I consider myself a peaceful, non-violent person. I don’t like violence. I am against war. I don’t spank. When my first son was born, I remember cuddling him and thinking, This is my little child, a human, not a boy. Just a soul who has been given to me. I will love him for who he is. I will not have pre-conceived notions. I will allow him to find himself. I raised him surrounded by a multitude of educational toys including kitchen sets, art supplies, costumes of every sort, trucks, blocks and every type of doll from animals to babies.
When he was about 3 or 4 years old, he became obsessed with dinosaurs. I laughed to myself and thought, Well, I guess that boys are just boys after all! I knew I had nothing to do with it. He had nursed his baby doll, just like me. He had dressed up like a princess with his big sister. But eventually, he became primarily interested in typical boy things like trains, cars and dinosaurs. So that’s what we played with and that’s what we talked about.
I raised all three of my children in a nonviolent home. All problems were to be solved using words. I taught them how to express their feelings and frustrations and to negotiate solutions. I taught them my values of peace. I practiced nonviolent forms of discipline as well. Hitting was not allowed.
Throughout elementary school, he learned world languages, acted, played musical instruments and participated in art contests. He played sports and was otherwise very much engaged in his world and a variety of interests. Then, the summer before 6th grade, something changed.
He started playing wrestling with his neighborhood friends in the yard. Wrestling was getting very violent and very rough. We made sure there some rules on this game but we let them play. They were having fun with each other and it seemed harmless. But then one day, I walked outside and saw him at the exact moment he hit his good friend with an amazingly accurate uppercut to the jaw. The boy’s head snapped back and he hit the ground.
I really didn’t know what to think for a minute. I had never seen any of them fight like that before. They didn’t seem angry with each other. It still looked like play. So, I loudly cleared my throat to let them know I was there and disapproved. “Break it up!” I said, unceremoniously. They did, with their beet-red faces and dirty pants. They seemed a little shocked, too, but otherwise calm and quiet. I went back inside, trying to figure out what had just happened. They were violently punching each other, but weren’t angry? Huh?
Now, I was secretly a little proud of my son that he could punch like that. I had no idea where he had figured that out. I told his stepdad what happened and he let me in on a part of a boy’s world I’d never known about. The part where boys start to challenge each other physically to find out what they are capable of and where they stand in the pecking order.
He explained to me that it really isn’t something vicious. He had often engaged in physical fights with his friends growing up. It was about testing your physical strength. Your body is changing, your hormones are surging and you wonder to yourself what you can do with this new-found strength.
I had to admit I could understand that. It’s almost like an informal boxing club. I’d been to a boxing gym before and I loved it! No one at the gym got upset with anyone else for sparring. It was understood that you were fighting each other for the pure joy of throwing punches and discovering the strengths and limitations of your body.
But what about my stance against violence? I had grown up with violence in my home. I had taken a strong, philosophical stand against using violence in any form as a way to solve problems. How could I allow this with my sons? Shouldn’t I be telling my boys that no violence is acceptable? After all, I’d always told them their rough and tumble play was okay as long as no one got hurt.
But then I realized I was not being completely honest. I did believe in violence in some circumstances. In fact, I expected and even demanded violence. Particularly from men. For instance, if a man is with or near a woman or child who is being threatened or harmed, I fully expect that man to step in to defend her or the child. If he did not, I would have no respect for him as a man, or even as a human being. Harsh, but true. I expect myself to be violent with anyone who would attempt to harm my child. The Mama Bear. I expect that of most mothers as well.
So, instead of simply forbidding violence, I decided to teach my sons the rules of violence:
- You may harm someone who is harming someone small or helpless
- You may harm someone who is harming you
- You may harm someone who is harming a female
- Do not strike first if at all possible
- Use the least amount of force necessary
I let them know, that these rules apply to them no matter where they are. I did not care if the school had different rules. They are human beings with the same rights to safety, self-defense and the defense of others, as every other human being. I would defend them to the bitter end if they decided to step in and do the right thing. After all, I would allow myself to strike someone who hit me. Why should my child have any fewer rights?
At the beginning of 6th grade, Adrian was getting challenged by a lot of the boys at school. It bothered him because he really didn’t want to fight with anyone. I kept reminding him he had a right to verbally stick up for himself and if it came down to it, to physically stick up for himself. He kept trying to hold out.
One day, I got a call at work from the principal. He told me my son had attacked a boy in the locker room for no reason and would be suspended for a week. I didn’t believe that for a second. I demanded to speak to my son. Adrian was afraid of being a “rat” so he hadn’t told the whole truth. I promised him whatever he said would be kept in confidence, so he told me the real story.
Outside, during gym class, three boys were taunting him. He ignored them, so they ramped it up, ultimately informing him he would be “jumped” sometime during or after school that day. So, my son decided he was not going to live with that threat, and when they went into the locker room to change, he attacked the boy who threatened him, punching him hard in the head.
The boy who got beat up wasn’t very happy about it because he lost the fight. He told on my son and of course, left out the part about threatening to jump my son. My son had refused to tell that part, too.
When it was brought to the principal’s attention, he believed the original story. But no one else did. Every teacher and the counselor said that it couldn’t have happened that way because they knew my son was a well-behaved and respectful kid. I agreed.
I went to the school and advocated for my son. He ended up with a one-day, in-school suspension. I agreed he deserved a punishment of some sort because he did, after all, throw the first punch. I understood why he did it. I might have done the same thing. But he certainly didn’t deserve anything drastic. It was still, after all, self-defense.
When my son came home that day, I told him I supported his decision. I explained the error he made in hitting first and instructed him on calling the bully out. I told him, If a boy says he’s going to jump you, just tell him to do it right then and there. Then, if he tries to hit you, you can hit him back.
Since that day in 6th grade, not one single boy has ever bullied my son in any way. He hates using physical violence but he’s not afraid to. As it turns out, he’s not afraid to defend others, either.
He’s in 8th grade now. I found out on one of his social media sites that he hit a boy in school the other day. He punched his friend because the boy smacked a girl on the behind. The girl remarked to my son, “Why did you do that? You think I need you to do that? ‘Cos I don’t.”
His response to her blew me away:
“I don’t think you need me to do that, but there’s no way he’s going to disrespect you like that in front of me.”
Now, that’s exactly the kind of man I want him to be.
So, I think that instead of teaching our kids NOT to be violent we need to teach them HOW and WHEN to be violent. We have so many stories of people standing around watching others getting assaulted or verbally attacked and we don’t know why. We have thousands of self-defense classes all over the country. We have anti-bullying programs that tell us to stop bullying but offer no concise steps telling us how. Honestly ask yourself, if you don’t know that you can physically defend yourself, would you really step in to verbally confront someone who is being physically and verbally threatening? I know I wouldn’t.
If we are to raise boys who are willing to step in when a girl is being attacked or fight back when a boy is being vicious, we are going to have to admit that we DO expect violence in some scenarios and teach them the fine lines to walk within. Why wait to learn self-defense as an adult? Why not let them learn it, as they are growing up, with the guidance of their parents? Maybe not all is violence is so bad after all.
It was a tough pill for me to swallow, realizing my beliefs weren’t all I thought they were. But I’m happy I listened to my son. He taught me there was more I needed to teach him–about life, and about becoming a man. My hope for him is that he will be the man, that when a woman is his neighbor and he hears her scream, will not just shut his window. He will run out the door, run through hers, and knock out the guy that is hitting her. That’s a form of violence I’ve learned that I’m actually pretty okay with.
- On Anger & Violence in Tiny Bodies (godandgoodlife.wordpress.com)
- Is American Nonviolence Possible? (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- The Truth About Violence (samharris.org/blog)
- Bully! (freerangekiddos.wordpress.com)
- Of Little Boys, Violent Play, and Pretending to Shoot the Bad Guys (patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture)
- Should Children Learn Self Defense? (kravmagainstitutenyc.com)