Sticks and stones …

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” So goes the old schoolyard saying.

Over the years our attitudes to name calling and teasing have changed and we now realise that persistent and cruel name calling can have damaging effects. We know that it’s not only ‘sticks and stones’ physical harm that can be detrimental to our wellbeing.

While we can’t shield our children from all unpleasant schoolyard behaviour, we generally understand that it’s not helpful for our kids to be picked on. Any of us who have suffered childhood taunts know that kids can be cruel and that bullying can make life almost unbearable when the teasing and name calling snowballs out of control.

Now comes a report stating that a British expert thinks children need to be teased and called names to toughen them up.

This story at claims that former advisor to the British Government, Tim Gill, is calling on parents and teachers to stop over reacting to “unpleasant behaviour” which can help children develop their resilience.

A closer reading of the story suggests that Gill may not be promoting bullying but rather the over reaction to certain childhood behaviours that have attracted the bullying tag.

Simply redefining all unpleasant behaviour as bullying does not solve this problem, it merely brushes it under the carpet.

The unintended side-effect of such redefinition is that adults are likely to feel under growing pressure to step in whenever children fall out or argue with each other, causing confusion in the minds of children, parents and school staff.

In an atmosphere of heightened media and public awareness of the problem, there is a real danger that adults will overreact and suppress behaviour that, unlike bullying, has a key role in helping children to learn for themselves how to deal with difficult social situations.

I must admit that we need to be on guard to ensure that we don’t wrap our children in a cocoon to protect them but at the same time I can’t see how name calling and teasing can be helpful.

Surely our goal should be not only to stop our children from being the target of bullying or even teasing but to raise our children to have enough respect for themselves and others so that they don’t tease or bully others. Even more than that, we need to encourage our kids not only to avoid antisocial behaviour but to honour others and to threat others in the way they would desire to be treated.

What do you think? Were you teased as a child? Do you think it had a long term effect? Do you think that a certain amount of teasing and name calling is healthy for kids?

Posted by Rodney Olsen

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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  • actually I think that name calling can in the longterm be more damaging than physical bullying. Negative emotions and lack of self esteem can hinder progress for many, a process of unlearning needs to be undertaken and that is often a long hard journey.
    Teasing is a part of childhood, and adulthood, it can be fun, and taken as such, but there is a fine line we do well to monitor, and try to understand when it has been overstepped.

  • Excellent topic. Here’s my 2 cents:

    I think that some name-calling is a normal part of childhood, more along the lines of teasing each other and trying to get a reaction out of each other. BUT there is also a type of name calling that is CRUEL and is done for the intention of hurting feelings or isolating a certain child.

    My son was the victim of very cruel name calling in 4th – 6th grade. He had switched schools and no one knew him. He was a bit chubby and they called him every horrible thing you can think of and would not play with him. It was the worst three years of his life and I did everything in my power to protect him, but nothing really helped.

    He outgrew the chubbiness (I knew he would it happens to all the males in my family) and has lots of good friends…but he still carries the scars his life as “the fat kid”.

    I think its our duty as mature adults to protect children from any form of cruelty but to recoginze the difference between normal childhood behavior and true bullies.

  • In the words of the famous philosophers colin and frank, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will only cause permanent psychological damage’

  • I believe that name-calling, taunting, and cruel teasing can be more harmful than a lot of people realize. I know, personally, that I still remember some very cruel things that were said to and about me when I was a child. Someone very close to me is currently undergoing therapy, and it has become apparent that part of my friend’s self-image problem directly relates to the mean teasing and taunting he went through as a child. If a child is called “fat” or “homely” or “stupid” often enough, that child will grow up believing that…and it’s difficult to change your self-image.

  • That study sounds like a load of rubbish to me.

    How on earth vicious name-calling and bullying can be helpful to one’s growth, I don’t know. I agree with what you said Rodney and the rest of the comments here. I’ve been through the whole bullying thing at kindergarten and primary school. Yes, in some sense, it has made me stronger but that’s only good coming out of evil and such behaviour should never be advocated because some good might just come out of it.

    In some cases, I’ve seen bully victims go on to become bullies themselves later on in a different environment.

  • I agree as well with the comments already made.

    I simply don`t understand how being bullied physically or mantally could possibly “toughen up” kids. That so ridiculous. Yes I agree they shouldn`t be wrapped up in cotton wool, but should be taught how to communicate and talk through situations.

    Intelligence on the part of the parents has alot to do with it as well. I have seen examples of poor parenting and usually it`s because of a lack of intelligence.

  • One thing that is necessary is for parents to teach their own children how to react to name calling. My mother taught me that the person doing the name calling was trying to get a reaction from me. If I did not react the way they wanted I would not be controlled by them nor would they get the ‘kick’ they sought.

    I learned to react 2 ways. One was to call the ‘bully’ on it (sometimes with sarcasm). – “Do you get your kicks from belittling other people? Does that make you feel better about your own pitiful life?”

    The other was to agree with the ‘bully’. Usually with sarcasm also. I like sarcasm when used properly. – “Yeah, You are right. My ears do stick out and unfortunately it enables me to hear your whiny voice better than I care to.”

    I found that a snappy comeback that got the bully’s friends to laugh at him was the best. Bullies have a problem with people laughing at them. The bully would seek other victims that would react the way he wanted them to.

    One thing to watch for was the bully that would get physical at this point. Keeping it on a verbal basis is important. So is learning to duck.

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