An old saying declares, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As lovely as that sounds, I beg to differ. Bullying has garnered increasing amounts of media attention, making it quite clear that words are powerful beyond measure and can, in fact, cause serious damage to the humane psyche. Language plays a critical role in how girls interact with each other, and although words can swiftly make a girl feel like a million bucks, words can just as quickly shatter a girl into a million pieces.
“No offense” and “just kidding” certainly aren’t new phrases to the teen girl vocabulary. Girls have used these phrases for years as a way of saying what they want to say, no matter how hurtful or mean, without having to apologize for it. These phrases are the equivalent of get-out-of-jail-free cards. In The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons articulates this phenomenon perfectly. “The phrases are verbal fulcrums, feeble attempts to balance girls’ need to tell the truth with the need to be seen as Good,” she writes.”When someone says ‘just kidding’ or ‘no offense,’ the listener is expected to agree without comment.”
Although appearing harmless on the surface, these phrases have serious consequences. The logic follows that if I didn’t mean to offend you, then my comment couldn’t have hurt you. If I was just joking, you can’t take my comment seriously. The phrases thereby create a system among girls where no one is held accountable for hurtful digs and jabs. In the event that a girl actually gathers enough courage to try to hold a friend accountable for her words, she is quickly shut down. The sad truth is that fear of social isolation prevents girls from speaking up when a friend is being mean or cruel. And so the cycle continues.
The bottom line is that subtly disregarding another’s feelings in order to save face is hardly a dignified tactic. By using these phrases, we are not taking personal responsibility for how our actions impact one another. So I challenge you to erase “just kidding” and “no offense” from your vocabulary, and speak honestly with integrity. The old adages, “Think before you speak” and, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” are great rules of thumb. Taking the time to consider how your words might affect someone beforehand is a sign of real respect in a friendship. Plus, by choosing your words and your tone wisely, you can make your point effectively without causing major damage to the friendship.
Images courtesy of Lifemilan.it, Nerdstew.wordpress.com
Read more about Jess and her role as a life coach for teen girls by clicking here.