Once again, I’m going to be tackling some advice that Dr. Laura has given (taken from transcripts on her website), and look at it from a different, less awful perspective.
If you would like some similar not-awful advice, ask me! I am all-knowing. Except when I’m not. But mostly-knowing.
The question: “As a parent and a teacher (currently a stay-at-home-mom), how do I explain to a child when and how they should defend themselves when they are being harassed or physically hurt by another child? When I was teaching, there were several incidents in which a child trying to defend himself got in trouble (and the bully did too). How is that possibly fair? I just want to do the right thing and need your help.”
Dr. Laura’s response: “I worry about the demasculinization of the males in our society on so many levels: the feminist movement, calling everything masculine somehow sick and horrible and beneath what is really human and wonderful, and the schools which consider defending one’s self or someone else the wrong thing to do and punishable. But, whether you are male or female, that is really a stupid consideration and this is what I tell parents: I don’t care what the school rule is, you tell your children and you teach them how to do it; you put them in a class where they can learn to fight and protect themselves.
The first thing they learn is how to avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, take care of it quickly. So, you tell them, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never harm me.” If someone calls you a name, you tell your kid just laugh in their face and walk away. Somebody lays a hand on your kid or someone else’s kid, you tell your kid, they started it, you finish it and I’m going to teach you how to finish it. And, don’t worry about getting in trouble at school, our attorney will take care of that.
There is no place in this land where you are not permitted self defense except in public schools and I don’t think that’s the training ground to teach people not to protect themselves and not to protect other people. I think that’s counter to everything that is American. So, my boy came home once from middle school and said, “I got in trouble at school. I was in a fight.” I said, “Who started it?” He said, “This one boy hit this other boy.” I said, “Well, who finished it?” He said, “Well, I kind of did.” I gave him a high five and took him out to dinner. My husband went and dealt with the school (I think he was afraid to send me. I don’t know why.).”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
Before we get into the heart of the issue, I need to make it clear that the feminist movement in no way calls everything masculine sick and horrible and beneath what is really human and wonderful. In no way. Absolutely, 100% not.
I have to wonder if Dr. Laura really thinks that the feminist movement is about hating men, or if she is hamming it up for the cameras. Without the feminist movement, Dr. Laura would not be able to have a successful career. A part of me hopes that she chuckles to herself every night and thinks, “wow, I’m a good performance artist.” The other part of me hopes that she doesn’t, and that she’s truly as ignorant about feminism as she portrays herself to be, because it is really diabolical to spread this bullshit around when you know better.
Feminism is not a dirty word. Feminists don’t hate men. Feminists believe that women should have equal rights and equal opportunities. There is nothing in feminist beliefs that is going to force a boy to be less masculine.
As to the actual advice: the thing is, schools can’t have a policy that it is okay to be violent in self-defense, because to a kid, everything is self-defense. Furthermore, any fight would boil down to a he-said-she-said, and you know who gets all sorts of witnesses to vouch for them? Bullies. You know who doesn’t? The unpopular kid who is already getting bullied. A policy which pushes teachers to decide which kid is allowed to be violent and which kid is not is a terrible idea. While that might set up kids to be supported by teachers when they are being bullied and fight back, it more likely would have the opposite effect, and then the bullied kid is bullied and punished, while the bully walks away.
To tell a kid that you don’t care what the school says about violence, that they have your permission to fight, is playing with fire. For one, kids are not great at deciphering social situations, and what seems obvious to you (if somebody lays a hand on you) may be less so to a kid (what if somebody is disrespecting somebody’s mother?). For another, you could be setting your kid up for getting hurt by engaging in violence. Third, what you are saying is that you do not respect the rules of the school, and you therefore undermine the authority of the teachers and administration.
There is also the issue that not every kid wants to fight back. Using language like “finish it” can be detrimental to your child’s psyche, as they realize that they are not only feeling powerless at the hands of the bully, but they are made to feel ashamed by their own parent at their inability or lack of desire to be macho.
Dr. Laura does have a bit of good advice in there. Teaching kids to avoid confrontation, and to try to let the bullying roll off their backs, is the right thing to do. If a kid can figure out how to not be bothered by the bullying, the bully’s power is diminished. Further, enrolling kids in a self-defense class is a great idea. It can give your child more self-confidence, which in and of itself will help with the bullying. It may reduce the harassment as well, as other students realize that your child is able to defend him- or herself.
It is a tricky situation when you are imagining your child being beaten up. Of course you want them to be equipped to defend themselves. But at the same time, giving your child a license to be violent when they deem it defense is opening a can of worms that can be difficult to close. My advice is to enroll your child in self-defense classes, to talk to your kid about their relationships with other kids in their class as well as with their teacher, to be willing to go to the teacher if things seem amiss, and to encourage your child to ignore or avoid confrontation when possible. Telling the child that you expect them to “finish it” is teaching them to disregard the authority of their teachers, to turn to violence when things get tough, and to see their peers as enemies, as well as belittling the importance of communication.
As for the time when your child came home from school after being in a fight: of course he said that somebody else started it. Of course he did. What was he going to say? “I beat somebody up at school today for no reason.” What you have shown him with your conversation is that violence is okay as long as he thinks it is justified. Which may be why that whole gross incident with the MySpace page came up. Maybe instead of teaching kids that they should turn to violence when they think it’s appropriate, communication and confidence-building would have taught your son a more appropriate lesson.