During 1990, a little-known band released an album that would later make a great difference in my life. They Might Be Giants released their album, Flood, which once I got ahold of it, I listened to constantly. I will admit that the main reason for my devotion to this album was that it was quirky and fun. However, They Might Be Giants also had some moral values placed into some of their songs. This morning, I decided to slip my, Flood, CD into the player to help get me revved up for the day, and after 22 years of hearing the same songs, one of the lines from one of the songs jumped out at me. (Always a sign of good writing is when you can read/hear the same piece for the millionth time, and you still get new insights from it.) It hit my heart and soul about teenage bullying and teasing, and why teens think they can say a horrible thing and then say, “Just kidding” or “Don’t take that the wrong way”, and suddenly they think they are free from all blame for putting down a kid and hurting his/her feelings.
The song that hit me is, “Your Racist Friend”. Complete lyrics can be found at http://tmbw.net/wiki/Lyrics:Your_Racist_Friend . I’ve always agreed with the basic message of the song, but one line stuck with me this morning: “Can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.” This concept is imperative to preventing teen bullying.
So many teens will use hurtful, unkind and painful words to criticize and bully other teens, but when they are ‘called on the carpet’ by an adult, many teens will reply with an answer like, “I was just kidding…”, and unfortunately, many adults and educators will accept that excuse and blow off the concerns of the kiddo who was bullied. Here is the reality: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will ALWAYS hurt you.”
Teens and adults need to know this: There is no ‘magic eraser’ that gets rid of the hurtful words once they have been said. “Just kidding!”; “Just saying!”; “I was only teasing.”; “Can’t he/she take a joke?” Umm, no. The only person who gets to decide if the comment or gesture was a ‘joke’ is the person on the receiving end. More often than not, those hateful words get ‘swept under the rug’ with the excuses teenagers give for harassing one another, which brings me back to the lyric, “Can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.”
For anyone who works or has contact with teens, let that quoted lyric resonate inside your heart and your moral compass. From there, we adults who work with teens need to use every resource available and our own creativity to send the message to teens who want to bully: “Just saying you’re only kidding” is never going to be an acceptable reason for bullying another person.