Words that Hurt
The short scenarios that follow have been submitted by youth between the ages of 13-15. All of the stories related involve acts of misuse of words and apparent bullying. Read through the scenarios and then answer the questions below. Each of the stories is followed by a comment from the teacher of the student who shared his/her story.
Some of the boys in my grade (8th) were calling me a whore. I thought that was not nice at all. I hate when people call me that. I mean, it is mean and I can’t take it anymore. I still get called this. I even tried to do something about it, and I still got called it today.
Teacher's comment: Mallory is definitely not a whore, but a warm person who enjoys her friends.
This hurt me, but it wasn’t about me. It was a day that my cousin found out we have a step-cousin. My cousin stayed for lunch. Then he did lots of bad things. My friend came over and had a snack with me. She went to throw the wrapper in the garbage. He was at the sink. He grabbed the sprayer nozzle and sprayed her and yelled, “YOU DIRTY BITCH!” I was so mad. Then he did more bad stuff and then I stood up and told him to leave.
Teacher's Comment: Talia is a sweet girl who always strives to do the right thing. She struggles with attention deficit disorder.
One time a teacher was talking about me. I found out from my friends. I had been missing school because of things at home and I was having lots of trouble with a nervous stomach and also about where we were going to live since we didn’t have a place at the end of the month. I was getting depressed. When I came back to school I had heard he had been telling students that I’ve been skipping school. Some kids started calling me a school skipper. It made me mad and sad. I thought about it all the time. I couldn’t think about anything else except what this teacher said. He had no idea what was going on around me and what was happening in my life! He hurt a student that loved his class and now hates it!
Teacher's Comment: Darcy is a wonderful girl who thinks deeply and cares about everyone, and who likes to be in school, and has many friends. Earlier in the school year she had come up to my desk one day after watching the Michael Jackson’s This Is It movie and she asked, “How did he do it?” I had no idea what she was talking about. Our conversations that hour had not included Michael Jackson though we’d discussed him a different day when I cleared up some questions they’d had about his life. After I asked her who she was talking about, we talked some more. She said she didn’t know how he could go on if people were saying all those things about him. She knew she wouldn’t have been able to go on.
Her words written above about her teacher illustrated this, I thought. After our discussion about this teacher’s words, I reminded her about her inquiry earlier regarding Michael Jackson. She said, “Yeah, I thought about that too. I wasn’t able to concentrate now because of this, and this was nothing like what he went through.”
I did intervene carefully after asking Darcy if she would like me to help the teacher understand. (She did.) The teacher had no idea that I knew anything he’d been saying to the students – but after making him aware in a roundabout way - he now understood this girl’s present situation and he felt terrible about what she was having to deal with. (He never mentioned what he’d been saying, but I know he stopped.) He’s a very caring teacher, but this shows how we may not know the entire story and we jump to conclusions about a person.
Someone hurt me by saying that I was fat. And talking about my family.
Teacher's Comment: Rollins' mother committed suicide recently. She had a long history of drug abuse. His father is in prison. He moved to our rural area from an urban setting where he now lives with his half-siblings’ aunt and uncle; he has very limited writing skills. Rollins is not fat. He’s a very, very nice looking young man, and he is actually physically mature for his age. He may have written this that day in 7th grade because those words had played a narrative in his mind for many years. Boys, as well as girls, can suffer with the effects of mental/emotional issues associated with eating disorders.
When I’m in school people are always calling me stupid and dumb. They tell me to wake-up. I’m tired of people telling me this. I like to fix my garage doors and paint the walls, but then people just say things like “What did you do in your garage today, Karl?”
Teacher's Comment: Karl often appears to be a sad boy with no bedroom to call his own. He sleeps on the sofa at his home while his mother “rents” out a bedroom in their house. He frequently puts his head down on the desk and retreats from the rest of the world.
- How would you define bullying?
- Why do people bully others?
- Are some people bullied more than others? Can you give examples?
- What are some ways people take comfort for themselves when they are hurt by others misuse of words towards them? How can some of these behaviors become problematic? How can some of these behaviors be called illnesses? Should people be blamed for these behaviors? What is the best way to help someone who may have these behaviors (overeating, bulimia, alcoholism, drug addiction)?
- What do you or can you do to comfort yourself when you are bullied or someone uses words that hurt you?
- Why do people easily label another person with a sexually explicit term, like they did with Mallory and Talia? How do you think Mallory and Talia should react to what others are calling them? How can they show that they are "bigger" in their thinking?
- Have you ever come to help out a friend the way the teacher did with Darcy? How did you do this? What was the result? Did your friend know what you did? How did they feel about your action?
- Since most of us have physical and emotional flaws or just some behaviors that others don't like, why is it that some of us feel we can label other people? What is gained by doing this, as it was in the case of calling Rollins fat? Or by saying something unkind about his family? What is lost when people use these types of labels?
- What is the attitude that some young men have about the way they look?
- Why do some individuals, both girls and boys, suffer from eating disorders? Why is it that some professionals consider eating disorders as a control issue?
- It seems that people so often take advantage of people who might be hurting, as in the case of Karl. How might you help Karl with his apparent sadness? How might your positive actions help Karl?
Note about the “Words That Hurt” Assignment
The students in a small language arts class were asked to complete an assignment describing a time where words were especially hurtful to them. It was emphasized that this assignment might be read by a global population. Some were daunted by the task, and others jumped at the idea of reaching out to tell a part of their story. Student names are pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
Scenarios and Questions Written by: Sheryl J. Wilder
Sheryl J. Wilder has worked in the education or human services fields for many years. She received her undergraduate degree from Winona State University in Minnesota in 1978 and her Master of Arts degree from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota in 1995. She has taught students from kindergarten through high school in several school districts in Minnesota and North Dakota. Currently she teaches students with reading,writing and/or math disabilities at the 7th and 8th grade level in Waseca, MN, a position she’s held since 1992. She feels that students at this age are reaching a stage of cognitive and emotional development allowing them to better evaluate and empathize with others outside themselves. Creating a deeper understanding of the global human condition and increasing students’ positive perceptions of their abilities to make a difference are Ms. Wilder’s ultimate goals when teaching the academic skills of reading, writing and math.