It doesn’t always take a physical blow to make a scar. Verbal insults can have just as powerful an impact as any physical abuse, although the injury may be less easy to observe. In fact, even harassment that involves no actual physical injury can cause serious emotional trauma and lasting effects such as anxiety, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

When teasing becomes bullying

Teasing is an accepted part of our culture, and it is something that people of all ages use to lighten up a social situation. Teasing often consists of playful insults that are meant to elicit playful retorts from others. These insults are not meant to actually cause harm. However, teasing can be hurtful if it is not distributed equally. If there is asymmetry in power relationships, the teaser may actually be engaging in bullying behavior.

Teasing is harmful if it directs attention to things that the recipient of the insults is ashamed of, such as obesity or a mental disability. For example, if one student repeatedly teases another about his or her outfits and the teased student is only wearing those outfits due to a lack of spending money, the teasing becomes bullying. There is a fine line between the two, and it is important for young people to be sensitive to things that may be a source of shame for others.

The impact of name-calling

On the playground or in the school hallways, it may be difficult for teachers to distinguish between friendly teasing and outright verbal harassment. In many cases, victims of verbal insults are embarrassed to admit that there is a problem. The damaging words continue, eroding the victims’ self-esteem and producing long-lasting emotional scars.

Verbal harassment can have a serious impact on a child’s self-esteem and can lead to depression, anxiety and poor performance issues. The following are some indications that a young person may be experiencing hurtful teasing:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • A shrinking circle of friends
  • Efforts to avoid school or certain public places

These signs of stress could indicate a need for more open discussion regarding hurtful spoken words.

Dealing with verbal abuse

If a young person is uncomfortable with name-calling and other forms of verbal abuse, it’s important for him or her to let peers know that their behavior is troublesome. They may be unaware of the damage they are causing. If the name-calling is nothing more than misplaced teasing, these classmates will stop once they understand that their teasing is harmful.

If the harmful teasing persists, then outright bullying is occurring. In this case, the best action to take is to discuss the issue with teachers or with the bullies’ parents. Speaking with an attorney may also offer provide some legal solutions.