Words Can Heal


Girls and Words

A March morning on the school bus:

Billy, the school bully, is picking on Jeff, a "90-pound weakling." Billy twists Jeff's arm behind his back until he shrieks out in pain. Billy laughs and lets him go.

A group of girls in the back of the bus are observing the scene with disdain.

"Billy's an animal," says Jennifer condescendingly.

"Even animals don't inflict pain just for the fun of it," Beth adds scornfully.

"He's disgusting," Anna chimes in.

The bus stops and Claire gets on. She walks down the aisle to the back, and is about to sit down next to Beth.

"Sorry, that seat's taken," Jennifer declares.

"I don't see anyone in it," Claire replies, somewhat confused. Just yesterday, these girls were her friends.

Beth, taking her cue from Jennifer, puts her hand on the seat and states, "It's saved . . . for someone important. Why don't you just find a seat next to . . . Jeff or some other loser."

The three girls snicker. Claire, humiliated, turns around and retraces her steps up the aisle. She finds an empty seat. She has no idea why her former friends are shunning her. She hears them giggling and whispering. Although she's too far away to make out what they're saying, she's sure they're talking about her. She wishes she hadn't come to school today.

Which is worse?

Since March is Women's History Month, this issue of the newsletter focuses on "Girls and Words." Females are often considered more verbally communicative. This can be a double-edged sword. A person who uses words more to express his/her feelings tends to be more nurturing; mothers, caregivers, and teachers can build up their charges' self-esteem with encouraging words. But words can also be used negatively; many girls excel at destroying another's self-esteem with embarrassing remarks or pointed barbs. In fact, studies have shown that girls are more likely than boys to hurt others with words.

Although most of us look with disapproval at the class bully - the boy who terrorizes other boys with his fists - the girl who ridicules or shuns other girls may well be the most popular girl in the class.

This is ironic, because the damage inflicted by words is far more insidious than the damage inflicted by fists, for several reasons:

Most people look down on physical violence, but verbal violence, especially when it is witty, often elicits approval and admiration.

Physical wounds are obvious. They are easily treated by a parent or the school nurse. Wounded feelings are usually concealed, so that even the most well-meaning parent or teacher cannot help.

Physical wounds usually heal within a week or two. Damaged self-esteem can last a lifetime.

A child can keep himself out of harm's way by keeping his distance from the class bully. Distance, however, does not hinder the harm that can be done by words. Ridicule and shunning thrive over the telephone and e-mail. There is almost no way to protect oneself against it.

The damage inflicted by words is subtler. Therefore, the problem is less likely to be addressed and dealt with by school administration and staff.

If you are a girl, or teach girls, or have daughters, consider this: The emotional wounds that girls inflict through their words hurt more than those caused by any knife.

A girl who uses her verbal skills for cruel ends is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. All the beauty of the Mona Lisa can be destroyed by two strokes of a magic marker. So, too, a girl's self-esteem can be obviated by just a few mean words directed at a classmate or erstwhile friend.

Discussion Question

According to Jennifer and the girls, why was it okay to alienate Claire, but not okay to pick on Jeff?

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

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