We all know the rhyme “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”. It’s possible you’ve even taught that rhyme to your kids when they were young to help them through a difficult time with a friend. On the logical level the phrase makes sense, but we’ve all had experiences where words hurt far more than a stick or a stone ever could.
Earlier this week I was working with a client who was struggling with a situation with her 14-year-old daughter, Jane, who had lied to her about being on social media. My client thought she was protecting Jane by limiting her exposure on social media and had shared her concerns with Jane. My client felt like her honest and open discussion with Jane had helped Jane to understand the reasons behind her decision. But then last week, my client discovered Jane had opened an account on the social media platform anyway and lied about doing it. Of course, my client was hurt and disappointed Jane had gone against her wishes. After a couple days had gone by, Jane shared the reason why she had gone through with it was because she thought more people would like her if she was on the app.
It’s a heartbreaking revelation to hear, yet we’ve all been there. Our children grow up in our houses, in a controlled environment, surrounded by people that love them unconditionally. They didn’t have to earn the love of their family and friends that surrounded them, they were loved and accepted just by the pure fact of being themselves. Now they are exposed to social media where the number of friends you have is a social measure of acceptance. It’s not enough to have a group of friends you hang out with or even a best friend, you also must have an acceptable number of people following you. It’s a new dynamic that many parents are struggling to figure out how to handle. And let’s admit, it’s hard because we are doing it too. We may not care about the number of friends we have on social media, but we do look at how many likes we got on our photo.
It wasn’t that long ago that we only had to worry about the words people said hurting us. Now our children worry about who accepted their friend request, liked their photos, commented or blocked them. It is an entirely new arena for social relationships, with new rules, but the underlying truths are the same. Words, by themselves, still cannot hurt you. It all depends on the power we give those words. Are you going to give power to the words of the people around you? Are you going to let their words decide if you are happy or sad, popular or unpopular, pretty or ugly, a friend or a mean girl? Or will you give the power to your own words to decide what is important to you, who you want to be and how you want to act? The choice is not hard, but putting it into practice can be. When we find ourselves, or our kids, in a situation where words are hurting, think back – why are we giving the words the power to become sticks and stones? Shift the power to our own words and remember they are far more powerful than any word, stick or stone could ever be.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.