“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Our trusted adults may have used this phrase to calm us down when we were sharing with them what someone said to us at school that day to hurt our feelings.
When I heard that phrase, it made me think that what was said to me didn't really matter.
However, as I got older, I held on to what that bully had said to me and those negative comments still linger in my mind today, leading me to doubt myself in every opportunity I face.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 1 out of every 5 students reported being bullied in 2019.
Students who experience bullying are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement and dropping out of school. Bullying also has a negative effect on how students feel about themselves, their relationships with friends and family, their school work and their physical health.
There was once a time that I feared going to school. I couldn't sleep at night because I knew what I would have to face the next day and I was so anxious and upset about the thought of school that sleep seemed impossible.
I wasn't alone.
It is hard to determine how many students were just like me and feared going to school, but according to the Cyberbullying Research Center it is estimated that 5.4 million students skip school during the school year at some point as a result of bullying.
In a study conducted in 2017, individuals experiencing verbal bullying were 8.4 times more likely to have suicidal ideation.
Each year, schools in Indiana have the opportunity to participate in the Indiana Youth Survey, which examines behaviors, experiences and other factors that may influence the health and well-being of youth. The survey is given to youth in grades six through 12. Following are the responses from students when they were asked whether they had considered attempting suicide in the past year (2020).
• About 12 out of 100 sixth grade students considered attempting suicide in the past year instead of deciding whether or not to go to their first middle school basketball practice.
• 15 out of 100 seventh grade students considered attempting suicide instead of inviting their friends over for their birthday.
• Nearly 18 out of 100 eighth grade students considered attempting suicide instead of taking their dog on a walk.
• 18 out of 100 ninth grade students considered attempting suicide instead of picking out new school clothes for their first year of high school.
• 19 out of 100 10th grade students considered attempting suicide instead of preparing for their driver's permit.
• Approximately 18 out of 100 11th grade students considered attempting suicide instead of picking out a dress for their junior prom.
• 17 out of 100 12th grade students considered attempting suicide instead of applying for college scholarships.
The survey indicates that 12% to 19% of our Indiana youth contemplate suicide.
When youth reach out to their trusted adults after experiencing something hurtful a classmate has said to them, we must be mindful in how we respond.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” sends the message to those struggling that their feelings don't matter because they didn't experience any physical harm.
I challenge you to stand aside the youth you interact with, let them express their feelings without judgment or punishment, meet them where they are, and allow for them to grow, ask questions and to simply be themselves.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will break my heart.”
Meghann Hill of Fort Wayne is pursuing a master's degree in social work at IUPUI.