There are some people who question the legitimacy of self-defence training for kids. For these people the prevailing concern appears to be that training in self defense, or for that matter martial arts are an acknowledgement that violence exists and that children will in turn be taught violence.
In reality, what happens is that when children learn self-defence, they are less likely to be confronted with violence.
In New Zealand schools, 1 in 3 children experience bullying weekly, and 1 in 2 on a monthly basis. More worrying are the statistics that indicate that at present half of our school kids feel physically threatened at least once a year. NZ statistics have shown a steady rise in bullying events since 1994.1
Notably, there are further negative consequences of this problem. Studies show that our kids who are subjected to bullying have their own self-worth and academic achievement impacted; in many cases continued into adulthood.
“We know the consequences of bullying are important. Young people who are bullied have behavioural and emotional health problems from that experience that travel with them so it's an issue we need to address.” 2
But our programmes are not just about the victims of bullying. They are also about those who perpetrate these behaviours. At NZKM we work closely with Counsellors at some of our schools as well as talk with teachers who deal with many of these issues on a daily basis. The truth is that many of these kids come from troubled backgrounds. And as Mike King (comedian and mental health campaigner) said in a recent interview about bullies, “kids learn by what they see, not by what they're told.”
Recent changes in the definition of bullying as per the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which all doctors use to diagnose mental illness highlight the significance as it relates to long term psychological damage and PTSD:
“In the case of trauma such as bullying, PTSD can also come about by way of an ‘accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents.’ (Note that this is often referred to as ‘Complex PTSD’.)”3
Dr. Susanne Babbel Ph.D., M.F.T. Somatic Psychology identifies some root causes of why kids bully as well as studies into the long-term effects of bullying, particularly the onset of PTSD. She states:
“In worst-case scenarios, the abuse of bullying can lead its young victims to suicide, sometimes called ‘bullycide’. But even though most children grow out of the stage of bullying and being bullied, victims of this hateful crime are still at risk for the long-term effects of PTSD.”4
And these are just snippets… particularly as these awful statistics become intertwined with those around youth suicide.
“In terms of child health, New Zealand has the highest rates of suicide in the OECD for youth aged 15‐19.”5
Something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in other parts of the world. The BBC reports:
“A new report by Unicef contains a shocking statistic – New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.”6
But what was particularly revealing is that although it is clear to all that there is a combination of reasons for these dismal figures, high on the list of causality is that we have very high rates of bullying in our schools. According to Shaun Robinson of the Mental Health Foundations New Zealand, “New Zealand also has one of the world's worst records for bullying in school."
Needless to say, this goes on and on. It’s been a problem since forever and although there seem to be many studies supporting complex analysis of causes, predictors and ultimately very, very, very long-term based solutions; parents want simple answers and something that provides immediate effect. And it’s their right to.
Most parents simply do not want to see their child victimised. Many resort to contact with the school in order to identify and resolve the issue, however our experience shows this has very limited effect. Then there are the instances where the bullying, in the form of threats and actual violence spills over into their ‘out of school lives’. Who deals with it then?
We have parents tell us that where they have found it necessary to address the issue with the parents or caregivers of the bully, they too have become the victim of verbal abuse and threats. What are their options now? Police involvement often results in an escalation, or they usually get involved when a violent altercation has already taken place.
So, the reality of this phenomenon is that it isn’t limited to a specific environment. Its common, it escalates very quickly, and is potentially extremely harmful long term.
This is where we come in.
Our programmes aim to change the behaviours of both the bullied and the bully. We don’t have the answers that revolve around laws and societal norms – Government and various Ministries have those responsibilities. But we understand that for many, the here-and-now is most pressing. Our aim is to empower our youth. Ultimately this means creating confidence, and that can only happen if we challenge them to become more aware of pretty much everything that’s happening around them. Empowerment through Self Confidence and Peace of Mind.
“There is a widely held misconception that this is all about the ‘moves’ or ‘techniques’. The reality is very different.”
As with all our self defence programmes we aim to create change that has a sociological foundation.
These principles are supported by various studies, but as with all studies, there had to be a first one. And even though this study was targeted towards women, the basis for the conclusions it determined apply to humans regardless of age or sex. In any case, there are many studies since this one that support the findings for all people.
The University of Oregon Sociology Department study identified that women (freshmen) were far less likely to encounter violence or unwanted attention if they had completed a self defense programme. Interestingly, they engaged in training consisting of physical behaviours that ultimately led to changes in how they were perceived meaning most never had to use the skills learned.7
It is important to note that the contents of a good self-defence programme are not just intervention or coping strategies, they should in equal measure be about prevention and avoidance. This means creating a realistic view about what constitutes risk, but in balance; because being too risk averse amounts to fear, and that is not how we envisage our youngsters living their lives.
We aim to create changes in our kids that are both obvious and subliminal. Changes that are perceived by others and will lead to less likelihood of them being victimised; or avoidance, because the simple truth is that regardless of all the studies, the bully chooses his victim through a process of profiling.
Our training aims to help kids avoid bullying, and particularly violence through their own behavioural changes. We then have active tactics including assertive behaviours both verbal and non-verbal to provide our kids with the tools to de-escalate situations as early as possible.
To top this off, we provide basic tools that give the best statistical chance of success to deal with actual violence.
The process is completed through creating an understanding that personal safety is foremost, and that preventative actions such as communicating and notifying parents, caregivers, friends, teachers and authority figures is part of longer-term solutions.
But all this is dependent on creating confidence in kids. The actual physical self-defence component of what we do is just as much a vehicle to achieve that as well as provide the tools should they need to physically protect themselves.
Kids need this.