At some point in everyone’s life, they have been the recipient of some not so nice words. Whether this is a complete stranger on one’s commute to work or by a loved one, these words have an impact on an individual. As a child, I often saw these things and questioned why such words were allowed. As is customary in many upbringings, I was introduced to the phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Upon further (and more mature) reflection, I find this to be troubling. We tell our youth to remind themselves that “words will never hurt them.” But I don’t think this phrase could be further from the truth. When comparing the pain of words to the physical injury of sticks and stones, there are no similarities. This does not make the damage caused by cruel words any less real. When I reflect on my childhood I cannot recall a specifically skinned knee or the pain of falling off my bicycle. However I do remember, in detail, the words used to attack me. I remember how they made me feel. And yes, they hurt.
Instead of creating a societal belief that words are any less damaging than a scrape, we should be addressing the issue. We cannot continue to tell our youth to cope with the verbal attacks of others using a rhyme. Especially during a time when they are developing so much of their being. Self-esteem is a huge factor in the identity of children. Whether they are willing to try new things is entirely dependent on their belief of whether or not they can do it. When children are told they cannot do something, it is damaging. Compound this with the fact that a silly rhyme is rattled off every time something is said that hurts them and you have a formula for some childhood issues. Words are some of the most damaging things any person can encounter. Careers have been ruined because people have used inappropriate words. Being attacked verbally can have a massive negative effect on the psyche of any person, even more so, a child.
The real problem is obviously bullying. The children, and yes even adults, who take it upon themselves to demean and berate others. While a child doing this is more acceptable in that they are not fully aware of social norms and expectations, would it not be better to teach them not to bully rather than teach coping mechanisms to those who are bullied? Now, it is not reasonable to expect aggressive behavior to cease. But it is not too far fetched to believe in a society that does not tolerate it.
Much like racism, bullying will always exist. There will always be individuals who have caustic beliefs. But if the greater population does not accept those beliefs and actively denounce them, they become vastly less common. Our children should not learn that the reaction to attack is to learn to deal with it. This only allows space for aggression and hate to grow. Rather, they should learn that the attack is not acceptable in the first place. By telling them that words will never hurt them, we tell them that abrasive behavior is to be expected. When really they should be afforded an environment in which attack is not tolerated and one’s individuality is celebrated.