As a practitioner of journalism I understand why and how words matter. I agonize over which ones go where and how they should be said. It’s tough to retract words we don’t really mean or ugly things we shouldn’t have said. The lame excuses we offer for our half-cocked laments never quite undo the fact they were said in the first place.
Bullying works much the same way. To call bullying “teasing” sanitizes the cruelty to protect the conscience of aggressors and bystanders, and makes it sound like fun instead of the mental torture it is to those on the receiving end. Targets of school bullying justifiably doubt their aggressor’s apologies, especially when coerced by an authoritative bystander who may view such spats as normal and urges victims to “just get over it.” The emotional torture or harassment usually doesn’t end with just one admonishment, and victims are left feeling misunderstood, embarrassed, and scared.
Most of us can recall schoolyard or yellow bus memories of kids unmercifully tormented because of their wardrobe, physique, color, family income status, or other attribute. In my time, the behavior was viewed as an inevitable experience of childhood – part of earning your stripes for adulthood in a cruel world. Turns out, we were wrong about that.
If you think bullying doesn’t affect your household, then consider these numbers: Nationwide, one in seven students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a target of bullying. More than 250,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month. Up to 160,000 kids miss school every day because they are afraid. What’s more, 1 out of 5 kids who bully another child will be incarcerated by the time they reach age 25. (Click here and here to see more facts about the problem of bullying.) Kids suffer, communities suffer and society pays, literally, for bullying behavior.
The psychological and physical toll bullying has on victims is a timely conversation as we start a new school year. On the first episode of our new season of Health Three60, we address bullying through the eyes of a 10-year-old who suffered from depression because she was bullied. We also hear from her mother as well as educators and anti-violence experts.
In the program, we breakdown the numerous ways bullying occurs (isolation, harassment, verbal and physical abuse) and how it manifests in different stages of child development. We avoid labeling kids who bully as “bullies” because words matter and we don’t want to define them by the behavior we seek to change. We also provide educators, parents, and kids with tools and tips for intervention. Click here to watch the entire episode.
Given the casualties of bullying, I think we should revise the familiar childhood rhyme: “sticks and stones may break our bones, and cruel words and deeds hurt just as much.”