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Sony vs. North Korea: A lesson about bullies for my son

An opportunity for a parenting lesson sometimes comes at the oddest time, like when a major motion picture is pulled from theaters because of foreign threats. 

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    A security guard stands at the entrance of United Artists theater during the premiere of the film "The Interview" in Los Angeles, California in this December 11, 2014 file photo.
    Kevork Djansezian/Reuters/FILE
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As hacker attacks on Sony Pictures appear to have ties to the North Korean leader mocked by Seth Rogen and James Franco in the R-rated film “The Interview,” parents may have a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at how different bullying situations required different approaches.

The real issue for most parents today isn’t whether or not a crass comedy parodying Kim Jong Un is released, but when safety must trump valor when dealing with bullies.

Let’s be clear, this is not in defense of the film, of which I would encourage my older sons to save their money and not go to see in the theaters.

This is a good reminder to tell kids that it’s one thing to stand up to a bully who is only attacking you with words and something else entirely when we learn the bully is heavily armed.

That’s what I had to explain to my 11-year-old this morning before school as we watched the morning news.

“I don’t get it. I thought you stand-up to bullies,” said Quin, age 11, as we watched the news this morning. The reporter seemed to be ranting about Hollywood “caving-in” to what appears to be government-sponsored North Korean online bullies threatening “9-11 style violence” against theaters screening the film.

The reporter talked about how US officials now believe that Kim Jong Un is actually backing cyber attacks on Sony, the company that made the film about his demise.

Having a nation that has nuclear capabilities as the possible “bully” elevates the issue from an individual business problem to national security, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It was just a business issue when North Korean hackers released thousands of Sony’s private documents and personal information (a tactic called doxing) to the general public.

When the online threats from those same hackers turned to veiled threats of  “9-11 style” attacks on movie theaters it was a whole different kind of bully to face.

Quin has had a pretty rough year because of a variety of bullies who have come at him emotionally and physically at school.

Therefore, any time the words “bully” or “coward” come up within earshot of my son – as they did in the newscast – discussion ensues.

“The Inteview" is not a film I would have allowed one of my teens to see for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the crass approach of much of Mr. Rogen’s work.

However, the debate about how to handle the bullying situation is now all over the Internet and TV which means there is an age-appropriate discussion to be had on that topic in our home today.

Cinemas were already way ahead of Sony on the plan to scrap the film since both Regal and Cinemark theater chains refused to screen the film citing security risks to customers and AMC and Cineplex were expected to follow suit, according to the Wall Street Journal.

My son was very upset to learn that Sony opted to abandon the picture.

“They’re taking the wrong approach,” Quin said frowning. “Obama should go talk to North Korea’s parents and tell them to make the hackers knock it off.”

If only the world were that simple.

We aren't privy to all the intel and political wranglings involved in this level of an international relations crisis. I'm not talking about standing up to North Korea, but rather about not rushing to judge those who choose to make safety a priority over appearing to be brave. In some cases, kids need to know that It may be the very heart of bravery to step away from a fight.

I urged my son to consider what he would think if someone knew there was danger and did nothing to warn or protect people.

I reminded my son of what his father and I had told him when he was threatened by three boys at school.

The boys were unarmed and making threats, but no physical moves, so it was the right thing for Quin to puff up his chest a bit and boldly tell them, “No. You are not going to ‘kill’ me or ‘punch my face in.’ This is over.” He walked away unscathed.

However, when he was in the local community center and two boys, without preamble, began to double-team him and start punching it was time to run for help.

Quin had refused to run in that situation. He took a beating before someone spotted the fray and got him out of harm’s way.

At that point, I had a serious discussion with my son about personal safety coming first over high-minded ideals out of movies and TV shows.

I also told him that it isn’t cowardly to do the math, know when the odds are against you and step away from the problem in order to go with our family’s “Use all your strength” strategy.

All four of my boys remember this little parable I tell them when they’re outmanned, out matched, or just plain frustrated with their inability to solve a problem – like taking on a team of bullies solo. 

Here it is:

A man takes his teenage son out to clear stumps from a field. Father tells his son “You can only do this job if you use all your strength.”

Son tries and fails to even budge a single stump. At various intervals the father comes to check on him and offers his help, which the son refuses every time.

At the end of the day the son is furious shouting, “You said I could do this and I used all my strength but I can’t. It’s impossible!”

The father replies, “You didn’t ask me to help. I’m part of your strength. If you used my help you would have succeeded.” Together they proceeded to clear the field.

So today I told my son that when you have a whole swarm of bullies there’s no shame in taking a step back in order to think, strategize and perhaps, gather all your strength. 

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