"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sticks and Stones


Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Oh how I hated that expression when I was growing up. Mostly because every time I heard it it was uttered by my mom (or another well-meaning adult) right after I had, in fact, been hurt by words.

"Mommmmmmm!!! He said I was stupid!" (or ugly or fat, whatever the insult du jour was that day)

(Patting me on the head) "Aw, you know the saying, 'sticks and stones.....'"

It is a stupid, stupid saying. Words can, and do, hurt.... especially as a child!

As an adult, I've learned to let a lot more things roll off my back, although I am still fairly consistently given the admonition, "Oh you're too sensitive." In fact, two separate people have recently presented this to me as a character flaw. While I do think that being excessively sensitive to words can be a negative (and I freely admit to a host of other character flaws for sure), I just don't believe it is wholly a bad thing. The part of me that makes me maybe get my feelings hurt a little too easily is the same part of me that allows me to think deeply. To care deeply. To pay close attention to, and measure, my own words and actions and how they might hurt others.

Just before I sat down to start writing this post, I read another diatribe about radical unschooling and how it equals (in the writer's mind) unparenting. I was struck, as I often am, by the interesting juxtaposition of how I can honestly not care what others think, but still sometimes get my feelings hurt when people categorically misjudge me and my lifestyle without ever having met me. Every now and then, the right words - or wrong words, as it were - can still sting.

Yes, words do hurt. But I, thankfully, have 37 years of perspective and experience with which to temper them.

A child does not. A child takes those negative words and internalizes them, is hurt by them, is damaged by them. Heard often enough, a child starts to live them. I personally KNOW adults who have heard the word "lazy" enough ..... or "stupid" or "unmotivated" or "bad" ..... as a child that they started to believe it. 

There's a reason why today's adults have spent so much time and money working out their "issues," learning why they do things they do, learning to shed the past.

I'm thinking about all of this today because I've noticed a disturbing trend: people using Facebook as an avenue to air their grievances about their children (and their spouses, but that's another post). Instead of dealing with whatever is going on, they use their status updates to be the equivalent of a schoolyard bully. To publicly name call and throw insults in an attempt to make themselves feel better, or maybe to garner sympathy.

I'm not sympathetic. I'm sorry, I'm not. I don't understand calling your children names. With two or three exceptions, all the words on the image up above are words I've seen recently in reference to people's own kids. I don't understand. You may argue, "Well I'm not saying it TO my kids." To me, that doesn't matter. And why would you say something about your kids that you wouldn't say to them? And if you DO say those words to your kids, do you ever stop to think about what kind of effect they're having? Even if it's lighthearted, even if you're joking... does your 2 or 5 or 10 year old know that? Does your teenager appreciate that kind of "humor"?

Oh Jennifer, you're being too sensitive again. They're just words. It doesn't mean anything.

Not this time. Words hurt. Unkind words hurt, no matter who you are, no matter how old you are, but especially when you're a child.

We all have bad days. Our kids have bad days. But calling (and thinking!)our children "naughty" or "bad" or "bratty" or "rotten" or "annoying" will not only not help the situation, but will actually exacerbate it. It will perpetuate the cycle, it will bring up bad feelings for all involved, and it will force us into a giant step backwards ... further away from the goal of a harmonious, mutually respectful relationship.  And words like "stupid", "lazy" and "unmotivated"?  As I said earlier, I know people who grew up hearing those words and have not yet recovered.  It literally hurts my heart to think of people referring to their own kids in that way.  Literally hurts.

And the bottom line is:  name calling isn't nice.  We know this.  We teach it to our children.  Maybe it's time we model it as well?

Words matter.
Kindness matters.
OUR CHILDREN MATTER.





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