Words Hurt-Bullying Edition

Tiyanna Washington is a NYC-based licensed social worker and youth mental health advocate

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Right? WRONG. These words could not be farther from the truth. Words do hurt. A lot actually. The idea that folks would (and still do) drill this mantra into kids heads is beyond me. I remember as a little girl, in elementary school a boy saying to me that I was “pretty for a dark skin girl but would be a lot prettier if I was a couple shades lighter. I remember going home and researching all the skin bleaching creams I could find. I felt so ugly and found myself in a tailspin of comparing myself to my lighter skinned friends. It wasn’t until I opened up to my mom about how I was feeling and her reminding me of how beautiful I was, to always remember that I was a black queen and to understand that his comments were so deep rooted in self-hate and that it was a concept I would come to learn as a black woman, that I learned to connect with myself and love myself and all this rich melanin. Yes!

However, I was lucky enough to have a parent that knew to steer me on the right path. Luckily I knew to open up about how I was feeling. But what about our young boys and girls who are not so lucky? The ones that sit in silence and internalize and manifest cruel and hateful things that have been spewed at them? The ones who suffer in silence and start to experience anxiety and depression amongst other things. It’s important to understand the power of words and the impact they have on our youth. It’s hard enough navigating teen world and all the nuisances that come along with it. Understand that bullying is a new beast that exists outside of the school yard. With the invent and popularity of social media, bullying now follows our students on their way home, in the comforts of their bedroom and is sometimes very difficult to escape. Words have power and our youth often times have difficult experiences with bullying that can impede upon their mental health. Self-doubt creeps in, self-hate, confusion, uncertainty, maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors-all these things are symptomologies and manifestations of a very ugly and often times underestimated beast: bullying. So check in on our young ones. Remind them of how special they are. Let them know that words in fact DO hurt and that it’s okay to be saddened by them-but in that same conversation teach them what it means to be resilient, to reclaim their voices and find ways to build them up, so nothing can tear them down.

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