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Bare-knuckle cage wrestling for 6-year-olds?

UFC cage fighting is not an appropriate activity for children.

On the radio is a mother gushing over how impressed she is with her 6-year-old's performance as a bare-knuckled kickboxing fighter in a tiny tots version of cage fighting. Modelled on the widely popular UFC, mixed martial arts (MMA) has begun to find a home among parents who say hockey just isn't violent enough for their little fellas (check out this August 24th show of This is That).

I know children fight, and I'm not one to say "Always use your words" when a child is being whomped by a bully, but it seems that encouraging little boys to punch each other in the face with their fists and choke each other to the point of surrender may not be the best lessons for life long success. This is a world that needs people who know how to negotiate and compromise more than beat each other senseless.

There is some well respected research by Richard Tremblay, a developmental psychologist at the Universite de Montreal, that has shown that the most violent people are 2-year-olds. If one thinks about it, one can see his point. They bite, kick, scream, and will hit their parents. Fortunately for us adults, we are bigger and can control them until they learn to control themselves. Tremblay's research stands out because he showed that children (delinquents) don't become violent as they get older. Violent youth are what we get when children are improperly socialized away from violence. It is an interesting way to understand our role as parents. We nurture civility in our children who start out wild.

Mixed martial arts may be a legitimate form of aggression when practiced with some rules. It's just that to me it looks like brawling. No protection. Violence to the point of harming your opponent. Can a young child really understand the difference between this form of violence and other forms, like bullying? Is there no other substitute activity for an aggressive child to express himself?

Those supporting MMA say it's good exercise and that it's no more dangerous than gymnastics. They also say that children learn to be more disciplined and are less likely to be violent. Hmm. Maybe, but I've yet to see any research to back up either claim.

On a personal note, having raised a boy who would have enjoyed cage wrestling, and often did with his baby sister when we weren't in the room to supervise, I know the value of socializing a child into a more compassionate way of being with others. It took a lot of time and patience to help our son understand the consequences of his actions. He has grown into an amazing young man who still likes action movies and to tear around a paintball field on Sunday afternoons, but he isn't violent towards others in ways that will harm them.

I'm just not sure he would have understood how we could encourage him to be violent in a cage and then to insist he turn it off later? Some martial arts come with an entire regime of discipline and there is never an intent to harm or maim the opponent. Those martial arts I support. In fact, my son was in Judo for a time and in a particularly tense match threw another boy his own size. The boy landed on his arm and broke it. My son felt awful, knowing that even though he technically did nothing wrong and the break was an unfortunate injury that could have just as likely happened to my son, he understood that this was not the point of the fight.

I defer on this to Tremblay and others. To my mind, mixed martial arts with full on body contact and smashed noses and bruised eyes just seems to send our little fellas the wrong message when most days they are already precariously close to acting out aggressively without the encouragement of their parents.

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