The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Stick and Stones

“Well, I’ll get some sticks and stones, and I’ll break your bones, and the name that hurts you will be Esther!”

~ LaWanda Page as Aunt Esther on “Sanford and Son”

I knew it. Every kid who’s been picked on or bullied knows it. Anyone who’s every been called “nigger,” “faggot,” “bitch,” “kike,” “hebe,” “yid,” “Polack,” “Wetback,” “Guido,” “Spic,” “Chink,” “Gimp,” etc. knows it. I don’t care how many times we were told, “Ignore it. It’s just names and names can’t hurt you,” we all knew then and know now that — contrary to the old adage — names can and do hurt.

The old adage “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you”, simply is not true, according to researchers.

Psychologists found memories of painful emotional experiences linger far longer than those involving physical pain.

They quizzed volunteers about painful events over the previous five years.

…The volunteers, all students, were asked to write about painful experiences, both physical and emotional, then given a difficult mental test shortly afterwards.

The principle was that the more painful the recalled experience, the less well the person would perform in the tests.

Test scores were consistently higher in those recalling physical rather than “social” pain.

Psychological scoring tests revealed that memories of emotional pain were far more vivid.

So, that brings me to this; some advice for parents about helping your child cope with bullying.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 30 percent of all children in grades six through 10 have been bullied or have bullied other children during a school year.

Clinical psychologist Mark Crawford of Roswell, Georgia, called the statistics unacceptable. “Bullying is not a rite of passage,” he said. “It always has a bad outcome.”

… Parenting expert Stacey DeBroff, author of “The Mom Book,” cautioned that bullying often occurs in places that aren’t monitored by adults, such as a walking route to and from school, a corner of a playground and the Internet.

She warned mothers and fathers to be on the lookout for signs a child is being bullied. “When you see signs of being anxious, sad and withdrawn, of having a kid move off their typical personality, it alerts you that something is going on.”

Crawford noted that some of those symptoms can be attributed to typical adolescent behavior, but he added, “When you see a real change in a child’s personality or their normal routine, it’s a bad sign.”

I’m going to just go out on a limb and say it. Bullying is not just a normal part of growing up. It’s not just something kids do. It’s not something your kid — or anyone else — has to go through just because you did. It’s not something any kid brings on himself or herself. It’s not something any kid deserves. It’s not something any kid should expect. It’s not something that should ever be tolerated or accepted. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s never the “fault” of the bullied.

If youe kid is bullied, first, believe them. Second, be on their side. Don’t tell them “Ignore it, it’s just names, and names can’t hurt you.” Because they can, long after the first time they’re heard. Don’t tell them “You must be bringing it on yourself,” or ask “Well, what are you doing to make them pick on you.” Because it doesn’t matter what the bullied does or doesn’t do. Almost anything can make them a target. If it’s not the way they dress, or the music they listen to, it may be something that they can’t change, like their height or their weight, their skin color or some other feature. It may be a handicap or disability.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is. Being different should never be accepted as a reason for bullying. Even if it is a characteristic or behavior that can be changed, don’t assume that it should be, unless its actually something harmful in some way to the child or to someone else. The first behavior that should be addressed in any case is that of the bully. It’s their behavior that needs to just stop. (And if there’s any doubt about who the bully is in a situation, ask yourself who is operating from a position of power in terms of popularity, peer support, or belonging to the majority group in that situation.)

If your child witnesses bullying as a bystander, empower him or her to stand up for the bullied. Often times, it only takes one child to say “no” or “stop it,” to empower other kids to do the same, enough to even make it clear to the bully that his or her behavior is rejected by the group, and might even make him or her unpopular. But bystanders who do stand and watch —thus giving the bully an audience — or laugh and join in —thus giving the bully approval and encouragement — are complicit in the bullying.

It begins with values.

The Bystander

It can be very hard for a teen to take a stand and defend someone who is being bullied, especially if the victim is considered to be a “loser” or “weird.” Has your teen ever described a bullying situation, and have you ever asked what he or she did to stop it?

Some bystanders are too afraid to get involved. They don’t want to be a target. Some experience feelings of guilt because they did nothing. If a victim is a friend or classmate, some bystanders choose to disassociate themselves from the victim. Others blame the victim.

As a parent, it’s important to teach and reinforce virtues such as caring and respect. Here are things you can do to instill these values in your teen:

* Model respect and kindness at home. If you and your spouse are considerate and compassionate to each other and your family, your child will likely treat others the same way.

* Show respect for those in authority, including teachers and police officers.

* Have positive expectations for your child’s behavior. Praise your child’s acts of kindness and discipline him or her for bad behavior.

* Encourage your teen to volunteer in the community. This will give your teen a sense of obligation to others.

Which leads to actions that can make a difference.

Two out of three kids want to help when they see bullying, and helping out is one of the most effective ways to stop bullying and prevent it from happening again. When friends help out, 57 percent of the time bullying stops in 10 seconds (Hawkins, Pepler, and Craig, Social Development, 2001).

There are effective and safe ways for kids to step in and help others being bullied.

Some work better in certain situations than others. You can help kids decide when to use each method by role-playing bullying situations with them. Remember to emphasize that kids should only step in when they feel safe.

* Walk away. This shows bullies that their behavior is not funny or okay.

* Speak up. Tell bullies that what they are doing is wrong. By saying, “that’s not funny, let’s get out of here” or something similar, kids can stand up for each other. This may also give other bystanders the confidence to speak up or walk away.

* Be a friend. Sometimes kids get picked on because they don’t have any friends or anyone to stand up for them. When kids befriend someone being bullied, bullies are less likely to pick on them. Friendship can also give children the support and the confidence to stand up for themselves.

* Ask others to help. When more kids stand up to bullies, the bullies will be more likely to realize their actions are not okay.

* Get an adult. Sometime kids who are bullied are scared to ask an adult for help because they think it will make the bullying worse. Kids can help by telling an adult what is happening, or going to speak to an adult with kids being bullied.

And finally, kids can’t and shouldn’t deal with it on their own. School administrators have a duty to provide each and every student with safe, non-hostile learning environment. If your school check and see if your school has an anti-bullying policy or other policies related to bullying and school safety, and insist that they be enforced.

I’ll leave it to professionals to say what degree of escalation is appropriate when, but I’d start with teachers and guidance counselors, and work my wy up to principals and other administrators if I didn’t get satisfaction.

Either way. sticks and stone do indeed break bones, but names hurt too and bullying can result in broken spirits. So, whether your a parents or not, don’t let either stand.


  1. Amen. What I have said to people who shrug off this kind of thing is that, what if when you went to work, it was acceptable for “more popular” coworkers to harass you, threaten you, or steal your belongings? It isn’t because that’s against the law and against any sensible workplace’s policies. And if adults, who are so much better equipped to defend themselves, have this right…why don’t kids?

    My son isn’t in school yet, and I don’t know what kind of situations he’ll face, but we’ll talk a lot with him about this. I absolutely will not tolerate any school personnel or parents who won’t take it seriously if my son is bullied, or witnesses bullying. And if he bullies others, he’s in for some serious consequences from us.

  2. I was bullied as a kid at school, transferred and was never bullied again. If we want to really make a dent, here’s what we do: make classes smaller, make sure teachers are on the ball, and get the students to monitor behavior. Also, I kind of disagree with you, T.- I think bullying is normal.

  3. * Show respect for those in authority, including teachers and police officers.

    I don’t buy this part. Often people in authority bully us, especially police officers. Showing respect or deference for people in authority makes sense only if they do not abuse their power towards you, or if your personal safety will be compromised by not doing so (very possible, in the case of police officers). If they do – and they often do – I think your strategy should change depending on the circumstance.

    Regardless, advising respect for all authority figures is silly.

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