adage aside, words can -- and do -- hurt
POSITIVE PARENTING | BY DEBBIE GLASSER
preschooler learned a new word this week. After witnessing one of
his favorite television characters call someone a ''loser,'' he
laughed and decided this would be a great word to use around others.
seemed harmless enough. When Sam called his older brother a loser
for missing the net during a backyard game of basketball, Ben just
continued playing with his friends. And when Sam called his teenage
sister a loser as she walked into the room, Emily just laughed and
continued walking out the door.
course, Sam is too young to understand the meaning of the word loser.
And his older siblings knew his intentions were less about hurting
feelings than getting a laugh and some much-needed attention from
his very busy brother and sister.
as he grows, Sam needs to learn that words can hurt feelings and
people should be treated with kindness and respect. This is the
lesson we're working on with Sam these days.
a lesson that matters.
children enter school, name-calling can lead to more significant
consequences. In a 2005 survey of more than 3,400 students titled
From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a Survey of
Students and Teachers, researchers found that 65 percent of students
have experienced some sort of bullying or harassment in school.
these behaviors began with verbal taunts.
a serious problem,'' said Kevin Jennings, founder and executive
director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN),
in a telephone interview from his office in New York. "When
kids are afraid, they can't learn.''
course, the negative consequences of name-calling and other forms
of bullying extend far beyond school performance.
can leave significant emotional scars,'' Jennings said. "And
if we tolerate hateful language, eventually we have hateful behaviors.''
Conrad, a ninth-grade counselor at Timber Creek High School in eastern
Orange County, Fla., has seen the impact firsthand. ''Unfortunately,
it's very prevalent and often contributes to verbal and physical
confrontations,'' she said.
an effort to curb these behaviors, Conrad sponsors a school club
called Teens Educating Students for Tolerance. Students participated
in National Mix It Up Day where students were encouraged to cross
social boundaries and sit with a new crowd in the lunchroom. And
they host monthly educational events focusing on issues like gay
rights, racism and social inequities. ''We promote acceptance and
nonviolence,'' she said.
is no quick fix to eliminate name-calling and other hurtful behaviors,
but Conrad believes the lessons need to start at home.
are a key factor in how children learn to treat others,'' she said.
"Children learn by example, so being a positive role model
is number one.''
encourages parents to intervene when they hear their children calling
others names. ''It's never too early to start teaching respect for
others,'' she said.
also emphasized the important role of parents. ''Have an honest
dialogue with your child,'' he said. "Ask your child if he's
observed any type of bullying or name-calling at school.''
recommend keeping the door open for ongoing conversations. ''Very
often, children who've been bullied may be unlikely to talk about
it,'' Jennings said.
attention to your child's mood, school performance and other cues
that he may be fearful or uncomfortable about going to school.
also advises parents to offer their children concrete advice about
how to stay safe, like walking with a friend, walking away from
a threatening situation, and asking for help from a teacher, parent
or other trusted adult.
hopes parents will advocate on behalf of children. ''Ask your child's
principal, teacher or school board member if your school has comprehensive
anti-bullying policies,'' he said.
them know you want this to be part of your child's curriculum,''
he said. "Let them know it's important to you.''
Glasser, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder
an online newsletter for parents. She can be reached at debbie@NewsForParents.org.