Refusing To Use The Hurtful R-word

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - February 20, 2008
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retard: (ree-tard) slang: disparaging.
a mentally retarded person
a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way
                                          - Dictionary.com

It’s a word that kids (and even some adults) throw around like candy nowadays, and for some reason they think it’s OK. But for the person on the receiving end, usually a child or a teenager, it cuts like a knife.

Michael (not his real name) knows what it feels like - anger, hurt and bewilderment at being insulted in such a cruelly casual way. Shame, self-doubt and sometimes even despair soon follow: Why do they call me names? Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I fit in?

Any parent of a child who has special needs or is socially awkward or even just a little bit different knows all about the agony of watching that child fend off the careless verbal assaults by the so-called “normal” kids. They know in their hearts the day will come when their child will be teased, taunted or ostracized. They prepare for it like other parents prepare their kids for soccer games. But it does-n’t make it any easier when it happens.


The perpetrators may consider what they do harmless, but it is anything but. It’s a form of bullying they can get away with. It makes them feel superior - after all, if they call someone a retard and others join in, they’re the cool kids. It’s a bonding thing. It separates them from “the others.”

Maybe it shows a lack of self-esteem - a desire to elevate themselves at the expense of others. Maybe they don’t understand the impact of their words. Or maybe it just feels good to be mean.

I wonder about the parents. Do they know what their children are saying? And if they know, do they shrug it off as just another example of “kids being kids?” They would be appalled if their child used the “n” word to taunt a schoolmate. The use of the “r” word just doesn’t seem to elicit the same reaction. When you think about it, though, they’re both used the same way - to denigrate, diminish and demean.

If I knew my son was using the word, I would sit him down and have a good, long talk about respect for his fellow human beings and the ability of words to hurt and destroy. We would discuss the difference being popular and being petty. He would know, without a doubt, that calling a person a retard was unacceptable. And there would be consequences if he did it again.


Michael himself proved to be pretty mature for a middle schooler. When his outraged mother said that he should respond the next time by calling his taunter a jerk, he declined. “I don’t think that would be good,” he told his mom. “I’ll just give him the silent treatment.”

Smart kid.

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