You’ve probably heard the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The problem is, when it comes to bullying and name-calling, this popular quote is not altogether accurate. In fact, name-calling is one of the most damaging types of bullying.
Name-calling is harmful because it labels another person or attempts to define who they are. For instance, calling someone “fat,” “retard,” “nerd,” or any other derogatory name chips away at the target’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth and self-concept. It also becomes increasingly difficult for the target to trust her perceptions about herself. And regardless of the names the victim is called, the underlying and repeating messages are “you’re not good enough” and “you don’t measure up.”
Name-calling has a number of negative consequences for children and teens. Here are some ways young people are affected by name-calling.
Erodes a victim’s sense of self. Over time, name-calling and other insults can slowly eat away at self-esteem and the victim will no longer see herself realistically. For instance, if a girl is regularly called “fat,” she may view herself as overweight even after she loses weight. This type of distorted body image is often the beginning stage of an eating disorder.
Causes kids to compromise beliefs and values. When kids are insulted for having certain beliefs or values, this name-calling may cause them to bow to peer pressure and compromise those beliefs in order to escape the bullying. For instance, a teen that is called a “goody-goody” may try to shake this image by doing things that go against her belief-system and values to prove she is not always a “goody-goody.”
Affects sense of well being. Name-calling causes noticeable changes in personality and behavior of those impacted. For instance, your teen may be more tearful, hostile or withdrawn. She also may invent excuses to avoid school and lose interest in outside activities.
Impacts a person’s identity. When a bully calls another person a name, they are attempting to control how others see the person. For instance, a bully may call someone “stupid.” This name-calling is usually done in front of others and is meant to encourage others to view the person as “stupid” as well. If the name-calling is repeated, over time others, including the target, may begin to associate the word “stupid” with that person. And eventually that hurtful label can become part of who that person is.
Opens the door to violence. In severe cases, bullies who call others names often will act on their anger and lash out in a physical way. In fact, many hate crimes begin with name-calling. Never ignore name-calling. Instead, if your child is being called names at school, bring it to the attention of the teacher or the principal.
Encourages internal criticism. Name-calling often leads targets to take on the names as reality. As a result, they begin to criticize themselves instead. For instance, if a person is a called a “loser,” then when a mistake is made, their internal voice will learn to call them a loser as well. The problem is that this inner voice is hard to switch off and it’s not very objective.
Impacts mood. It’s important to remember that sudden changes in mood can sometimes signal that bullying is taking place. Never ignore a child’s changes in mood or write them off as hormones until you have determined why your child is appearing sullen, angry or distant. Changes in behavior, sleeping habits and moods should always be considered the first warning signs that something is wrong.
Affects mental health. Name-calling can have serious consequences on mental health. In fact, researchers feel it is one of the most damaging forms of bullying. For instance, some victims become so depressed from the name-calling that begin to feel worthless, helpless and out of control. Some victims may even contemplate suicide.
Affects physical health. Often, when kids are called names their physical health will be impacted. In addition to having trouble eating or sleeping, they also may complain of an upset stomach and headaches. Additionally, some victims may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcers or other stress-related conditions.