Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.
As a youngster I sang that little ditty many a time while fending off taunts and teasing from peers. While I didn’t experience any horrific bullying, 30+ years late, I still remember names, faces and exact phrasing of some of those taunts. Many of the cruel barbs I received were due to my religion and hard-to-pronounce last name. And, let’s be honest: I was no angel either – I am sad to report that I doled out more than my fair share of wicked names and taunts to classmates.
While adults today may still preach the “names will never hurt me” anthem to kids and classes, it turns out this explanation just ain’t true. According to a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry entitled: Hurtful Words: Exposure to Peer Verbal Aggression is Associated with Elevated Psychiatric Symptom Scores and Corpus Callosum Abnormalities, names do in fact hurt very much:
“Victims of peer aggression show the scars — increased rates of depression, suicidal ideation, loneliness and even psychosis. Their grades are lower and absentee rates higher. They are more likely to carry weapons to school, and to engage in fights. They are likely to suffer more injuries, abuse over-the-counter medications, intentionally hurt animals and other people, and use weapons that could seriously harm others.”
It may seem obvious that cruel taunts wound deeply. True, life isn’t going to be all rainbows, butterflies and “way to go’s!” (see Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother for a very thorough and fascinating glimpse on “bucking up” and self-esteem in kids). And, like the issue of bullying, there doesn’t seem to be a definite solution to this problem.
However, at the very least, it’s important to acknowledge that names DO hurt – just as much as broken bones.