The Protectors

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

Originally posted on

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.

Please, let’s remove the word ‘bullying’ from all sports pages

Originally posted on

After being trounced 91-0 in football earlier this month, an unnamed father from the losing team, Western Hills High School in Texas, filed a formal complaint of bullying against the opposing coach, Tim Buchanan of Aledo High School, a team known for blow outs.

Buchanan admits that the win “wasn’t good for anybody…The score could have very easily been 150 to nothing.”

I have been in Buchanan’s sweaty sneakers.

Also a high school coach, I’ve won games by more than 15 points–in soccer. He’s right. It’s no good for anyone.

Like Buchanan, I could have made the score far worse. I, too, have pulled my starters early in the game like I did this Tuesday and we still scored 9 goals.

I’ve even played with 4 less players, quietly pulling them off the pitch so not to embarrass the other team any more. And we still kept scoring.

I know this drill. And I also know what bullying is and isn’t.

By framing what happened as bullying, we learn two important lessons on the chalk board of life: Most don’t know its definition, and it’s well past time we find another word to describe this intentional form of abuse and assault.

Though definitions can vary, most agree that adolescent bullying is the deployment of superior power (can be physical, verbal, social and even economic) to intentionally harm (not just hurt) an individual (not team) over a period of time and for no good reason.

It’s victimization without provocation, and it usually includes humiliation, threat of further abuse, isolation and some form of terror through power is wedded to fear.

These terms must be applied interpersonally (think person(s) on person), not corporately (think team). Targets are abused and assaulted on a personal level. Their very identity is impugned and often damaged.

Bullies want targets to question their value as human beings, which didn’t happen here. Reports show that the winning team didn’t talk smack.

They didn’t demean the other team as individuals. Rather, they put on a clinic with superior skill and athleticism.

Other teams should be learning from this coach instead of accusing him of some of the worst behavior imaginable.

The losing team (and parents) may have felt humiliation (it would have been worse if Buchanan told his team not to score), but it’s not the kind of intentional humiliation that damages on a soul level.

Also, the winning team didn’t intend to socially marginalize the other team, another hallmark of bullying. The winning team didn’t wed power to psychological fear, anxiety and terror, the way bullies do.

Knee-jerk reactions like this reveal that to most, bullying really means any event that makes me feel bummed-out sometimes, a kind of emotional owie in a culture gifted in creating an ever-growing list of victimhood.

It’s more than time to forbid this word from appearing on the sports page. It’s time to get rid of it completely.

With what?

Bullying is a specific form of abuse that is fueled primarily by hate and contempt. It’s assault upon a person’s psyche, a diminishment of their core identity to the point where a person may even want to die.

Assault is a better term. Perhaps even good old-fashioned “Hating” or a new word, “Contempting.”

The mood in Buchanan’s post-game locker room was funeral-like. In doing what they were trained to do through superior personnel, coaching or both, it was apparent that this team didn’t feel good about what they had accomplished.

My, I’ve been there as well. But it wasn’t because they assaulted the other team, expressing contempt and disdain.

Contrast this to how bullies feel after they attack. They do not feel a mingling of remorse and regret. Studies show that they feel electrified, glee and even pride for their “accomplishment.” They take pleasure in another’s pain.

I just gave you a simplified definition of sadism.

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.

It’s all about contempt — how bullies really think about others

Originally posted on

A collective gasp struck Americans Tuesday when Florida Sheriff Grady Judd announced the arrest of two girls, 12 and 14, charged with aggravated stalking of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Lakeland.

Rebecca committed suicide, or what we in the freedom-from-bullying movement sometimes call “bullycide,” by jumping from a concrete silo on Sep 9, 2013.

“[T]he malicious harassment by [the two suspects]” states the Polk Sheriff’s Office news release, “was likely a contributing factor in Rebecca’s decision to commit suicide.” The department said Rebecca through cyberbullying was told to “drink bleach and die,” “You should die,” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself.”

But that isn’t what caused us to shudder given how common such stories have become.

What caused many to put a hand over their mouth in disbelief was what one of these juveniles did soon after Rebecca’s death.

The 14-year-old suspect wrote on Facebook: “Yes I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself and I don’t give a f–k.”

That brazen and audacious statement compelled Judd to arrest the two juveniles.

“We knew there was total disregard for life, and if she would say those things after she bullied Rebecca and after the parents knew that then we had to act more quickly.”

Because we’re conditioned to believe that people commit such horrible acts because they feel badly about themselves, we conclude that these two girls must somehow be psychologically fractured and hamstrung by low self-esteem and self-hate.

Though it is true that “hurting people hurt people,” more research reveals that the opposite is true when it comes to bullying: Girls like Rebecca are stalked, harassed, beaten and slandered due to inordinate self-love.

Writes Dr. Roy Baumeister of the University of Florida in Scientific American: “Playground bullies regard themselves as superior to other children; low self-esteem is found among the victims of bullies but not among bullies themselves.”

Other experts concur, including Jeane Twenge, Ph.D., and Keith Campbell, Ph.D., authors of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.”

They write, “[I]t’s usually not low self-esteem that causes a kid to become a bully. Much more often, it’s narcissism: narcissistic kids fight when insulted, not the low-self-esteem kids (who are likely to do nothing).”

Until we understand this more accurate but sobering dynamic, we will find ourselves in a needed war against bullying similar to the War on Drugs: Exhausted, confused and thwarted.

In order to fight this war for human dignity and help rehabilitate schoolyard bullies (who are far more likely to go to jail than non-bullies), we must understand that most bullying is not rooted in anger but an emotion far more sinister: contempt.

The late Dr. Robert Solomon of the University of Texas, Austin, was a pioneer in the field of this dangerous emotion that has motivated many of history’s despots and dictators — bullies of the highest order.

Dr. Solomon explains that we express resentment toward those we perceive above us, anger toward those of equal status, and contempt toward those “below us.”

Those consumed by contempt believe others [including institutions, hence “contempt of court”] are inferior.

Unlike anger, which is hot but short-lived, contempt is somewhat cooler but longer lasting, helping us to see why some bullies are so tenacious — even beyond the grave, as we see here.

Worse, explains Dr. Solomon, many serial bullies believe the object of their contempt lacks value, and may be even worthless.

They make lists of “bad qualities” and harbor a “positive self-feeling” about themselves as superior.

Countless atrocities through history have been committed for similar reasons, including Hitler’s contempt toward Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and those physically and mentally challenged.

The latter is especially telling. Much like Rebecca, from whom Sheriff Judd says they can find no evidence that she harmed her tormentors, what did physically or mentally challenged people do to Hitler, to Germany?  Nothing.

Contempt doesn’t require accuracy, just an object of disdain to dehumanize and look down upon. And as history as well as today’s headlines reveal, torture almost always follows.

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.

The only way to combat America’s bullying epidemic

Originally posted on

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, as it has been since its inception in 2006. Yet since then, bullying continues to increase: some say it’s epidemic.

October is the perfect month to place what is now the leading form of child abuse before our nation’s conscience since most serial bullies go shopping for targets in September and by this month cornered their prey.

It was in October that an Idaho elementary school principal told me, “One of my students wasn’t bullying a boy he bullied the year before. So I said to him, ‘It’s great that you’re not bullying Jarod.’ He said, ‘I found somebody new.’ Worst of all, he had a smile on his face.”

Numerous schools this month will foster flash mobs, dramas, dance routines, and cafeteria-centered videos, among other anemic efforts that sparkle with a look-at-me energy but lack the power to reduce bullying. That’s because according to the Department of Health & Human Services 10-year landmark study, these well-meaning efforts won’t foster what’s truly needed to put bullies on their heels: courageous bystander intervention.

Bystanders possess the most potential power to diminish bullying through the deployment of assertive but non-violent peer pressure. And studies show that most students know and feel bullying is wrong when witnessed.

Yet only a measly 13% ever help targets. This is because mental awareness and emotional sympathy are not enough to right a social wrong. The missing ingredient during this pivotal month is fostering courage–a capacity flash mobs never provide.

The right thing and the hard thing are usually the same thing when it comes to combatting social ills. When it comes to anti-social bullying, the hard thing is compelling students to spend social capital upon marginalized classmates. Supporting such targets may knock a bystander down the social ladder–but it may help him or her climb it, depending upon what that school and community values.

These values define a school’s culture, which is revealed when a teacher turns her back. Parents and guardians, more than teachers, define this culture by what they emphasize at home. And right now what we’re emphasizing is pathetic, revealing a cultural problem, not a “school problem.”

Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project asked students what their parents valued most. Their me-centered answers? Their children’s happiness, self-esteem, and accomplishments. None help rear children who are caring, kind, courageous, responsible and just–the kind needed to reduce bullying. Instead, says Co-Director Richard Weissbourd, we should tell our children, “The most important thing to me is not that you are happy but kind and happy.”

Mature and healthy parents and guardians–not teachers and related faculty–must lead this effort if we’re serious about reducing school violence, drop-out rates, drug use and related ills associated with bullying.

Another powerful alley in battling bullying is high-school athleticism. Athletes often set the moral or ethical thermostat in most youth gatherings. They’re the rock stars, and some are spending their social cache upon targets.

Like Carson Jones, starting quarterback for Queen Creek High School in Arkansas. He quietly and courageously enlisted his fellow players to befriend and defend Chy Johnson, a physically and mentally challenged girl who once had “trash thrown at me” but now credits them for saving her life.

Like Minnesota high school quarterback Kevin Curwick, who wasn’t bullied but grew indignant when others were. He became what we call a “cyber-supporter,” starting a Twitter account that only includes positive and uplifting messages about classmates. After I challenged high school students in Plano, Texas to do the same, one student’s account had 116 followers–in less than 53 minutes!

Our children will commit heroic acts when given heroic tasks to accomplish. But they need courage before entertainment.

Aristotle among others told us that courage is a muscle: It only grows when flexed–not by watching a flash mob, playing a role in a skit, giving a speech, or standing elegantly on point.

They must commit acts of selfless courage themselves. It’s a challenge but, as our experience tells us, it’s doable when we move the harder but better direction this month and months to come.

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.

Courageous Communities Against Bullying


Our partnership with Courageous Communities Against Bullying continues to grow. On September 4, The Protectors will partner with White’s Chapel United Methodist Church to help the community of Southlake, Texas diminish this growing form of intentional abuse that is quickly becoming the leading concern among both parents and students. Join us as we spread The Protectors message throughout Southlake and nearby communities. If you are interested in getting involved in Courageous Communities Against Bullying, contact us here.

Courage In A Time of Fear: A Practical Guide to Ending Bullying

CourageMoviePostcard copy2The Protectors has been busy this past year, extending our outreach and helping more children in public schools, private religious schools, and other youth-based organizations throughout the world, most recently adding film to our outreach. It was my privilege to be a consultant and even appear in the upcoming docudrama, Courage In A Time of Fear: A Practical Guide to Ending Bullying

Unlike other films about what is now the leading form of child abuse in the nation, this docudrama goes beyond explaining the problem to offering practical solutions. It premiers at the Portland Film Festival August 31st, and we hope everyone in the area gets a chance to see the film.

Because of the film’s desire to empower Bystanders to find the courage to speak up and become heroic Alongside Standers of targets–part of The Protectors core mission as well–I’m glad to announce that The Protectors will also be creating a companion study guide to accompany the film, ideal for public schools. This will be released by the end of the year and will further The Protectors outreach into lower-income schools.

For more info on the film, click here. For updates on The Protectors and all the upcoming changes, sign up for The Protectors newsletter here.