The Protectors

Our Work in Chattanooga

The Protectors visited Chattanooga in February 2016 to speak with local educators about bullying. Paul Coughlin addressed several misconceptions, passing on the idea that cultural change is the key to diminish bullying. But reducing it in schools requires more than removing derelict administrators. Courage is ultimately needed to stand up to bullying, but parents must expect their kids to do the right thing: change from bystanders, to alongside-standers.

“Your child is far more likely to join the bully than to help the target,” Coughlin said. “We’re here to help you change that.”

Silverdale Baptist Academy hosted the Courageous Community Conference, in an effort to unite a community struggling with bullying.

CLICK HERE to read an article written by David Cobb for the Times Free Press in Chattanooga, and learn more about our efforts there.



Terrorists aren’t the only ones who terrorize

Originally posted on

June 16, 2014: Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul.

As we struggle to comprehend the growing evil of the terrorist group ISIS, we need to look no further than our own neighborhood bullies to understand key weaknesses within ISIS’s tactics in order to thwart them.

Terrorists aren’t the only villains who use violent acts to create fear in part by targeting innocent, non-combatants. Bullies do so every school day in America, causing more than 160,000 children to stay home and motivate others to take their life. Bullies also wed power to fear and target innocent classmates, except bullies do so to gain social status as terrorists strive to usurp political power.

Both ISIS and schoolyard bullies endeavor to dominate a target’s psyche through addling fear, foreboding powerlessness, and threat of future cruelty. Both groups sneer at others with disdain and contempt, believing they are a kind of master race, destined to rule and superior to their targets who “deserve” to be treated with unspeakable cruelty.

Most of us have no opportunity to thwart terrorism. We rely upon our courageous men and women in uniform for that. But we can muster a more common courage to thwart terror from bullying in our schools

“Terrorism,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks, “is not an act of war but of taunting,” and taunting is among a bully’s sharpest knives.

A taunt is a battle cry intended to demoralize another and make a target abandon self-defense, such as the late Alex Moore of Jemison, Ala., who in May, 2010 took her life in part due to taunts from classmates who called her “fat bitch,” among other slurs for more than two years.

A group of eight male bullies stalked a younger and smaller target in California for months. They made the ticking sound of a clock when he walked by, letting him know that as the ringleader told him, “You can run, faggot, but you can’t hide.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, through escalating their barbarism upon the innocent, wants the free world to feel the same dread, drop its guard and give up.

As terrorists are willing and able to kill the body, most serial bullies want to damage and even kill their target’s spirit. And just as terrorists rejoice in their brutal murders, some bullies rejoice in their evil deeds as well.

When the suicide of overweight Alex Moore was announced at her school, one of her most enthusiastic terrorizers proclaimed with swagger, “That fat bitch deserved to die!” In backwater parts of the world, being non-Muslim can be a fatal distinction. In backwater parts of America, so can being overweight.

Genocide is also a tool of terrorism, and “to begin to fathom genocide,” writes international bullying expert Barbara Coloroso, “the place to start is not with conflict but with bullying. Bullying is a conscious, willful, deliberate activity intended to harm, to induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and to create terror in the target.”

Though the battle plan to thwart ISIS and adolescent bullying differ, one important similarity must be heeded.

Martin Luther King said that evil carries within itself the seed of its own destruction. When it comes to terrorism and bullying, one of those seeds is an intoxicating hubris, which causes both groups to over-estimate their abilities.

Like schoolyard bullies, ISIS’s driving arrogance may have caused it to march into a self-made trap. By burning people alive, drowning others in cages and beheading many more and with such demonic theatrics, crucifying innocent children, burying children alive and selling others into sex slavery, it has moved the world from fear to indignation and anger, creating an unintended foundation of hope because as Augustine realized, “Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”

President Obama’s comments this week about ISIS shows he has yet to demonstrate such needed anger, nor fully comprehend the sadism that electrifies a terrorist’s mind and perverts his soul. “Ideologies,” he said, “are not defeated with guns but with better ideas and more attracting and more compelling vision.”

This may be true when assessing conflict, misunderstanding, miscommunication and so on. But terrorists and bullies are not motivated by these conditions. They are motivated by disdain and contempt, which stem from a volatile mixture of supremacy and hatred. They glory in a form of evil that requires potent force, not “better ideas.”

Most of us have no opportunity to thwart terrorism. We rely upon our courageous men and women in uniform for that. But we can muster a more common courage to thwart terror from bullying in our schools, the leading form of child abuse in the nation and where millions of innocent children have their psychological skin seared from taunts, terror and threats of further abuse daily.

Evil isn’t just “over there.” It slithers each day through our playgrounds and classrooms. Anger toward it is easy. The hard part, as with ISIS, is wedding our anger to courage in order to thwart it.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying-Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.

Why football is a source of so much bullying, hazing in America

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Sayreville Schools Superintendent Rich Labbe made the announcement last week during a meeting with football parents, after a criminal investigation found credible evidence of pervasive and generally accepted forms of harassment, intimidation and bullying on the team. Now, the Associated Press reports, seven teens are facing sex crime charges.

The was the right decision by the school district because contrary to popular myth, bullying players and coaches don’t listen much to peace, love and understanding. They listen to swift, immediate and painful consequences, which is exactly what school officials did.

It’s the right medicine for an illness that plaques this nation.

Still, some New Jersey parents are furious, saying the school’s decision is unfair to innocent players who didn’t bully. Not so fast parents. Most bullying takes place in front of peers but away from authority. Bullies bank on a code of silence from bystanders who should speak up but don’t. So when it comes to bullying, there aren’t many “innocent bystanders.”

Last September, in Utah, stand-up coach Matt Labrum and his staff suspended all 80 players on the Union High School football team for their off-field antics, as well.

Labrum believes football helps create great men. As the founder of an anti-bullying organization, The Protectors, I wish I could agree.

Of all the complaints we receive about sports programs and bullying, no other sport comes even close to the horrendous and sometimes criminal behavior associated not just with football players, but with coaches as well.

A mother from Ellwood City, Pa., reported how several high school football players forced her 13-year-old son to drink urine out of a plastic soda bottle.

Roxana Spady of Columbus, Neb., sued Columbus Public Schools. She says her son was physically assaulted and held while a team member defecated in a dormitory toilet and then dunked her son’s head in it.

Even flag football is messed up. Four Walker Middle School players in Tampa, Fla., faced criminal charges, including third-degree felony battery. Two received 5 years probation for sodomizing the younger player with hockey and broom sticks.

A California pastor remembers how high school players pulled his pants and underwear down to his ankles and shoved Icy Hot up his rectum with their fingers and a wooden tongue depressor. He says they did it multiple times and threatened to beat and murder him if he told anyone.

Football culture harbors bullying, a fact illuminated by the damning Wells Report commissioned by the NFL, which led to the firing of bully player Richie Incognito, coach Jim Turner, and head trainer Kevin O’Neill.

Here’s why football is more messed up than other high school sports: Bullying follows power, and football programs are the most powerful entity on most school campuses.

This power delivers privilege, entitlement and above-the-law thinking. It’s Enron with swollen biceps and acne. Also, bullying thrives in larger groups, and football has a larger roster than other sports.

This attitude that harms football culture has a poster boy, former Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who in the Wells Report exhibits classic bullying mentality: hubris, lack of remorse,obstruction of justice, blaming the victim and unwillingness to acknowledge wrongdoing.

The disgraced player with one of the dirtiest records in the NFL surely learned how to get away with bullying well before college and going pro.

I help numerous schools fight bullying each year. “If you really want to decrease bullying,” I tell them, “start with your football coaches,” who sometimes are also the school’s athletic directors, giving them even more power and cover for their transgressions.

If these coaches possess the right moral fiber and have had anti-bullying training, then schools have real advocates. If not, one or more could be harming that school right now.

Ironically, football also has the power to lead our schools away from bullying, which is the No. 1 form of child abuse in the nation. Better football players, urged by better coaches, are taking the cachet of athleticism seriously and using their prominence to influence others.

Take quarterback Carson Jones from Queen Creek, Arizona, for example. He befriended fellow student Chy Johnson, who was born with a birth defect, had trash thrown at her, was called “stupid” and was pushed down in her school’s hallways. Carson “saved me,” Johnson told a reporter.

Like the football player I spoke with in Plano, Texas, who saw his teammates regularly tormenting a kid. He calmly sat next to the kid, and the bullying stopped.

These are the players with the right stuff that coach Labrum believes makes real men. I agree with him there.

The NFL is gaining hard-fought yardage against its bullying culture. But why is high school football so blindsided? There are dozens, if not hundreds, of broken programs just like the one in New Jersey. They, too, should be shut down and rebuilt by real coaches with the red-blooded values of respect, freedom and dignity for all.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying-Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.

More Guilt, Less Self-Esteem for Bullies

January 5, 2014, was a confusing day for many Americans.

That’s when an image of doe-eyed little Hailey went viral. She’s that sorry-faced girl, presumably in her early teens, dressed in black and holding a lime-green piece of paper. On it is a hand-written confession for cyberbullying another through social media. As a consequence, her mother made her donate her iPod to Beat Bullying, an anti-bullying organization.


Judging from the response of many parents, punch-drunk on pop-psychology, you might think Hailey’s mom was Cruella Deville’s meaner sister.

She’s accused of psychologically scarring Hailey for life, and of being a bully herself. A chorus of adults, ignorant as to the real dynamics of bullying, claim that Hailey will be an even worse bully thanks to her ignorant and abusive mother.

We have lost our minds.

Here’s why. For about half a century, the American psyche has been permeated by a squishy-nosed and hyper-permissive parenting psychology, a knee jerk reaction to the heavy-handed and punitive parenting that proceeded it, defined primarily thought not exclusively by harmful shame. As a result, today’s proverbial pendulum has swung too far toward a pernicious leniency, not just by parents but society as a whole toward the anti-social behavior of children.

Ever had the pleasure of being stuck a few hours with children reared under today’s permissive regime during the holidays where anything goes, including your sanity? No wonder alcohol sales spike then.

Consequently, any corrective measure that carries a whiff of shame, such as healthy and needed guilt, gets a bad rap today.

More bullies, not less, need to feel guilt, which we might call today “healthy shame,” a kind of ” “shame on you” for wrongdoing as opposed to “shame in you” that leaves a child feeling worthless and unloveable.

Having swallowed more than my fair share of the sea water of childhood abuse-the burning, gasping, bewildering kind – I know harmful shame. It guts you of life, making you believe you are no one nowhere: vile, worthless, loveless-even to God.

That isn’t what happened here. Look at the first few adjectives of her guided confession: “I am a kind, caring, smart girl.” Hailey surely had her mother’s help writing this. That’s because she wanted her to feel healthy shame/guilt for her action, not harmful shame for existing. This is correction, not identity-level condemnation.

Our semi-declared War on Bullying will not succeed unless we have more parents like her. To say it another way, we will continue to lose lives to bullycide as long as we have parents like Levi Weatherly, whose son was accused late last year of bullying a 13-year-old autistic teen, and who justified the bullying by saying, “I would say three-fourths of this stuff he brings on himself…”

Where’s the outrage for this and countless other justifications for searing the psychological flesh of another child? Sins of omission are just as deadly as those of commission. They just don’t make the headlines as they should.

If you worry about the fragile, inner butterfly of the average disciplined bully, don’t. Studies show they possess average to excessive self-esteem. They are not broken-winged little doves in need of greater tender loving care. Serial targets are the ones limping through life, not speaking up, keep their heads down, their opinions silent, choking down tears, insults and related abuse. They are the ones who are literally having their DNA mutated from bullying, crippling their ability to control their anger, among other damage. No wonder 85% of school shootings have revenge against bullying as their prime motive. Want to retain your right to bear arms? Then support the War on Bullying.

And since when is getting a taste of one’s own medicine always bad? One mother, when hearing about Hailey’s predicament, wrote, “When I was 6, my mom caught me bullying a kid for being poor/dirty. Made me wear the same unwashed outfit for a week. BAM! Empathy learned.”

Dr. Jennifer LaFleur, a psychotherapist from Canada and bullying expert, admits she was a “mean girl,” came from a strong and non-abusive family, had excessive self-esteem, and intentionally bullied an innocent girl out of her classroom. She now helps bullied children. What made her change? “When an older girl, Debbie, bullied me.”

Our schools will be much safer, our ailing test scores much higher, and the mental health of our children so much greater if more parents did what Hailey’s mother did.

So called “compassion” toward a bully is often cruelty to her targets. Keep this in mind the next time we send up sincere but false flair warnings of parental abuse against a parent trying to make our schools and world a better place.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a FoxNews contributor, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From BullyingCourage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.

Why Bullies Target The Disabled & How To Fight Back


On the heels of the unthinkable cyberbullying case in Florida where 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped to her death after more than a year of psychological assault last year, another horrendous case of cyberbullying surfaced in Plano TX. Thankfully, so has an arrest, which according to police met the criteria of the crime of harassment on behalf of someone who was once a family friend.

1Shea Shawhan, a 17-year-old junior at West Senior High School, suffered a severe brain injury at birth, leaving her with a diminished mental capacity and prone to seizures.

Despite her disability, she’s a cheerleader and plays on the softball team. Yet starting about 10 months ago, she began receiving vicious text messages threatening violence, rape and murder from undisclosed phone numbers generated by web applications, even after changing her number.

One says: ”Shea should just have one of her f****** seizures and die because people at west don’t want her. That’s the reason she has seizures, because that’s karma for giving birth to a freaky slut.”


Another: “Shea is so annoying but cute I want to do more than just kiss her I want to rape her then kill her. That will finally make sure she goes away for good.”

People of goodwill quickly had her back, including Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. The Dallas Mavericks invited her to be their special guest for a preseason game. She even posed with the team’s cheerleaders.

Sadly, special needs children are among the most bullied in any youth gathering [this can include church gatherings], and the late philosopher Henri Nouwen provides one of the deepest answers why. A former professor at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard later worked at the L’Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, working with developmentally disabled persons.

During one lecture, Nouwen’s main topic was the definition of what it means to be human. He said anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists provide the following traits: self-awareness, speech and symbolic cognition, and the capacity to imagine, among other traits purely cognitive traits.

These, he noted, were all mind-centered, which academia and popular thinking believe is the centerpiece of what it means to be human.

4Then he dropped a bombshell, the same one that causes so much psychological and physical assault to souls like Shea: If the mind is primary or even exclusively what makes us human, what about those who are mind deficient? Are they fully human, worthy of respect and possessors of dignity?

Our unofficial and shameful answer, especially within a youth culture where unkindness, meanness and cruelty are perverse forms of currency, is no. Of course few are forthright enough to say this out loud—but we do through our actions, as this and countless other stories of bullied mentally and physically challenged people reveals.

Shea, to a malevolent minority, is a child of a lesser god, unworthy of respect but deserving of contempt, hatred, disdain and assault.

Thankfully, courage and character came to Shea’s rescue. Her new Facebook page, I’mWithShea, has nearly 86K likes of solidarity. Bystanders have become what The Protectors calls “Alongside Standers.” Classmates and entire families wear lime-green t-shirts that read, “I’ve Got Shea’s Back.” The assault ended before the arrest, reminding us that bullies back down when confronted by positive peer pressure.

But we need more than positive peer pressure if we are to leverage a comprehensive, community-wide solution, the only kind proven to work. The identity of hard-core bullies, including Shea’s, should be revealed so employers, who pay a high price for hiring such malicious people, can also defend themselves from the high cost of low behavior. Serial bullies do not listen much to peace, love and understanding. They listen to consequences, “What’s in it for me to change?” This is their love language so to speak, so authoritative communities need to start speaking it, sooner than later.

Parts of England are already denying employment to serial bullies. Universities in South Korea deny serial bullies admittance. So should we.

My friend Gary has Down Syndrome, and has shown me a side of human possibility, what some call glory, which is hard to spot in the common life. His exuberance is beautiful and clarifying. I wish I had his Carroll Burnett-like comedic timing and the same acumen imitating Elvis. He is exceedingly kind and is in an oracle of unvarnished love. He comes from love, and love he breathes to others.

And he’s fortunate. He’s surrounded by protectors, people quick to defend him against malevolent forces. Sadly, he’s a minority within a beleaguered community that desperately need more protectors, people with the wisdom, courage and passion who turn awareness about bullying into effective action against it.

Gary is fully human because deep within the blacksmith of his soul is that divine and cosmic spark that imbues all of us with immeasurable value, which on one hand is as hard to measure as the the firmament above, yet on the other is as confirming as look of joy in the corner of his eye.

There are no children of a lesser, lower-case god, just a minority of low-character bullies who assault until confronted by people of goodwill. Thank you Plano for showing us how.

Support = Rescue

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a FoxNews contributor, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From BullyingCourage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.

Mom draws criticism, praise for blog urging bullied kids to toughen up

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Nov. 9, 2013: Stephanie Metz poses for a photo with her 2-year-old son Jameson in Rapid City, S.D.

A South Dakota mother is the target of both praise and criticism after she blogged that kids being bullied should toughen up.

Stephanie Metz’s  wide-ranging post, which spread on Facebook after she shared a link, was as much about oversensitive modern parents as it was about kids.

“The main message is `don’t be afraid to parent your kids.’ They need to deal with some hardships,” the 29-year-old mother of two from Rapid City said Wednesday by phone.

“It’s not our job to be our children’s friend and make life easy for them,” she added.

The Oct. 25 post on “The Metz Family” blog was titled “Why My Kids Are NOT the Center of My World.” Its original audience was eight friends and family members who have followed the blog since her first son was born four years ago and who live out of state.

Metz said she posted a link to the blog on Facebook, her friend shared it and then her friend shared it “and it just kind of went crazy from there.” The blog had been clicked on 885,000 times as of Wednesday and received countless other clicks on online sites that have posted it, she said.

She accepts the criticism and acknowledges her sons are still young — ages 4 and 2.

Metz said she doesn’t condone violence but also doesn’t think parents should let their kids shut down when someone’s mean to them. It’s a philosophy she said she and her husband, Matt Metz, learned from their parents and are using on their own boys.

“I feel like we’re creating a generation of victims,” she said.

Bullying expert Paul Coughlin said there’s some merit to that because some parents are too quick to solve their children’s problems. He’s president and founder of The Protectors, a Medford, Ore.-based organization that works with public and private schools to reduce bullying.

“I’ve coached those kids who are over-parented and you kind of want to give them a T-shirt that says `does not play well with others,”‘ said Coughlin, who’s also a soccer coach. “It does make for some fragile children when we over-parent.”

Coughlin said everyday conflict does not constitute bullying. And studies have found that most children will experience some bullying growing up, but it doesn’t do serious harm, he said. But by trying to protect their children, some parents increase their children’s chances of repeatedly being bullied.

“This over-parenting also is almost a perfect storm for creating serial targets,” he said. “Over-parented children are more likely to be serial targets than non-over-parented children.”

A Rosa Parks moment for the NFL?

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History reminds us that through the portal of individual injustice and abuse strangely flows the opportunity to let freedom ring. The NFL, with its reputation for no-nonsense reform on the battlefield, finds itself on the eve of such a hallowed moment taking place on America’s much larger battlefield for the health and well-being of our children: The fight against systematic abuse we euphemistically call bullying.

Enter the NFL’s reluctant, if not accidental, Rosa Parks: Dolphin’s offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.

Weary Rosa Parks, that icon of the Civil Rights Movement who refused to relinquish her seat on that segregated bus so many years ago, became a then-reluctant reformer against systematic abuse and humiliation.

Unlike Parks though, Martin, a Stanford graduate, left his seat and the Dolphins, reportedly after two years of abuse and assault, culminating in a move straight out of the bully playbook: When the target [Martin] sits down to eat at the team’s lunch table, the rest of us will get up in a public display of contempt intended to isolate and humiliate him. Reports say Martin stormed out and didn’t return.

His alleged ringleader bully could not have a more perfect name, since bullies are adept at walking socially inappropriate and criminal lines: Richie Incognito.

Respected coach Tony Dungy reportedly put him on his “DNDC” list: “Do Not Hire Because of Character.” Incognito, a 9-year-pro, was considered one of the NFL’s dirtiest players when he was with the St. Louis Rams. He may well be the NFL’s Bull Connor, too.

Reports say Incognito is considered a “leader,” within the team [Bull Connor was a leader, a Commissioner of Public Safety]. This also fits the bully profile since many are leaders – in the wrong direction.

Incognito reportedly sent texts and left voicemail messages for his biracial teammate that were racially charged [“half-n*****], threatened to defecate in Martin’s mouth, and track down his family and harm them.

This isn’t good-natured teasing where both people are laughing and where people come together in a spirit of fraternity. It is taunting, harassment and illegal, if proven.

By leaving the organization, Martin, a two-year starting player, forced it to contend with an age-old problem within sports, especially football, a program that we get more complaints about than all other high school sports programs combined.

Like Parks, Martin may well be a reluctant reformer who has shown America’s youth that to be a target doesn’t make you “weak” [starting tackle] or “stupid” [Stanford graduate]. By leaving a bullying hot spot, he shows us that such behavior makes us wise, brave and dignified.

Will the NFL show us similar virtue and lead us against what many believe is the leading form of child abuse in the nation, the only kind the most beleaguered among us are told to “just ignore”?

Because in the end, sports aren’t about sports. They are a fusing of our hopes and aspirations, our dreams and apprehensions. In their most noble expression, sports are the inner us, our collective need as incurably social beings to cheer for a common hero, an extension of our own heroic capacity, latent as it may be. We need help getting it out. Sports helps this happen.

Ironic, isn’t it, how the sport most hampered by accusations of abuse and psychological assault is also strangely the sport that can lead us as a nation to a freer, bullying-less future?

We know this to be true given its cultural horsepower. We feel it is so when we witness such adulation and athletic prowess. But will this governing body have the courage and guts to make it so through bold freedom-from-bullying initiatives that break past prejudice, ignorance, contempt and other building blocks of systematic abuse and injustice that bullying requires to exist and thrive?

That’s the real story here, and it’s the real victory an entire nation longs to celebrate and cheer.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying-Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.