Teaching Youth to Stop Name-Calling

Today begins No Name-Calling Week, an awareness week organized by K-12 educators and students to end name-calling and bullying in schools. Name calling may seem benign – it’s just words after all, and our society believes in freedom of speech – but it is a slippery slope. Studies show that name calling actually leads to anger and violence or withdrawal and fear.

Name-calling is actually very common in the United States. We hear parents call their children names when they misbehave. We hear athletes called names when they miss a throw or lose. We hear protesters on opposite sides of an issue call each other names. The media almost glorifies name-calling with popular shows garnering laughs at elaborate cut downs. Even our politicians use name-calling against their opponents. Because our youth live in a culture of name-calling, it’s important that parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors teach students that name calling is wrong and a source of hurt and conflict. Ultimately, calling someone a name is a sign of disrespect.

It is our job to teach youth alternate methods of communication and to model respectful behavior. We must explain how to express anger in a healthy way, how to state their opinion respectfully despite their frustration, how to solve the problem at hand, and how to listen to other’s viewpoints – these are all vital life skills. Avoiding the problem, or thinking a teen will grow out of this “phase,” does not work. In fact, research shows that rude teens mature into rude adults. The way we respond to a teen’s disrespect absolutely influences whether or not it will continue into the teen’s adulthood.

How to Stop Name-Calling

Here are some strategies to stop name-calling:

  • Clearly define inappropriate behavior. It helps to explain the specific types of behavior you consider unacceptable. If you just say “no more name-calling,” a teen might think you mean it’s not ok to use a curse word to describe someone, but it’s still ok to call them stupid. Clearly state that disrespectful behavior is completely unacceptable. Pick some real examples from when you have seen them call a friend or sibling names and brainstorm some different ideas for how they could have handled the situation in a more appropriate way. Explain that you want them to stand up for themselves, but the way they do it must be more respectful. Set limits when everyone is calm, and allow input from all family members.
  • Use consequences. Establish an appropriate consequence for different types of rude behavior ahead of time, so that your teen knows what to expect if they display rudeness. Some families use a “fine jar” where anytime someone in the family calls another person a name they have to put a dollar in the jar. Whatever you decide is the consequence, be sure to follow-through on enforcing it every single time.
  • Role model. Teens learn a lot about relationships based on the way the adults in their lives treat others. If you call other people names, they will, too. Show teens how to respond in a respectful manner when you disagree with someone else’s point of view. Do not bad mouth your boss, a teacher or coach, or anyone else in front of your child. If you are rude to your teen, your spouse or those around you, you’re teaching your child that this type of behavior is acceptable. You must role model using respectful language with others even when you feel angry.
  • Avoid power struggles. Pick your battles wisely. It is the nature of teens to try pushing your buttons. If your child has drawn you into a fight with name-calling in the past, be prepared that he/she will try to do it again. You should have a plan for that situation so that you can deal with your teen’s behavior as objectively as possible. For example, in the heat of the moment, if your teen is calling you stupid, try saying,You have to find a way to calm yourself down rather than use that language.” It’s impossible to have a real discussion when emotions are running high; it’s human nature to fight back or shut down. Try to avoid the fight and speak to your teen when they are calm again.
  • Teach conflict resolution skills. Name-calling is a common way for teens to exert power over other people, whether siblings, peers or even adults. If you can arm your teen with positive conflict resolution skills, they won’t need to use name-calling. They will be better able to maintain peaceful relationships. Check out our previous blog Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills to Youth.
  • Invite respectful opinions. If you want teens to be socially respectful, you must teach them the difference between facts and opinions and instill the value that no opinion is wrong. The first way to do that is to show teens that their opinions matter to you, so respectfully listen to their ideas even if you disagree. However, teens also need to know that their opinion isn’t any more valuable than other people’s opinions. Encourage them to accept the idea of “agreeing to disagree” when they don’t see eye-to-eye with someone. Make it clear that your teen won’t be given consequences for his opinion, but that he will be given consequences when he behaves in a rude manner.

Final Thoughts…

Keep in mind that adults – parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc – are training teens for adulthood. Name-calling is a symptom of disrespect, and disrespect never resolves conflicts. It is our responsibility to help teens learn how to express anger and problem solve in positive ways, even when they are frustrated. Our role is to coach them to find healthy ways to express themselves in difficult situations so that they can be successful in college, marriage, and career.

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