Despite study, local experts decry name-calling

Richard Gwin/ Journal -World Photo Mentors at Schwegler elementary school from left, Mayah Yoder and Stevin Hays try an help students solve their problems with out going to a teacher, such a teasing or being bad to others.

Smelly. Four-eyes. Chubbo. From the time we enter school in kindergarten, we are taught that these nicknames are forbidden, or at least a definite ticket to timeout.

But what if teasing were a good thing? According to Erin Heerey, an American psychologist at Bangor University in North Wales, names like this can actually improve self-esteem and increase popularity.

“If everybody’s smiling, there’s no reason to step in and stop it,” Heerey told the Telegraph newspaper in London. “The children are learning about social norms and how to interact with each other.”

Heerey describes this mockery as essential to group bonding. But although she claims that teasing helps children with body language and communication, not everyone is buying it.

Kea Wormsley has been counseling students at Schwegler School for two years and was a clinical psychologist before that. She says in her experience, children were not confident or “popular” after a history of being teased.

“What I see when kids come talk to me about the teasing and the name-calling is sadness (and) frustration in not knowing what to do,” Wormsley says of her students. “Sometimes … if it is pervasive and over a period of time there is that imbalance of power, those kids … will have more headaches, have trouble sleeping, cry more.”

At Schwegler, many of the classrooms begin the morning with a pledge that states they will not bully other students and they will try to help students who are bullied when it is safe to do so. The parents also receive a “Bullying Prevention Plan,” which gives a rubric for bullying behavior.

“I think people need to make a distinction when they look at this study,” Wormsley says. “Bullying is that imbalance of power. It’s pervasive and it’s ongoing, and the victim or target doesn’t like it.”

She also says that a certain amount of “teasing” is OK, but children must watch each other’s faces to make sure that the other person is comfortable with it.

The student mediator program is another way the elementary school prevents against harmful name-calling. Students, chosen by their teachers, wear an orange sash signaling to other children that they are a mediator. The mediators are there to help their peers deal with problems they may face at school.

“A mediator is a big task because a lot of kids can get bullied and they’ll need help,” says Stevin Hays, a mediator in sixth grade at Schwegler. “Sometimes teachers won’t be able to help with certain problems.”