Is it time to teach children the self-protection of our elite warriors?

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Dear Brendan,

I’d like to discuss with you the important topic of bullying that is affecting our children and families across the country. 

This is a sensitive, controversial topic for some, but I feel the need to address this head on now more than ever.  The reason is that a classmate recently threatened to kill my youngest daughter at her middle school.  My opinion on this subject comes from what I have observed and learned first-hand from my working, operating and training within the area of self-defense or, better said, self-protection, but also from my time in the Department of Defense, Special Forces and Intelligence Communities.   

This discussion wouldn’t be complete without including how the local school district and local law enforcement has handled or mishandled this situation.  The discussion also must include a little about teaching and training my own daughters and from my own experience of bullying in school while growing up.  All of this has shaped my personal views and opinions on this important topic and I would like to bring them to the table for an open and honest discussion. 

I hope this platform will help to spread the discussion of this important topic of bullying and self-protection across our communities of interest to include schools, law enforcement and families so everyone can become more aware and better engaged and will start executing jointly in addressing this matter with a holistic approach. 

I personally feel that certain elements of self-protection should be incorporated within a school’s curriculum across the country.  As serious as these topics are, of course we have to adapt how we teach them so they are suitable for children, but it is vitally important that we teach our children these concepts. I use the term self-protection and not self-defense because self-protection indicates that a physical response is already required.  What I’m referring to by saying self-protection is that our children are first introduced to some personal security measures such as situational awareness, how to display a confident attitude and demeanor, confident body language, understanding the meaning of personal space as it relates to self-protection and understanding aggressive body language as well as assertive verbal cues. These are the core principles of self-protection as they apply to children in a school environment.  These core principles may or may not then be supported by physical training, which would depend on the environment and what the parents want their children to learn. This is where the subject becomes controversial, but our first responsibility is to accept reality. We must accept that there are people in the world who will attack and even kill innocent, unprotected children.

The question we must ask ourselves is:

“What do we do when people want to kill our children and the system we trust is not designed to protect them?”

After all, there are certain variables to consider before teaching any child self-protection.  Here are the sorts of questions we should ask before we can answer that question: 

·       Is the child responsible enough to learn such methods and skills?  Is there a chance the child may use the skills to hurt another child?  What is the level of risk vs. reward?

·       What kind of physical skills should a child be taught?  Are we talking about defending oneself from an adult attacker?  Are we talking about counter measures for anti-bullying from fellow classmates?

·       We can see in the news, on the Internet and on social media that, increasingly, bullying in the schools of today involves weapons. Some bullying is influenced from within a gang related environment; other bullying is fueled by religion, race, and many other factors. How should these factors affect our response?

·       In which case it is necessary to ask, “Is it actually possible for a single child to effectively defend himself under those circumstances?”

My own recommendation to school officials and families is that children who are the most at risk of bullying or who are already being bullied be considered for the physical aspect of such training. To stay in line with this process, those children already known for their bad behavior would not be considered.  As odd as it may sound, maybe schools would benefit from training on a screening process of some kind. Those of us in the Special Operations Forces (SOF) and security and intelligence communities are good at conducting selection and screening to vet candidates to join our teams.  We could offer assistance to school staff to see if a similar approach would be helpful in curbing violence in schools to protect children. These are, after all, proven processes and training methods and to the children involved, the violence they experience is every bit as real as the violence of combat.

Regardless, I think the starting point begins with understanding what bullying is and how it actually starts.  I would be remiss not to mention some of the misguided politically correct anti-bullying campaigns that are used within many school districts with little to no success.  Again simply look at the facts and do some of your own research on this topic.  Let’s go into this with our eyes wide open and not be ignorant or naive about this important issue that is affecting many families and their children across our country.  Let’s help others understand the bullied child’s perspective and the reasons a child may allow himself to be bullied in the first place.  This process of understanding the child’s point of view starts at home, of course, with mothers and fathers. It continues to the school with the teachers, principal and other school staff, but then extends to local law enforcement, and to the before and after child care programs so many schools have today.  From there we may want to take a closer look at measures that can be taken to counter bullying.  We must clearly define this and not simply gloss over it with fancy words, propaganda slogans or some symbolic anti-bullying day at school where everyone wears a school pride shirt or draws an anti-bullying poster. Typically, after all the activities, the actions that must be taken and the tough decisions that must be made all get pushed to the side. It’s as if you checked the box for some mandatory training. In the end nothing is truly accomplished and bullying just continues to spiral out of control. 

I encourage all parents-- learn more about the policies intended to protect your child from bullying at school. What is the school’s approach and what is the deterrent?  Ask if local law enforcement is participating. It’s important for the success of any anti-bullying program that it be a joint effort that engages the school’s leadership, teachers, parents, students, local law enforcement and community.  Are they on the same page and speaking with one voice?  Do the students know and understand the school’s anti-bullying program?  I could rattle off a laundry list of questions, but you get my point about the programmatic aspects.

Let’s move to the more personal aspects of bullying and look it right in the eye. To continue on this theme we must start with self-honesty, development of self-confidence, and taking action by facing the fear head on. In this way an individual child can take back the power many schools and others have allowed the bully to take.  In simple terms who is running the school, the teachers and parents on behalf of the children, or the bullies? Speaking from personal experience of bullying at school as I was growing up, I can tell you now as an adult, I know for a fact that most bullies are simply cowards and are scared of being found out for who and what they are.  I can also tell you that if you are a little shy, quiet or different in any way, you may very well be bullied. My advice to anyone who is being bullied is to tell someone. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence.  Tell your parents, a family member, a teacher, tell anyone who you trust, who will listen and can help you.  Most schools seem to say they won’t tolerate bullying, but unfortunately their actions don’t mirror their words. 

We in the SOF community have another saying that I have referred to in the past, but it bears repeating. We call it closing the say-do gap.  This means that whatever we say we will do, we must follow through on and do.  Words are great and can move mountains, but only if they’re credible. Without action those words are empty and meaningless.  Please communicate to someone that you are being bullied.  Remember how important communication is and that in order for anyone to help they must first know what is going on.

With that said it is also evident that children are becoming more desensitized to the vulgarities of violence.  Incidents in our schools where children are getting stabbed, raped, robbed and shot by other students is becoming more and more common.  We now have police officers on-site at most schools across our country and some schools even require students to pass through metal detectors.  Now does this sound like a safe and friendly learning environment for our children?  

This type of reaction to a dangerous environment—putting more police officers, locks, bars and metal detectors in schools-- has also been reported on by various media sources. These sources say such measures will make our schools safer.  Sadly, the reality is that they won’t and haven’t. They just make the schools more like jails. Removing knives, scissors or guns from our schools won’t solve the problem. Jails and prisons prohibit weapons, but are some of the most dangerous places on earth.  If an individual intends to cause harm, then a pen or a pencil will do the job and you can’t teach children in school without giving them the ability to write.  Our children deserve to be educated in a healthy learning environment, not one where they are focused more on their own survival and are afraid of being assaulted, whether it’s on the bus, in class or going to their locker between classes.

The problem even extends outside of the school and includes the bus stop and school bus.  How many times have we seen videos of students assaulting each other inside a school bus? All too often.  This highlights the importance of the bus driver. In most cases, the bus driver is put in a bad situation without the training or authority to take needed action. He, or more often, she, is set up for failure and that is unacceptable. Shame on the school administration as well as the municipal, county and state leadership. Education and training for those at risk is required and should include all bus drivers, teachers, counselors and others that are tasked and entrusted with educating and protecting our children.  This also goes hand in hand with harsher penalties for those who offend.  Period.  There must be a true deterrent and currently there is not or we would not be seeing the violence we see in our children’s schools.

So, in summary, I stand firm on the subject that yes, certain aspects of self-protection should be introduced to all schools across our country. I, for one, would be happy to help institutionalize such self-protection programs within our schools.  The AM STRONGHOLD team stands ready and committed to helping anyone who needs our help. We will work side by side with school administrators, local law enforcement, families, students and others from the community.      

I’ll close on a somber note and two quotes that I hope will be helpful. We hear through the media that some children are in such despair from bullying that they are suicidal.  This makes me wonder if we ourselves haven’t been desensitized to this horrible situation. If innocent children are becoming suicidal, then surely as a society we should be assessing and doing all we can in terms of actionable options to deal with the problem at hand.  Are we asking the right questions?  What are the consequences of keeping the status quo versus taking surgical action that targets bullying at every level?  As parents and educators we have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure our children get a quality education to succeed in the real world, as well as the tools to be successful in life.    

“The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Strength does not come from winning.  Your struggles develop your strengths.  When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”

Never Above You.  Never Below You.  Always Beside You.

Team AM STRONGHOLD

Always Faithful & Always Forward,

-Travis