not entertainment. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy the food we eat, or that we can’t ever go out for an over-the-top meal with friends. Our happiness simply shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in our daily consumption choices.

The healthiest foods are recognizable. A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, and nuts. Some whole grains are o.k. The more processed, or hidden in sauces and breading it is, the less it’s got to offer, at least in terms of nutrition. The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember. If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you. Highly processed foods should be treated with a bit of skepticism, eaten as an exception to a healthy diet, and not as a staple.

Water is life. Our bodies are composed of over 60% water, so drink a lot of it. The harder you train, the more you need. Avoid surgery drinks like soda; these are a source of water, but also provide a lot of empty calories that can cause more harm than good.

Dinner before dessert. If one’s diet is made up predominately of fresh, healthful, whole foods, an occasional “splurge” isn’t going to matter much. The folks who run into trouble are those who get it backwards, constantly consuming foods high in salt, sugar, and fat, but low in everything else of nutritional value.

Train hard, eat smart, and drink lots of water. Your body, and your jiu jitsu will thank you.

See you on the mat!

Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We work and we play. We go shopping, come home, and fix dinner. We rest. All the while, our families, friends, and neighbors are there, taking the time to make us part of their lives as well. Technology beckons, as the television, radio, computer, and smart phone also vie for our attention. There are books, blogs, and articles to be read, videos to watch, and games to play. The phone rings, pings, or vibrates to alert us to yet another call, text, or email to be answered. We become engulfed in the ebb and flow of traffic as we commute to work, and transport our children to school.

We are continually surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless barrage. It often seems as though everything is demanding your immediate attention. In this ongoing sea of activity, it can be easy to lose sight of where you are, or where you’re headed. Our ability to focus is a powerful tool that can help us effectively traverse such a multifaceted  landscape.

Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.

One of mantras I teach younger martial artists is, “Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.” It’s a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the task at hand. When we spar at the studio, or compete at a tournament, we must have a singular focus. We need to keep our eyes focused on our training partner/opponent, our mind focused on our game plan, and our body properly prepared for the ensuing match. A break in any one of the three greatly decreases our chances of success.

While the intensity of competition demands it, this level of concentration is helpful in more common aspects of daily living as well. We really should strive to focus in such a manner on all endeavors throughout the day. Being continually distracted by extraneous factors, makes us less efficient at getting the job done. When writing this post, for example, I have to turn on the “do not disturb” on my iPhone. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to respond to the five texts, 20+ emails, and three phone calls I’ll surely have waiting when I’m done.

“Wherever you are, be there!”

– Jim Rohn

Efficiency is one reason to be focused on the here and now. Safety is another. Being aware of one’s surroundings is the primary step in self-defense. For example, given the fact that automobile accidents are the #1 cause of accidental death in the U.S. with over 35,000 deaths annually, wouldn’t you think that it might be wise to pay attention while crossing a street, or while driving, for that matter? Yet, given the inherent risk, I am amazed at the number of people I see crossing the street with their gaze locked onto their smart-phone. (that makes “smart-phone” an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

– Dale Carnegie

Quality of life is yet another reason to practice focusing on the here and now. Often times we bemoan past events, or worry about the future. While it is good to learn from our past mistakes, dwelling on them does nothing other than to relive the negative feelings caused. It is also good to plan for the future, and thus be prepared for tomorrow. Worrying about it, however, is just adding more needless stress to our already stressful lives. Learn from past mistakes and move on. Plan for the future, and trust your plan. Learn to live today for today, and enjoy every moment.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

See you on the mat.

You Are Not Just a Rock

“Like a rock, I was strong as I could be,
like a rock, nothing ever got to me,
like a rock, I was something to see.
Like a rock.
Like a rock, standing arrow straight,
like a rock, charging from the gate,
like a rock, carrying the weight.
Like a rock.”

-Bob Seger (1986)

We admire rock. We use it as simile and metaphor throughout literature, from the old testament, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect,” (Deut 32:3-4), to a cheesy ad in a fitness magazine for “rock-hard abs,” to Bob Segers’ pop hit, “Like a Rock.” Rock symbolizes strength, steadfastness, and honor. To be like a rock is to be reliable, consistent, and resolute in conviction.

Of course, there is a downside to being a rock. Nobody aspires to be as “dumb as a box of rocks.” Rocks are inflexible and extremely slow to change or adapt. Such rigidity is the antithesis of one of our most powerful human traits – our amazing capacity for growth.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

-Winston Churchill

Nowhere is the capacity to grow more apparent than in the world of sports. World-class athletes, regardless their area of expertise, are shining examples of this. It is a common misconception that world-class athletes are simply gifted – the fortunate recipients of gifts endowed upon them by fate, or more scientifically speaking, good genes. Such “gifts” can only take one so far, however. In the final analysis, the commonality among world-champions is not having won the genetic lottery, but having the ability to improve.

Basketball’s Michael Jordan is a perfect example. Considered by many to be the NBA’S GOAT, anybody old enough to remember knows of his accomplishments on the court. What many are not aware of, is all the work he put in off the court. As a sophomore in high school he was initially deemed too short to play varsity. Rather than quit, he used that to motivate himself. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.” (Newsweek 2015) Regarding Jordan’s work ethic, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson wrote,

The thing about Michael is, he takes nothing about his game for granted. When he first came to the NBA back in 1984, he was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to pro standards. So he put in his gym time during the off-season, shooting hundreds of shots each day. Eventually, he became a deadly three-point shooter.

Playing outstanding defense didn’t come automatically to him, either. He had to study his opponents, learn their favorite moves and then dedicate himself to learning the techniques necessary to stop them. He’s worked extremely hard to perfect his footwork and his balance.

Nowadays, so many kids come into the league with arrogant attitudes, thinking that their talent is all they need to succeed. By contrast, there’s a certain humility in Michael’s willingness to take on the difficult work of making himself a more complete player. For me, one of the signs of Michael’s greatness is that he turned his weaknesses into strengths.”

Through proper training, we can become faster, stronger, and more agile; we can continually develop an ever increasing level of skill, and become more in-tune to the nuances of the game, whether it’s basketball, Brazilian jiujitsu, or life.

This capacity for growth isn’t restricted just to our physical selves. It’s important to remember that we have just as much ability to improve ourselves mentally and emotionally. We need to nurture what Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a growth mindset, and reject the fixed mindset – the belief that ability is static(Dweck, 2016)

With a growth mindset we acknowledge our potential. We don’t fear challenges, but see them for the opportunity they represent. Through the proper effort, we can deal with what life throws at us, and continually grow in the process. We can build our bodies and our minds. In this manner, we are not so much like a rock, but more similar to a plant. We continually grow stronger, adapting to the conditions of the world around us.

See you on the mat.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Jackson, Phil (June/July 1998) Michael and Me. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/jordan/is_philonmj.html

The Remedy to the Bully Epidemic

As we close out October, and National Bully Awareness Month, we get to wrap up this bullying series on a high note. Repeat after me: “there is no epidemic.” The children of today are no more evil, nor ill-intentioned, than they were when we were kids. No matter how many websites quote horrific stats as to how bad the problem is, remember these numbers are not based on an increase in peer aggression and negative behavior in children, but are due to an all-encompassing expansion of the definition.

As parents and educators, we need to distinguish between very real dangers, such as automobile accidents and drowning, and the pain and anguish caused by less-than-pleasant phenomena of childhood: peer aggression, teasing, taunting, name-calling, and social exclusion. The former can lead to dismemberment and death, whereas the latter, although unpleasant, are mostly benign.

Rather than treating these as threats to our children’s well-being, we need to recognize them as opportunities for growth; these teachable moments present the perfect opportunity to help our children realize their personal agency, and their resiliency. We must remember this is a long, complicated process. Children are still developing their understanding of the nuance of body language, intonation, inflection, humor, sarcasm, and timing. They’re still learning how to filter what they say, consider other’s feelings, and how to follow the rules. In fact, the areas of the brain responsible for cognition, following rules, suppressing impulses, reasoning, and decision making are still developing as well.

If we’re serious about helping our students, we must stop type-casting the players. The current bully-victim-bystander model stands in the way of all this development. It reinforces roles which assume intent on the part of the bully, and a victimhood mindset on the part of the target. Neither of these fixed mindsets is conducive to learning and growth. We should be helping students adjust behavior, but we can’t effectively address the various behaviors when they’re all lumped under bullying. We need to more effectively delineate the pathology of bullying, and the common childhood phenomena of peer aggression, impulse control, teasing, etc. Then we can teach our children effective means of dealing with each. For these reasons, the bully-victim-bystander model should not be used in an educational (K-12) setting.

We should be teaching our students that they and their peers have the capacity to  grow and learn, to be better versions of themselves every day. They can learn better communication skills, become more civically minded, and develop a deeper sense of empathy. They can increase their self-control, self-esteem, and learn to defend themselves. These are the tools that will enable them to deal with all the trials and tribulations of childhood, and to thrive as adolescents. All they require is guidance, experience, and time.

“Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

-Anonymous

We need to remember that just like BJJ, our ability to get along with others, communicate our ideas, and understand others’ intent takes years of “mat time.” Children can be given instruction on the rules, and taught different methods of dealing with the most common issues. However, we have to remember the majority of learning and understanding comes from actual application. This means there will be successes and failures, they’re going to make mistakes – they will offend and be offended, insult and be insulted, hurt others’ feelings and have their’s hurt. As we continue to coach in between rounds, they will gradually gain an ever-better understanding of the full spectrum of human interaction. They will gain the skill, and the strength to succeed.

See you on the mat.

 

Best, J. (1990). Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child-Victims. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Haslam, N. (2016). Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology. Psychological Inquiry, 27(1). Retrieved from: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2690955

Porter, S. (2013). Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House

 

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

With October we’re witnessing the transition to fall. Cooling temperatures bring about change, as green turns to gold, brown, and crimson, and we ramp up for the upcoming holiday season. The kids are plotting their Halloween costumes, as parents finalize plans for Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. October is also National Bullying Prevention Month, therefore we will be discussing various aspects of bullying over the next five weeks.

In his paper Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology, Nick Haslam discusses how concepts like bullying have been expanded to “encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before.” They are extended outward to include new phenomena and downward to include less extreme phenomena. Potential benefits of such expansion include recognizing formerly tolerated negative behavior as problematic, and increased sensitivity to others suffering or maltreatment. The cost of this creep, however, may very well create more problems than it fixes.

Some Bullies tease, but not all teasing is bullying.

Teasing is one of the casualties in the ever-expanding definition of Bullying. The two are often used synonymously in the media and much of the available “anti-bully” literature. This semantic overlap has led to much confusion and mis-information for parents. It is also a headache for teachers and school administrators. As they work to establish legally mandated “learning environments free from distractions,” they create so-called zero-tolerance policies regarding bullying. In other words, NO TEASING ALLOWED.

There is an extensive body of academic literature studying the many cultural facets of teasing and it’s beneficial role in human communication. As explained by Kruger, Gordon, and Kuban (2006),

“To be sure, some teasing is designed with the sole purpose of hurting, humiliating, or harassing the target of the tease. But often, individuals tease to flirt, socialize, play, enhance social bonds, teach, entertain (themselves, the target, or an audience), or to express affiliation, affection, and even love (p. 412).”

In The Good, the Bad, and the Borderline: Separating Teasing from Bullying (2009), Mills and Carwile thoroughly discuss teasing, it’s relationship to bullying, and it’s value as a communicative device. While teasing can be used by bullies in a negative, aggressive manner, teasing also plays a very beneficial roll in our interpersonal interactions.

Teasing is very nuanced, utilizing humor, innuendo, sarcasm, and irony to indirectly communicate the intended message. Even as adults we oftentimes misinterpret the intent of someone’s witty or sarcastic quips. How can our children grow into strong, high-functioning adults, if they aren’t given the opportunity to develop this skill?

Mills and Carwile provide the Teasing Totter model to help those who would try to teach children to discern between the varying degrees of appropriate, healthy teasing. For a more in-depth look click here.

Teasingtotter

Rather than eliminating all forms of teasing in a misguided attempt of protecting our children, as parents and educators we need to do the hard work of distinguishing between the positive, beneficial forms and the negative. We need to allow children the opportunity to fine-tune these skills themselves, and help guide them through the sometimes murky waters of human communication. This understanding will make them stronger, more resilient, and more safe, enabling them to more effectively discern healthy human interaction from the threat of a bully. Otherwise, we’re just throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

See you on the mat.

image credit: stopbullying.gov


Haslam, N. (2016).  Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology, Psychological Inquiry, 27(1). Retrieved from: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2690955

Kruger, J., Gordon, C., & Kuban, J. (2006). Intentions in teasing: When ‘‘just kidding’’ just isn’t good enough. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 412􏰀425.

Mills, C. B. (2009, April). Communication Education. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Carol_Bishop_Mills/publication/263612607_The_Good_the_Bad_and_the_Borderline_Separating_Teasing_from_Bullying/links/58a72725a6fdcc0e078ae9c7/The-Good-the-Bad-and-the-Borderline-Separating-Teasing-from-Bullying.pdf