Why kids fight when they can't win...

aka: What Teens know about Bullies that Parents have Forgotten.


ALL responses to a bully are painful.

The best you can do is to choose the type of pain that you hate the least…you can’t avoid pain completely. The pain is either physical or emotional and bullies are practiced masters of causing this pain to others…

Usual Adult Advice to the Victim: 

1. Report minor incidences to forestall escalations:

Various pains are integral to this strategy and kids know them all. Especially, the victim must cope with feelings of inadequacy, cowardice and being a rat.

Why do ordinary teens succumb to the street ethic about rats  that only benefits the bully?

Rat is not just a street or prison/gang term anymore. It refers to any teenager who depends upon adults to solve his social problems for him. Teens are struggling to become self-reliant individuals and adults.

Rat refers to the insecurities of a teen who  hasn’t separated himself from adult supervision. Telling another student isn’t ratting but usually is ineffective. Insecurity about their identity and their self worth may cause the victim to keep the situation as secret as long as possible, even from friends.

Self esteem and self image are paramount here, not physical safety. "I can handle it," even if naive and doomed, produces enough self esteem and a positive enough self image to overcome the painful reality of getting beaten if they don’t put an end to it by reporting.

While an adult may see reporting as a great technique to get a bully off your back, to a teen it reeks of inadequacy. Even adults are hesitant to call the police for ’social’ problems with their neighbours or co-workers; how much more so a teenager?

Report and Die:
Most teens have adequate experience to know that the report will not solve the problem and just may make the physical retribution inevitable so they get beats along with their lowered self esteem.

2. Just avoid him / them:

While this is the (successful) strategy of the majority, once a bully has you in his sights and targets you in particular, it is almost totally useless advice. 

Flocks, herds and human social groups work on the principle that the odds are that the predator will catch a different victim, not you. But once a bully sets his sights on one person, there is little they can do to avoid him in the small and predictable environment of the school. Even adults can’t escape harassment and stalking in a whole city because lifestyles are predictable and stable, so why expect a kid to do better?

If the victim feels inadequate and cowardly when considering running away, then another course will be chosen whether their anger and aggressionis dis[placed into vandalism, or hurting innocne tbut weaker victims. 

3. Stand Up to Him:

This is the message inside assertiveness training and other self reliance models.

The problem is that once you have said; "No, stop that!", what do you do when he starts to punch?

What do you do if your conflict resolution skills fail? What do you do if reason  fails?

The problem is that reasoning and negotiating strategies work the least with the type of people you need them for the most!

In this scenario the pain is physical but the promise is that you will have a better feeling about yourself. Many teens and adults choose this protection of the self image over staying physically safe.

It is also to be considered that if the bully knows he can only have his fun with a drag-out fight, he may start to look for easier game, even if he constantly wins.

This strategy of fighting back also allows the adult bureaucracy to gear up and help out after the fight,without the teen feeling inadequate, or a rat or still a kid.


Kids are dying from these fights. Victims sometimes die and sometimes they kill. Not often, but enough to be a concern. We don’t want any of our kids to have to or  choose to fight because it is a dangerous and unpredictable activity at the best.
We know that bullies have always been with us and we survived when we were in high school. We all knew kids who survived being severely beaten and we were all probably pushed around and beat up ourselves, (boys, that is)  at least once.

So, what’s the big deal now?

Do you remember any teen who died because of a school or after school fight? I don’t. Did you know a kid who took a gun to school and started shooting? Nope, not me either.

The fights are different, now. They don’t stop when someone gets knocked down or says he wants to quit, if he / she is even asked if they want to quit.

Falling down used to be the way you signalled that you were beaten but not a quitter - now it signals the killing frenzy for the attackers friends.

 Friends of the bully will not just help their buddy if he is losing but will jump in (literally) if his opponent goes down. Group swarms on individuals and the use of weapons by children has moved into Canada. Stomping on a person lying down is coming into vogue.

[I know a mild mannered Victoria student who had his one and only fight in Redfern Park (about 1990) who severely beat the boy he fought. He pounded him unmercifully for minutes and the huge crowd did nothing to stop him. My son who was his friend, watched said it was so brutal that he was stunned and shocked and felt helpless and didn’t know what to do, yet he can take care of himself just fine. The winner actually lived in remorse for what he did and can’t figure out why he was so brutal because he isn’t ordinarily like that.]

The violence of these encounters is escalating and while we do our best to teach our teens not to fight, we are not helping to keep those who do choose to fight safe from the current type of serious injuries that we never experienced in our own high-school days.

So we are left with the following:

 *  some of our teens will fight, no matter what counselling efforts are undertaken
*  some will continue to suffer, and more and more serious damage or even death may result in this day of suicide and school vengeance shootings.


There is absolutely no reason for a person to die, or even to need extended hospital care when attacked, even by a group, when a few simple self defence methods that are easily taught and practiced are available.


All cultures have taught their children self defence. Ordinary Canadians teach only non-physical methods because physical methods seem somehow tainted by the violence and aggression of the attacker. If you fight back, you are as bad as them.

Total pacifism is a choice, not a morally superior ethic, and is the best option only for those who can’t be hurt. An adult doesn’t need to fight a small child who attacks him. Neither does a teen who has the skills to keep himself safe when attacked, need to resort to violence.

Assertive or passive (sometimes called, moral or ethical) self defence does not mean winning fights or beating people up. It simply means surviving a violent encounter with as little damage to your spirit, ego and body as possible.

If  Stop that!!  will obviously precipitate an attack by a bully,  only those who can still be safe when attacked will choose to say it!!

 Self defence skills that don’t make you a fighter but which can keep you safe from fighters, can be learned.

At this point, don’t think KUNG-FU KILLERS, but think, tai chi. How can you punch out a butterfly? Most martial arts are geared to fighting back, not ethical self defence, and few martial arts teachers would even know where to start to implement such a program.

Most assertiveness training fails at the moment  when a punch is thrown. To find the right combination between the two may take some time and effort but is certainly worth it if it is your child struggling with these issues that look so cut and dried to the adults in his life.

If our (obviously superior) desire to have a school, city and national culture that is free from the necessity of  training to manage the violence of others, causes us to ignore the obvious current need, then it is our children who will pay the price for our fantasies!

 Should schools be involved in helping our students be safe or is it just a parental responsibility?  Schools hold fire drills and have a buckle-up policy, surely the door is open for a realistic response to:

 "What do I do when a gang is chasing me!?"


Further Resources:

 Freedom from Fear: Taking Back Control of Your Life and Dissolving Depression

cover of Freedom From Fear: by Peyton Quinn


 Hard-Won Wisdom from the School of Hard Knocks: How to Avoid a Fight and Things to Do When You Can’t or Don’t Want to

cover of HARD WON WISDOM from the school of HARD KNOCKS:






The Gift of Fear

cover of The Gift of Fear