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Words can hurt

These tweens can empathize
These tweens can empathize

Sticks and stones

Many of us have heard the toothpaste story: a rabbi or teacher gives each of the young people a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate. The young people are instructed to squeeze out all of the toothpaste on the plate. When they are finished, he instructs them to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

The outcome of this exercise is that the rabbi explains that this is just like words. Once said, you cannot take them back, and once you hurt someone with your words, you can apologize but the impact of those unkind words can stay forever.

Michael Josephson’s commentary, “The Power of Words,” explains how “insults, teasing, gossip, and verbal abuse can inflict deeper and more enduring pain than guns and knives. Sticks and stones may hurt us, but names can hurt worse. Josephson says that instead of making words less important, parents and teachers need to demand respect and sensivity. ( Josephson is located in Los Angeles and gives many workshops and training sessions.

Emily Bazelon’s book, Stick and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, can be purchased on The book is a thorough exploration of the subject, including both digital and old-fashioned cruelty.

The Huffington Post has an excerpt from The Book Thief: “Words not used in the correct way bring wreck, havoc, and disharmony to those whom the words are fired towards. However, one good, edifying word brings joy and hope to those who need it most,…When used correctly, words have the power to change the world.”

In a perfect world, tweens would not say cruel things to each other. We can help them develop empathy. In another article in, Psychologist

wBarbara Greenberg gives us suggestions. “We’ve been wondering for years why teens seem to be so self-centered and at times so insensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. “ Their brains are still developing.

  1. Model empathic behavior – talk out loud about how you interpret other’s behavior.
  2. Point out social cues – they are used to texting.
  3. Praise tweens when they behave empathically.
  4. Point out how their behavior has impact on others.
  5. Be patient. Their empathy will improve with age.

Psychology Today has an article Is it Normal for Teenagers to Lack Empathy? It explains that “the prefrontal cortex is last to develop” because the person must focus on self mastery before caring about the welfare of their community.

Help your child become less self absorbed while still encouraging self discovery, and remind them that you can never put that toothpaste back in the tube!

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