9 Consequences of Name-Calling

teen girl very distressed

Everyone has heard the saying: "Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." The problem is, this statement is not the least bit true. Name-calling is one of the most damaging and painful types of bullying. It leaves victims with negative messages about who they are burned into their memories. It's also harmful because name-calling attempts to define people. For instance, calling someone “fat,” “retard,” “nerd,” or any other derogatory name chips away at the target’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and self-concept.

To make matters worse, name-calling happens a lot. In fact, 75 percent of elementary school students say they are called names on a regular basis at school. They also consistently hear students call others "retard" or "spaz" and nearly 50 percent say they hear things like "you're so gay" or "that's so gay." Meanwhile, it is just as bad at the middle school and high school level with nearly 65 percent of students indicating that name-calling is a serious issue at their school.

Name-calling makes it difficult for victims to trust their perceptions about themselves.

And regardless of the names the victim is called, the underlying and repeating messages are “you’re not good enough” and “you don’t measure up.” Here are some other ways young people are affected by name-calling.

Erodes a Victim’s Sense of Self

Over time, name-calling and other insults can slowly eat away at self-esteem and the victim will no longer see herself realistically. For instance, if a girl is regularly called “fat,” she may view herself as overweight even after she loses weight. This type of distorted body image is often the beginning stage of an eating disorder.

Causes Kids to Compromise Their Beliefs and Values

When kids are insulted for having certain beliefs or values, this name-calling may cause them to bend to peer pressure and compromise their beliefs in order to escape the bullying. For instance, a teen that is called a “goody-goody” may try to shake this image by doing things that go against her belief system as she tries to prove she is not always a “goody-goody.”

Affects a Victim's Sense of Well-Being

Name-calling causes noticeable changes in personality and behavior of those impacted. For instance, teen victims may be more tearful, hostile or withdrawn. They also may invent excuses to avoid school and lose interest in outside activities. What's more, victims are often dissatisfied with life. They also may struggle with feelings of loneliness and despair.

Impacts a Person’s Identity

When a bully calls another person a name, they are attempting to control how others see the person. For instance, a bully may call someone “stupid.” This name-calling is usually done in front of others and is meant to encourage others to view the person as “stupid” as well. If the name-calling is repeated, over time others, including the target, may begin to associate the word “stupid” with that person. And eventually, that hurtful label can become part of who that person is.

Opens the Door to Violence

In severe cases, bullies who call others names often will act on their anger and lash out in a physical way.

Many hate crimes begin with name-calling. Never ignore name-calling.

Instead, if your child is being called names at school, bring it to the attention of the teacher or the principal.

Encourages Internal Criticism

Name-calling often leads targets to take on the names as reality. As a result, they begin to criticize themselves instead. For instance, if a person is a called a “loser,” their internal voice will learn to call them a loser as well when they make mistakes. The problem is that this inner voice is hard to switch off and it’s not very objective.

Impacts Mood

It’s important to remember that sudden changes in mood can sometimes signal that bullying is taking place. Never ignore a child’s changes in mood or write them off as hormonal until you have determined why they appear sullen, angry or distant. Changes in behavior, sleeping habits and moods should always be considered the first warning signs that something is wrong. It is not uncommon for victims of name-calling and other types of bullying to experience anxiety and depression. If your child shows a change in mood, have him evaluated by a doctor right away. 

Affects mental health

Name-calling can have serious consequences on mental health. In fact, researchers feel it is one of the most damaging forms of bullying. For instance, some victims become so depressed from the name-calling that they begin to feel worthless, helpless, and out of control. Some victims may even contemplate suicide. If your child talks about death or wanting to die, do not ignore his comments. Have your child evaluated by a medical professional right away. 

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

It Affects Physical Health

Often, when kids are called names their physical health will be compromised. In addition to having trouble eating or sleeping, they also may complain of an upset stomach and headaches. Additionally, some victims may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcers, or other stress-related conditions.

A Word from Verywell

Name-calling is one of the most painful types of bullying kids can experience. For this reason, it is very important that parents never downplay what their kids are feeling or tell them to just ignore it. Instead, brainstorm about ways you can help your child stand up to the bullying. Sometimes all it takes is a witty comeback. Other times, it will require a meeting with the principal. The key is to decide together what will work best.

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Article Sources
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  1. Prevention: Teach kids how to identify bullying and how to stand up to it safely. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Stop Bullying.

  2. How does bullying affect health and well-being? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.