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Via Dr. Helen, comes an interview with, err, Dr. Helen. On the cause of kiddie violence, she says:

Youth violence is a very complex construct and experts and others tend to want to blame one thing, a video game, the Internet, or TV as the “cause” of why kids kill. This simplistic “one solution fits all” approach is easy, just get rid of X and kids will stop being violent. But it is simply not true.

Back when I was in prison*, there was a man that had worked with delinquents for two decades. Back then, we called them delinquents – I think they call them happy, fluffy bunnies now so as not to offend them or their parents. Particularly the parents, who get outright ornery when you tell them that their son (who is a three time, violent felon and sexual predator) may have some issues. The man I worked with was a licensed social worker with a graduate degree and before that he was a drill sergeant. No, really. One day, I said to him: What’s wrong with kids these days? They’re too quick to shoot each other or stab each other or club each other from behind. He says, and I am not making this up, that: Kids today are afraid to take an ass-whippin’.

He went on to say that, in his day and mine, if two teenage boys had a conflict, they’d meet on the playground after school and settle it. He’s right, we did. But no one ever got killed. No one ever went to the ER. We had black-eyes and were sore but we got over it pretty quickly. Then, the next day, we were friends again. Now, he says, kids are afraid of that. They don’t want to fight, because they’re scared of a little ass-whippin’. They’d rather attempt to kill someone than get their ass handed to them.

Could be. I had my ass kicked a few times and I seem OK.

* I worked there but I may as well have been doing time. Not a pleasant experience.

Update: In comments, Ken opines:

But if no distinction whatsoever is made between degrees of violence, or the ends to which it is put, then there is no reason for an adolescent to draw a distinction between “fighting back” and murder. Both are equally condemned, so why take half measures?

I suppose teaching the notion that all violence is equally bad, though understandable, could have some unintended consequences. But I don’t know that anyone intentionally teaches that but policies like zero tolerance make it somewhat believable.

14 Responses to “Ass-whippin’”

  1. Ken S Says:

    I think he’s not exactly wrong but not quite right either. I don’t think it’s being afraid of an ass-whippin’ as such (hell, I was afraid of that too) but it’s a result of the whole “violence is BAD BAD BAD ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS” mentality forced on kids today, often to the point that self defense is punished (can you say “zero tolerance”?)

    In the old days, as noted, boys would often just pair off, fight, and be done. Also, if there was a bully, the victims could team up and take care of it, and be done.

    But if no distinction whatsoever is made between degrees of violence, or the ends to which it is put, then there is no reason for an adolescent to draw a distinction between “fighting back” and murder. Both are equally condemned, so why take half measures? I know that’s not an eloquent way to explain what I mean but I think you understand it.

    As Don Kates noted thirty-some years ago, it’s no coincidence that many of the most violent “revolutionary” types of the late 60s and early 70s (specific example, the SLA) came from the “pacifist” wing of the left. When their utopian dreams didn’t happen immediately, their kuumbaya mentalities were incapable of dealing with it rationally.

  2. Rustmeister Says:

    Schools won’t let kids duke it out on the playground anymore, anyway.

    Even say you’re gonna whup someone’s ass and you’ll get suspended.

  3. AughtSix Says:

    Somewhat related, but not entirely… After my freshman year in college we got a new coach who put a stop to the (probably more than weekly) fights that broke out in practice. Honestly, I think we got along a lot better with the not-uncommon fight during practice. One time I got in a fight with the guy no one really liked (nickname: shit-stain, needledick, etc.). And, whaddya know, after practice in the lockerroom, “no hard feelings” and we got along better afterwards. As for being scared of getting your ass kicked, I don’t know what it says about me that I started (as in, “he started it when he hit me back”) a fight when I had one arm in a sling after a surgery, and just got the other arm out of a sling from a surgery with a guy wearing full football pads. I “hit him back” about five minutes after he hit me, so I sure could have avoided it… I ended up on the short end of the fight, I’d say. But no harm done, really. My glasses did cut my eyebrow, though, so it looked impressive. 🙂

    As for the all violence/fighting is the same, in elementary school I was the big kid. Also, I was pretty much (as far as school was concerned) the “good kid.” So, a couple of times a smaller, but “bad kid” would try to start a fight with me. I knew that, according to the rules, fighting meant suspension, and, being the good kid, I didn’t want that. So, I wouldn’t fight. I did a pretty good job of blocking punches (and inflicting a decent degree of pain in the process), but didn’t really fight back. I was all pleased with myself that I non-fought to a draw, and now he was really gonna get it by getting suspended… well, we didn’t get in any trouble. I think partly because the teacher didn’t want to give out an unequal punishment, no one got hurt, and didn’t she think I deserved to be punished for it lead to no punishment at all for the other guy. I was pissed. No great insight there, just agreeing with the Ken’s “kids being taught *all* violence is equally bad” experience.

    I could also agree with the possibility, at least in some cases, of a lack of distinction between one form of violence and another leading to problems once the threshold is crossed.

  4. Barry Says:

    It’s an interesting point that deserves thought.

    I’m a follower of the “violence never solved anything” school of thought as a general rule. I don’t necessarily think two kids squaring off in the schoolyard is a productive way to end an argument, either in the short term of the long term. There must be more civilized ways to resolve conflict that let kids release steam but do it in ways that don’t involve anger and aggression toward each other.

    One possible flaw in one of the theories floated out there, though:

    He went on to say that, in his day and mine, if two teenage boys had a conflict, they’d meet on the playground after school and settle it. He’s right, we did. But no one ever got killed. No one ever went to the ER. We had black-eyes and were sore but we got over it pretty quickly.

    Back in the day, we were mostly scrawny, skinny kids who’d flail at each other with our arms and roll around on the ground Tom Sawyer style. But today, as evidenced by the 300lb lineman that are being produced around the country and increased nutrition, etc. kids are bigger, heavier and their bodies are more dangerous weapons than 30, 40 years ago. I don’t have any stats to prove it, but I would imagine a schoolyard fight between two middle or high school kids back in the 70’s would be a bloody-nose scuffle. Today’s it would just as likely be a better chance for broken bones, concussions, and blunt trauma.

    Just my thoughts..

  5. nk Says:

    Yup. I took two guys on at once when I was sixteen. I have a broken nose and a scar over my left eye but also scars on all my knuckles. I gave as good as I got. They asked me if I wanted to stop and I said “No”. I don’t know that we were ever friends. They were treacherous little female reproductive organs and I really wanted to hit them. I’m proud to have a daughter who falls out of bed, splits open her eyebrow on the bedframe and just goes back to sleep. I saw the blood on her pillow in the morning, brown by that time, and asked her if she had been throwing up her chocolate milk. She said “I got a booboo”.

  6. markm Says:

    “Even say you’re gonna whup someone’s ass and you’ll get suspended.” Unless you’ve been classified as psychologically impaired or something (probably because of a long history of trying to burn down the school and kill your classmates and teacher) – then they can’t touch you. In other words, it’s the delinquents that are protected.

    Even in my elementary school days – before 1965 and in a small, conservative town – the principal didn’t distinguish between bullying and fighting back. (And it probably didn’t help that the worst brat in the entire town was the Mayor’s son.) The entire staff admired JFK, but never seemed to notice that his speeches threatened extreme violence towards the commies if they stepped over the line. They were indeed trying to teach “the notion that all violence is equally bad.” They just weren’t getting very far with that message. The parents didn’t support them, the cops would have laughed at them if they’d been called in over a schoolyard fight, and the evening news pretty darned clearly showed that they were out of touch with reality.

    What limited bullying most effectively was that most of the kids had been raised right and wouldn’t stand for it going beyond a certain point. Bullies like an appreciative audience. When their audience became threatening instead, they backed down fast! I mentioned the Mayor’s son above – I think he’d have turned into a full-fledged psychopath if he’d lived to grow up instead of stealing his dad’s booze and dying in a car crash before the ink was dry on his driver’s license – but he was only dangerous if he caught you alone. Otherwise, he was never stupid enough to take that one step that would get him mobbed by a dozen smaller kids.

  7. Ken S Says:

    Coincidentally, I came across this after stopping by here.

    My kids’ middle school (maybe HS too but I don’t know for certain) did have a policy of suspending anyone fighting, even those just defending themselves. I know of one kid who took a beating just to keep from being suspended again (he had already been suspended once for daring to fight back).

    But for Barry’s comment: I realize I didn’t express it very clearly, but I don’t (and I don’t think others did either) mean to imply that kids should ever have solved arguments that way. Violence is neither useful nor productive for solving disagreements, though one might make a case for minor fights being an outlet (I don’t, but it’s not implausible). But bullies are not typically deterred by nice talk alone, and certainly are not deterred by victims that don’t fight back.

  8. The Freeholder Says:

    Unk, I may be a bad man, but this is what I’ve told my kids:

    Under the No Child Left Behind BS, you will get suspended if you get into a fight. You will get suspended if you defend yourself from someone who is attacking you, because you got in a fight.

    I don’t expect you to take a beating maybe getting hurt or worse, just because you’re trying to keep from being suspended. If someone starts hitting you, hit back. And since you’re going to be suspended anyway, so be sure to get your money’s worth.

    Needless to say, Mrs. Freeholder heartily disagrees.

  9. nk Says:


    My daughter is not five yet and I’m teaching her how to make a fist and hit with it. I let her hit me in my stomach. It stings her little hand more than it stings me but she has to learn that too.. I DO ALSO tell her that we don’t hit our friends — only people who don’t stop bothering us when we tell them to stop.

  10. Ken S, Fifth String on the Banjo of Life Says:

    My Dad taught me that fighting is a piss poor way of solving differences and does nothing but lose a potential friend (and he was a hardhead who only learned by experience*), but also that backing down is the worst course if it’s forced upon me. As he put it, if someone started a fight with me, I should finish it, but if I ever started a fight, he would finish it.

    *Apparently a lot of experience with fights as a teenager, which was why he impressed upon me to avoid them as much as reasonably possible. He was a tough little shit – when I was a kid he was jumped by three drunks in a restaurant bathroom, and he was the only one that walked out.

  11. straightarrow Says:

    I had one or two fights every damn day for several years in school. One, because I was very small for my age. Two, because I was as babyfaced as a girl. Three, because it was a small town in the south (Ok) where everyone was born, except me. Four, because I wouldn’t back down when some bigger kid, and they all were, wanted to show off.

    I learned to fight. I fought to win, no matter what. I was called crazy a couple of times, but people finally realized it was best to not start with me and I wouldn’t start with you. I lost a few, but I learned something in every one of them, and nobody wanted me twice.

    As an adult I had a few, none of which I started. The two most nearly disastrous occassions the first was four guys jumped me, the second three guys jumped me. The first time, I was the only one still standing when the sheriff got there. The second they decided they would like to quit if I would let them. I did. I was actually carrying a pistol that time and never even thought of using it.

    All the above is not to brag, but to show my bona fides. I have long said that the upsurge in horrific violence started when we started preaching that there is nothing worse than violence. Hence we have done several things we should not have. We have made people more fearful of governmental punishment for self defense than they are of being robbed, raped, beaten, or killed. That’s pathetic!

    We have tried to hide the unalterable truth that everybody gets hit in the mouth sometime. It happens. If you are so scared you can’t imagine it because of the fear mongering of violence and the certainty of punishment no matter the justification, it just seems a natural progression to expect that the products of this stupid philosophy will sneak up behind the guys they are afraid will “hit them in the mouth” and put a bullet in their skulls

    If we had not as a society decreed there is never a justification for violence, most people would have grown up having the average amount of physical difficulties and by the time of adulthood have already learned that avoiding such is desirable, but not at any price no matter how high. Hence, they would not be sissies as adults and they would not be so vicious as they now are because of the inordinate fear of “getting hit in the mouth”.

    I have five daughters and three sons. I am not even going to count the grandchildren. But I have told them all, if they are caught starting a fight they are in serious trouble with me. Of course my children are grown now and that no longer holds for them. I also made them aware of methods of self defense and told them if they refused to defend themselves when attacked they better hope they get hurt too bad for me to touch them.

    As it happens, it was one of the best gifts I gave the girls. No man has ever struck any of them more than once. Two were struck by men. Two men will probably never make that mistake again. Thank God they weren’t romantic partners, so there was no domestic violence thing at work. Just a couple of luckless losers with their asses handed to them.

    None of us are violently turned, but we know how to use it if forced. I cannot imagine any society that can survive if the majority of her citizens are not so inclined.

    Sorry, for the length. This is not a subject that is easy to discuss without sounding like a crazy or a victim. Tried to give an overview of my take and some idea as to why.

  12. DirtCrashr Says:

    ’74-’76 I played water-polo in order to fight, it was sanctioned that way, and I avoided fights in every other way. But the rest of the “I’m a lover not a fighter” kids would go ballistic on a dime. I agree with straightarrow that the notion, “there is never a justification for violence” is a bad and stupid idea, and one which actually does more harm than good.

  13. Fred Says:

    Good points

  14. EricWS Says:

    Barry, Ken, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, a kid shoved me into a wall of lockers during gym class. This particular boy had been calling me names, and heaping abuse upon me for years by this point – so he was not potenial friend. Up to that point, I had ignored him, as I had been taught to. By the time the gym teacher came in to see what was disturbing the class, I was slamming the kid’s head into a locker like a battering ram. After that day, neither he, nor any of his 5 or 6 friends who saw the fight, laid a hand on me again. They continued to insult me, and I continued to ignore them.

    Explain to me how violence did not solve that situation? You may not like violence, but Heinlein was correct. Naked force has resolved more conflicts that anything else. Did negiotation solve the Nazi crisis? Did the threat of trade sanctions end the practice of suttee – widow burning? How do you think the Rule of Law is enforced, if NOT with violence?

    Violence is a powerful tool, as strong as a any in Man’s toolbox. Its use determines whether it was good or evil. To be unable to differentiate between harmful and protective violence is to see wolves and sheepdogs as the same. It is to view police and criminals as moral equals, to say that Americans soldiers are the same as Islamist terrorists. Do either of you honestly believe in those comparisons?

Remember, I do this to entertain me, not you.

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