The Potentially Destructive Power of Words

by NDFAuthors

  • Nov 20, 2013

Your mouth is a revolver firing bullets in the sky
This world is getting colder. Strangers passing by
No one offers you a shoulder. No one looks you in the eye

James Blunt, Bonfire Heart

The power of words

think-before-you-speakThe purpose of words as bullets is to:
“¦.. hurt and cause pain
“¦.. control and gain power

But words can also be used to:
“¦.. help and support
“¦.. nurture and protect

As with many things in life, it depends how you use them.

When someone is the subject of bullying with words it is rarely something they talk about to anyone. It often results in withdrawal and isolation which compounds the problem as the bully will take advantage of the silence.

When and where does bullying occur?

Bullying can happen to anyone, at any age and in many circumstances, such as:

  • at home
  • at school
  • in relationships
  • at work
  • in caring for the elderly
  • in looking after those with disabilities

Types of bulling

Verbal bullying

When many people think of bullying they think of physical bullying – that is sometimes easier to detect than verbal bullying which is often hidden.


It can happen in school, clubs, the school bus – anywhere that children are together.


Cyberbulling is bullying using any digital media – predominantly mobile phones, social media and emails.


Serbian Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and UNICEF, with the support of Telenor, conducted a survey on digital bullying among primary and secondary schools pupils in December 2012.1
The results are similar to surveys conducted around the world – cyberbullying is on the increase and children need protection.

The results included:

  • 36% of pupils responded to messages from people they did not know
  • 58% of them accepted “friend” requests from strangers on social networks
  • 11% of children accepted meetings with people they met online but did not know
  • 12% were the subject of bullying on the Internet, 8% were victims of photographing by mobile telephones or cameras, 7% received violent SMS messages, 12% received abusive phone calls
  • 5% of primary school pupils admitted that they harassed others on the Internet, 4% made pictures of someone who didn’t want to be photographed by mobile phone or camera, 2% sent unpleasant SMS messages and 4% made abusive phone calls
  • 84% of pupils were passive observers of digital bullying at least once
  • 52% of secondary school pupils and. 48 % of primary school students visit web sites they believe their parents would not allow.

Sibling Bullying

When does fighting between siblings become bullying? This was a question the BBC Mews Magazine posed recently.

  • Almost a third of children in a recent survey said they had been the victim of sibling aggression in the past year
  • They reported a range of acts from theft and psychological abuse to physical assault
  • Some parents believe conflict between siblings toughens them up
  • Research says sibling aggression affects a child’s mental health

Comments were invited from individuals who had been bulled by siblings, and they included2:

“I was bullied by my older brother throughout my childhood. He was eight years older and put a lot of energy into bullying. He drew scary pictures on the wall near my bed when I was three years old. He used a soldering iron to write a horrible message – “you are a fat pig” – on a school pencil case my Mum made for me. At age 11 I remember wishing that I hadn’t been born.

I stopped speaking to him at home for two years. My parents did very little to stop it. Christmas was always ruined by it. I was also bullied at school but it wasn’t as bad as the bullying at home. I suffered from depression for many years and have experienced workplace bullying and domestic violence. I know it is all connected to my childhood.”

How we can help children handle bullying

Give children behaviour tips to stop them being bullied

Bullies will often ‘pick’ on someone they think is weaker than they are, so teach your child to:

  • Project a positive attitude and walk, sit and move with confidence
  • Understand the difference between assertive and aggressive behaviour
  • Avoid potential bullying situations by moving calmly out of the way
  • Understand and set boundaries with others, telling them to ‘stop’ in a calm and firm manner
  • Be able to ‘throw away’ hurtful words by saying them out loud and then dismissing them by throwing them away
  • Get help when they need it by talking to teachers, parents and other adults
  • Use social media, the internet and mobile phones safely

Teach children the long term effects of bullying

Children do not always realise the potentially long term effects of bullying others. They may only see the short term effect – what happens in the moment. One of the best exercises I have found is shown here – it speaks for itself.


Write music to promote anti-bullying

So, I won’t let you close enough to hurt me
Next time I’ll be braver
I’ll be my own saviour
Standing on my own two feet

Adele, Turning Tables

Adele is a talented, award-winning singer songwriter – perhaps something your child would like to be. The Songwriting Charity in the UK empowers children through the art of songwriting. They run a series of Bullybeat anti-bullying songwriting workshops. Children learn about writing lyrics, arranging music, singing and producing songs which promote an antibullying message. Expressing their thoughts in music helps them to understand the effects of bullying, learn new skills and make friends. You can hear some of the songs on their website.

Even if you do not have the resources of The Songwriting Charity, teaching groups of children to write and sing about bullying is a powerful way of learning about its effects.

Perform or watch plays about bullying

If you are performing a school play, why not make bullying the theme of the play? The children can be involved in its creation and production.

In Serbia the Telenor Serbia Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign and Internal Trade and Telecommunications supported the production of Studio Center’s play “Children on the Internet”. It highlights the potential risks that children are exposed to on the internet such as paedophilia and fake profiles, internet addiction, frauds for financial gain and trafficking.

“Children on the Internet” was premiered on November 9th 2012 in the Children’s Cultural Centre in Belgrade and performances continued until September 2013.

Use resources such as posters or school packs

There are a lot of resources available to help children, teachers and parents with bullying. As well as many books here are a few more that can help:

Take part in Anti-Bullying week 18-22 November 2013

future-is-oursIn the UK the Anti-Bullying Alliance established an Anti-Bullying Week in 2006, and this year it is running from 18 to 22 November. You can link to it on Twitter at #ABW2013.

The Alliance produces a range of resources for children, teachers and parents of all ages, from videos to lesson plans and information packs.

Plan something for Safe Internet Day

Safe Internet Day is an annual day – the next one will be on 11 February 2014 with the theme ‘Let’s create a better internet together’. Schools and groups create events to mark the day – what could your school or group do?

Every year they create a video; here is the one from 2013, which had a theme of ‘Connect with Respect’.

Show children that it is OK to speak up about bullying

Adults are victims of bullying too. Showing children that everyone can speak up about bullying can help them to talk about it and seek help whether they are the victim or are witnessing someone else being bullied.

A recent case in the US was the woman who became the face of the controversial Affordable Healthcare program and its failed website. Her photo was used on their website and her face was soon mocked, Photoshoped and altered. She became the subject of late-night jokes, partisan hatred and intense speculation.

She did nothing but allow her photo to be used and has now spoken up about it.3

Spare a thought for bullies too

Happy, contented people are rarely bullies – they are a type of victim too. They are often people who have been bullied or abused themselves. Bullies often feel that they don’t ‘fit in’ and use bullying to gain respect and have people look up to them – before they realise these are not real friends.

Bullying is a form of control, and so bullies sometimes bully because they feel they have no control elsewhere in their lives.

Compelling research confirms that bullies are twice as likely as their peers to have criminal convictions and four times more likely to be multiple offenders.4

They need help with their behaviour too.

“Forgetting people who hurt you is your gift to them; forgiving people who hurt you is your gift to yourself.”


To find out more about cyber bullying and the law, please see this article by cyber crime expert David Cook