FamilyLife Today®

Bullies and Protectors

with Paul Coughlin | October 12, 2007
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Did you ever get into a fight? Today on the broadcast, former "Christian nice guy" Paul Coughlin, author of the book "No More Jellyfish, Chickens, or Wimps," talks to Dennis Rainey about raising assertive kids.

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  • About the Guest

  • Did you ever get into a fight? Today on the broadcast, former "Christian nice guy" Paul Coughlin, author of the book "No More Jellyfish, Chickens, or Wimps," talks to Dennis Rainey about raising assertive kids.

Did you ever get into a fight?

Bullies and Protectors

With Paul Coughlin
October 12, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

[audio clip from "A Christmas Story"]

Scut: Farkas.

Gover: Farkas!  What a rotten name!


Narrator: In our world, you were either a bully, a toadie, or one of a nameless rabble of victims.

Bob: In real life, bullies can leave real scars or they can inspire nobility.

Man: When I was in fourth grade, there was this kid, Ben Jordan, and he sucker-punched me and gave me a black eye.  So after that I started lifting weights and working out and ended up becoming one of the stronger kids in school.

 So, years later, in high school, there was this bully picking on this younger kid, and he was in the middle of his backswing, and I came up behind him, and I grabbed his fist, and said, "I don't think so."  And, after that, no one ever tried to pick a fight with me again.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 12th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to talk about bullies today and about what we can do, as parents, to help our children know how to respond.  Stay with us.

[clip from "A Christmas Story"]

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  Did you ever get in a fight on the school playground?

Dennis: No, but walking home from school one day, I'll never forget Mark and Teddy, they caught me at the corner of Adams and – I forget the other street …

Bob: Two of them?

Dennis: Yeah, and they tried to make me eat a dead sparrow.

Bob: Really?  How old were you?

Dennis: My best guess is that I was eight, maybe nine years of age.

Bob: And were they older than you?

Dennis: One of them was.

Bob: Bigger than you?

Dennis: Both of them were.

Bob: So – how was the sparrow?


Dennis: They didn't achieve their objective, but what did happen is I had an experience with bullies.

Bob: Really?

Dennis: Yup, and as a result, I've had a heart for Christian families to train their sons, especially, but their daughters, also, in terms of being wise about knowing how to protect themselves.

Bob: You're talking about not being a bully but also not backing down from one.

Dennis: Absolutely, knowing what to do when a bully tries to intimidate you, take advantage of you, terrorize you, because there are bullies in this culture today.

Bob: I got to the 7th grade, and Keith Humphries got me in the boys' bathroom one day.

Dennis: You're going to mention his last name here on the broadcast.

Bob: Yeah, I'll take him down today, if he wants to go.

Dennis: You'll notice, I did not mention Teddy or Mark's last name.

Paul: They know who they are.

Bob: Keith wanted my lunch money, and I didn't know what to do.  I mean, I think he was telling me that he wanted, like, tomorrow's lunch money.  When I showed up tomorrow, he was going to get my lunch money, and I went home, and I remember talking to my mom and dad about what do I do?  And they said, "You stand up to him, and you tell him no."  And I said, "Well, he may hit me," and they said, "Well, you hit him back." 

 And I stood up to Keith the next day, and he backed down, and we were friends the rest of junior high.  And it was one of those deals, it was one of those defining moments where you learn to look fear in the face and say, "This doesn't scare me all that much.  Okay, what's the worst that can happen?  You get a little knot on the head, or you get a little sore lip, and move on, right?

Dennis: Right, right, right, and you take a step toward manhood in the process of defending yourself, because for the rest of your life, whether you're a young man or a young lady, you need to know how to defend yourself, and we've got a kindred spirit guest with us – Paul Coughlin.  Paul, welcome to the broadcast.

Paul: Thank you very much.

Dennis: Paul is a speaker around the country to men's groups.  He has written a book called "Christian Nice Guy," or is "No More Christian Nice Guy."

Paul: "No More Christian Nice Guy."

Dennis: And this book, "No More Jellyfish, Chickens, or Wimps."  I kind of like the title – "Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World."  It's got a chapter, this book does, Paul, that you wrote, called "The Truth About Bullies and Victims," and I just like it.  You know, it just kind of smells like masculinity in here as you open this part of the book.  You really are challenging young men to step up and be protectors, aren't you?

Paul: I am.  As a matter of fact, I started an organization called "The Protectors" and, with it, it is a faith-based response to school-based bullying.  I believe that bullying, public school bullying – it also happens in private school, even Christian schools, I've got letters from teachers, administrators, and students.  I believe it is the next move in America's noble civil rights movement because children are literally having their rights taken away to access – equal access to an education because of bullying and the fear that bullying puts into a child's mind.

Dennis: Do you think Christian kids, those who grow up in the church and been raised in a Christian family, are more likely to be bullied than other kids?

Paul: If they adhere to certain beliefs, if they adhere to a whole "gentle Jesus meek and mild" philosophy, yes – particularly the whole notion of turning the cheek.  You know, we've taken that text, that statement of Jesus', and I think we've really tortured it.  We have made it sound that we cannot protect ourselves; that if someone were to physically hit us, that we have to turn our cheek and let them hit us again.

 By the way, that's not what Jesus did when He was standing before the high priest.  He apparently said something that the guards did not like – so much so that the guard slapped Him on the face.  What did Jesus do?  He didn't, literally, turn his cheek.  He verbally defended Himself.  He said, "Everything I've done, I've done in public.  So if I've done nothing in secret, why do you strike me?"

Bob: He rebuked the guard.

Paul: He did, He rebuked him.  And so what that statement really means is that we're not supposed to return an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, we're not supposed to be vengeful people.  Being vengeful is loserspeak – it's not good for us, and it's not good for other people.

 Defending yourself from a bully is not being vengeful; it is simply self-protection.  So it is definitely within a Christian's worldview to defend themselves.

Bob: Okay, so you've got a Christian little boy like Dennis, who is walking home from school, and they've got the sparrow, and they say, "If you don't eat this sparrow, we're going to stuff it down your throat."

Paul: Yeah.

Bob: What would you coach a dad to coach a son to do in that situation?  And you ought to do it proactively because you can't – it's one of those things you can't really handle after the fact.

Paul: After the fact, right.  Well, first of all, what I can tell from Dennis, as far as I can tell, he doesn't fit the usual being bullied profile.  I doubt that you were bullied regularly.

Dennis: No.

Paul: We've all been bullied.

Dennis: No, but Mark was a bully.

Paul: Yeah, Mark was a bully. 

Dennis: He bullied everybody in the school, and I think, frankly, I knew a little bit about his home he came from, and even as a young man, although I was not really mature enough to think all this through, I kind of understood why he was an angry boy.

Paul: Yeah, bullies give what they got, usually.  Most kids who are bullies are bullied at home.  So what we do here, we don't want to give a bully the emotional display that they're looking for.  Eighty-five percent of bullying takes place in front of other people.  Bullies get a rush of power when the other person shows pain in front of them and particularly in front of the theater of all the bystanders.  Then we only have one other person in this situation.  Don't give them what they're looking for.  Do not give them that emotional display.  Eat the emotions, if you have to.

Dennis: Do not show fear.

Paul: Don't show fear, show confidence, if at all possible, and in this case, he's standing before two much larger boys – run as fast as you can.  Just get out.  It's a no-win situation.  You can try to go toe-to-toe with them and, of course, I think it's okay, it's good for Christians to defend themselves physically against someone who is, again, trying to beat them up.  But in this case, you probably aren't going to win, so you would have to be wise as a serpent in a situation like that.

Bob: So if you run, though, aren't you being a coward?  Aren't you giving the bully the upper hand?

Paul: Well, I don't think so.  I think that it's discretion in a situation like that. 

Bob: You're living to fight another day, huh?

Paul: I think you're living to fight another day there.  It makes sense that – again, and if you're running because you're preserving your value as a person, I don't think that's necessarily – we're not talking we're in the military here, that if you run, other people are going to be hurt.  We're talking – it's a unique childhood situation, actually, that's common to all children.  So I think running in that situation is just fine.

Bob: Did you run when that happened?

Dennis: No.  No, I stood my ground, and I attempted – I do remember being very afraid, and I showed my fear.  Yeah, I think I went home that day in tears.  But it made such an impact on me that I thought, you know, when my sons get old enough to experience this, I really want them to have some sense of knowing what they ought to do in that situation, and, I must say, Paul, that knowing the Bible and grappling over some of these passages, Scripture that says not insult for insult but giving a blessing instead and "love is patient, love is kind."

 It actually took me a number of years, I think, before I understood that love does have boundaries.

Paul: Absolutely.

Dennis: You can be a loving person, and you can say "No further.  No, you're not coming past there."

Bob: In fact, that can be the most loving response.

Dennis: That's exactly right, and I think the Christian community many times gets this gravely wrong because they wrap love in a defenseless, borderless, no fences, no protection.  And if someone broke in to my house, I'm going to defend my house.  Why wouldn't you defend your life?

Paul: The Ten Commandments, most of them are built around the notion that I begin and end and another person begins and ends.  Which is another way of saying boundaries, we have boundaries, and we must respect those boundaries.  God Himself wants these boundaries to be respected.

Dennis: I want to read something from your book.  It's about cowardice.  You say "Cowardice is the enemy of courage.  Cowardice makes us feel" – I like this, Bob – "sludge-like.  It erodes our integrity and our dignity.  It mortifies our souls and diminishes our self-regard.  Odd that we wouldn't be already focusing on this in an age where self-esteem is an already untouchable sacred cow, it seems we're all for bolstering self-esteem in our kids until it comes to the exercise of courage, the virtue upon which all other virtues depend."

Paul: You cannot love – well, you can't get to agape love, deep and abiding love, without courage, because in order to get to deep and abiding love, you have to take risks.  Courage gives you the action, the spirit, the animation to take that risk.

 And so when we want us to be loving people, and we should be loving people, we must realize that courage is the virtue that underpins all the great virtues of our lives.  But yet ask yourself this question – when was the last time you heard a sermon on courage?

Dennis: Yeah.

Bob: Okay, let me take you inside the Coughlin Bully Training Institute.  You have three children, right?

Paul: I do.  I have two boys and a girl.

Bob: And have you had conversations with them about bullies?

Paul: Yes.  They have our go-ahead, our green light, to defend their God-given value.

Bob: And how did you, as a dad, communicate that to them?  Was this around the dinner table?  Was it – did you have an after-dinner, everybody gather around, I want to talk to you about bullies?  What did you do?

Paul: It would be both, sure.  That's part of our regular conversation.  My wife is a fantastic host in our home not only of other people but of our own children.  We have regular dinners.  That's where life gets hashed out, and they have the freedom to defend themselves.  They have the freedom and, in fact, argue the obligation to defend others when they are being attacked.

Dennis: Okay, so if one of your children, you have three, raised their hand and said, "Daddy, what's a bully?  What does a bully do?"  How would you answer it?

Paul: A bully wants to strip you of your dignity, whether that is physical – actually, most bullying is not physical, it's verbal and emotional, and now with cyber-bullying which tends to be preferred, by far, by girls more than boys.  It's prevalent; it's pervasive.  Some kids – there's a new term in our lexicon, unfortunately, it's called bullycide, it is death by bullying.  Kids are actually taking their lives because of this, so, again, it's no laughing matter.

 So my kids are free to defend themselves against such things, and I will step in if I need to as well.  In fact, one kid was bullying two of my kids coming home from school, and I met them down there, and I put my arm around the young man, because, keep in mind, many bullies don't want to be bullies.  As you spoke earlier, Dennis, they are giving what they got, right?  And so we need to speak the truth in love to people, but we need to be truthful.  My kids are valuable.  That's the truth.

Bob: So what did you say to the young man?

Paul: I put my arm around him, and I just said, "Hey, listen, my kids are complaining about you, about doing this kind of stuff.  Listen, I don't know what's going on at this point but, from now on, it's not going to happen anymore, right?"  I did not go after him, I was not …

Bob: You didn't say "If you touch my kids" …

Paul: Why hit someone with a sword when pointing the sword will work.  I pointed the sword of truth at him and said, "You're not going to do this."  I put the boundaries around my kids, and we never heard from him again.

Dennis: One illustration of bullying is teasing.  Words can really be used in harmful ways in kids' lives, and one of my daughters was being teased by a guy who was making fun of her body because she, as a young lady, was not yet fully blossomed out, and I'd heard enough.  And so I called the young man on the phone, and the father answered the phone.

 I said, "This is Mr. Rainey, is your son there?"  He said, "Yes."  I said, "Could you please put him on the line."  He put him on the line, and I said, "Young man, I want you to know my daughter is made in the image of God.  She is a beautiful person, and I want you to know I love her."

Paul: Amen.

Dennis: "And I want you to be careful about how you speak to her.  Cut out the word.  Got it?"  "Got it."  And before the conversation was over, the dad actually asked to speak to me.  He said, "What was that about?"  I said, "Well, your son was using some unflattering words with my daughter and, personally, I don't appreciate it, and we were just having a little man-to-man talk here."  He said, "Good."

Paul: Amen.

Dennis: Now, you've got to be careful with those things.

Paul: Understood.

Dennis: I think any adult man – I think it is okay to point the sword.  I don't know about getting beyond the pointing of the sword.

Paul: Understood.  I think you were being truthful and loving.  Your daughter is valuable, you were being loving at the same time.  You weren't insulting him, you were speaking the truth to him and, chances are, more people need to do that for that young man.

Dennis: Okay, let's talk about training your sons – let's go back to the Coughlin Institute of Bullying Training to defend yourself.

Bob: BTI, the Bully Training Institute.

Dennis: There you go.  I think we just launched something significant.  You know what?  I honestly believe – and we were kind of laughing about this, Bob, but the dinner table ought to be a BTI.  It really ought to tackle the real issues of life and talk about what the Bible says and talk about real love and real life and real defense.  So how would you train your sons?

Paul: Well, of course, they've got the green light to physically defend themselves but, again, most bullying is not physical, it is verbal.  So they need to have some verbal skills in front of bullies.  Some of the best things to do, the main thing to do in this case is not to show fear and sometimes you have to disguise it.  I've had my son say, "Well, that's not being truthful."

 You do not owe everyone complete disclosure of how you feel.  You can go ahead and keep some of that stuff to yourself and put on a show.  In this case, what you would want to do is don't say a lot of words with bullies.  If someone is verbally attacking you, a great word to use is "whatever."  It dismisses the attack but it does not return an insult.

 Bob Dole, when he was running for president did a great job of bringing that word into our vocabulary.  Do not have long conversations with bullies, walk away from their presence, do not give them the emotional display that they are really, really looking for.  Don't hang around them, get out of their presence but do so with confidence.

Dennis: I like your answer, because the word "whatever," most parents listening to this right now are going, "there is a great use of the word."


 Train your son to say, "Oh, whatever."

Paul: That's right.

Dennis: What else can a dad do with his son to train him?  What if he gets slugged?  All right?  He gets hit.  He's coming at him, and it's one-on-one?

Paul: Well, I would say that at the younger ages, returning that is all right, because the damage done is not too bad.  As you get into the older ages, fist-to-fist with older boys, you can do some real damage in that case.

 Obviously, defend themselves.  If it's happening regularly, martial arts – I don't think there could be a better answer for such a thing.  It teaches them this inner confidence, a better way to hold themselves.  I've seen it in numerous boys where they really are transformed – not overnight, but within a few months, six months, nine months, a year, they feel so much better about themselves.

Dennis: I just was reflecting back – I had one other bullying experience growing up.

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: And it was after I was in college, and I had a guy who, I believe, competed with me all the way through high school and who was very jealous of me.

Paul: Does this involve a girl?

Dennis: It does involve a girl.  It does involve a girl, and I'll not tell you what he did, because …

Bob: You're not going to call him out on the radio.

Dennis: I'm not going to call him out on the radio.

Paul: But he knows who he is.

Dennis: Because I know who he is, and he does, too. 


 But it's a good illustration of when you haven't had the training because I lost my cool.  The guy bullied me and bullied me and bullied me, and finally I just kind of snapped and just got fiercely angry – got into a fight.  I'm embarrassed today, honestly, of what happened, as a man.  But as a man who had been pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed, it's all the more reason why we need to make sure from a biblical standpoint, we're training our sons about what real manhood really is.  Yes, you can protect yourself without doing something harmful and dangerous to yourself or the other person.

Paul: And I think what's key to your story there is you were pushed and pushed and pushed.  If there had been a confrontation early on, you probably wouldn't have lost your cool.  If you had gone at it right away, and said, "You know, I'm sensing something here.  Tell me if I’m wrong.  I'm seeing you're doing these sort of things, and it ain't funny to me."

Dennis: Yeah, well …

Paul: You're keeping the other person's dignity intact.  When you talked about the dining room conversations, one of the things with my boys in defending themselves, and also with my daughter is to keep the other person's dignity intact, go ahead and disagree, but don't try to strip them of their worth.  I think that's one of the worst things we can do to another person.

 One of the proudest moments of my life is when my daughter came home with a scratch on her face, and we said, "How did you get that, baby?"  Well, some kids in her class were making fun of a girl who had half an arm.  They were picking on her, and my daughter stood up – they were actually physically picking on her in the playground.  My daughter stood between that kid with half an arm, and she sat there, and she took the blows, and she returned them, she pushed them back.

Dennis: Wow.

Paul: I was asked to speak in her class as an author – what do authors do.  And I went into the classroom and told them my thing, and then the teacher said, "This is Abby's father.  What do you think of Abby?"  And the kid who got picked on raised her good hand and said, "I think Abby is a good person."  And, of course, she would.

Dennis: Well, she was a graduate of the BTI.

Bob: I think there are probably going to be some BTIs that take place around the dinner table tonight.

Dennis: I think there will be some discussions. 

Bob: Some moms and dads say we need a little bully training …

Dennis: Talk about it.  You don't have to know all the answers to all the issues.

Bob: You can get a copy of Paul's book, and it will walk you through – "No More Jellyfish, Chickens, or Wimps."  That's kind of the BTI training manual.

Dennis: And, Paul, you're no wimp, and I want to thank you for writing this book and being on the broadcast.  Way to go.

Paul: Thanks for having me.

Dennis: All right.

Bob: We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if our listeners are interested in getting a copy, go online to, click the red button you see on the home page that says "Go," where you'll find information about the book.  You can order online, if you'd like.  Again, the title of the book is "No More Jellyfish, Chickens, or Wimps," and you can find information online at  Click the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and we can make arrangements to get a copy of this book sent out to you.  You may want to get a copy of today's program, too, and listen to it around the dinner table.

 You can either listen online, just stream the program, or if you want to download it, you can download it as well.  Again, our website is or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY.

 You know, we hear from listeners every day here at FamilyLife Today, and many of you, when you contact us either to request a resource or to register for an upcoming conference or just contact us with a question or a comment about the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Many of you are also generous to support the ministry with a donation.

 We're listener-supported, and so when folks like you call in and can help with a donation, it helps keep this program on this station and on other stations all across the country.  And this month we have been making available a thank you gift to those who are able to make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today. 

 It's a two-CD series from Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  On one CD Dennis talks to husbands about what we can do, as men, to be the man God wants us to be in our marriage and in our family, and on the other CD Barbara talks to wives about what a wife can do to help her husband be that man.

 If you'd like to receive a copy of these two CDs, you can request it when you make a donation this month of any amount.  You can either do that online at, and if you do that, as you fill out the online donation form, you'll come to a keycode box.  Just type the word "steps" in there, and that way we'll know to send you these CDs. 

 Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone and mention that you'd like the CDs we were talking about, and we'll be sure to get them out to you.  Again, we appreciate your partnership with us.  Thanks for your financial support of this ministry.

 And, with that, we've got to wrap things up for today.  I hope you have a great weekend, I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice are going to join us, and we're going to go on a dangerous journey into the mind [echo] of a teenager.


 We'll find out what teenagers are thinking about their moms and dads and how we ought to respond to that as parents.  I hope you can be with us for that conversation.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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