Should Bullied Kids Be Encouraged to "Fight Back"?

The web's buzzing over a video taken in an Australia school in which Casey Heynes is seen taking hard punches and verbal teasing from a smaller boy. Classmates say Casey, a heavy student, is often the victim of bullying at the school. But in this moment, captured on video, Casey finally retaliates, lifts the bully up, and violently slams his body to the ground.

End of story? Not when there's video to be shared… and shared… and shared. Although the original video was eventually taken down by YouTube, Casey now has a dedicated Facebook Group “liked” by over 100,000 prople. MSNBC calls him an “internet hero.” And Taiwan-based NMA-TV even covered it in one of their famous digital re-enactments. Parents, particularly fathers, are clapping their hands in support.

The school has suspended both boys, but a larger question remains: Was what Casey did right? And should parents be counselling their kids to retaliate against a menacing bully?

Not in my house. I'd like to think my own verbal-beyond-his-years but physically unimposing 12-year-old can talk his way out of almost any situation, even threatening ones. At best, I think he knows to avoid or quickly extricate himself from perilous situations and threatening people. And like the sign in my dentist office says, “Teeth are like bullies; ignore them and they’ll go away.”

But do they always? (The bullies, not the teeth.) Some kids stand up against bullies with success; others are killed for standing up. There's clearly no "one size fits all" solution so it's tough.

What frightens me most about the "hit ‘em back harder" approach -- though tied to generations of accumulated playground wisdom -- is that it doesn't recognize that today’s kids and bullies are much more desensitized to violence, both on the giving and receiving ends. I’m not at all convinced modern bullies would be deterred by a punch to the nose as Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon) was in 1980's My Bodyguard.

My son has no tools to strike fear in a bully's heart, much less to strike back. He doesn't know karate, isn't physically coordinated and doesn't have Casey's advantageous girth.

So this is what I'll tell him:

a) There's strength in numbers. Rely on your trusted friends to shore up your defense and be a unified force for good, or at least reverse-intimidation.

b)Ignore bullies and avoid dangerous places and situations. 

c) If you're being bullied, strongly and explicitly assert your right to exist free from abuse, like Kurt (Chris Colfer) did in a recent Glee episode. This is not fighting back; this is standing up. 

d) If all else fails, tell a teacher. Make no mistake: Schools are in the business of protecting students. Failure there is unacceptable.

Casey’s father told The Sydney Telegraph, "He's not a violent kid, it's the first time he's lashed out…. He's always been taught never to hit." Even given that, I’m not surprised Casey finally lost control. We all have a breaking point, but that still doesn't make it right. 

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