By Brenda Corderman
Which is it – joking, teasing or bullying?
This question is debated by kids, teens and parents. Kids tend to understand the dynamics of joking, teasing and bullying more than their parents. They are in the mix when they are online, at a social event, and at school. They can sense what “feels mean” and “not cool” to them and what has good or bad intent. However, they may also miss social cues that the other person was joking or teasing. Children and tweens often do not understand friendly sarcasm. They hear the tone, and it can feel shaming.
Some (not all) parents minimize kids’ reactions. If their kid picks on and upsets another kid, they will say, “I was picked on as a kid, and I turned out just fine!” They’ll suggest that the one who is being picked on should grow up, stop whining, acting like a baby, etc. This only creates isolation and shame in the kid being picked on.
So, what’s the difference between joking, teasing and bullying?
Teasing is a less-threatening way of pointing out a social misstep. For instance, playfully saying, “No double-dipping!” can remind a friend how to eat in a group setting. The teaser is trying to help in a non-confrontational manner.
Joking mostly occurs among friends and acquaintances. It has no ill intent, doesn’t want to harm or embarrass, or worse, humiliate someone. Jokesters and teasers may be feeling playful, like a stand-up comedian. They are truly trying to “get you to laugh”.
I think many of us, at one time or another in our lives, have said something we thought was hilarious, but the person on the receiving end didn’t laugh, crack a smile, or worse, got angry or started to cry.
That’s the time to immediately stop teasing and apologize:
~ I’m sorry. I’m new at this school. I joke to help make friends. I feel bad that I hurt your feelings. Give me another chance.
~ I’m sorry. I can act goofy sometimes. I never want to hurt people’s feelings and am sorry that I hurt yours.
~ I’m sorry. That seemed hilarious when it was in my head. Clearly it wasn’t.
~ I’m sorry. Believe it or not, I am actually very shy/introverted. I joke to help me to talk to people.
~ I’m sorry. We tease each other a lot in my family. I guess I was acting the same way with you. I’ll stop doing that.
~ Next time I’ll let you know that I thought of something funny that borders on teasing, and you can let me know if you want to hear it.
When do behaviors shift from teasing to bullying?
Teasing can create closeness in a relationship. But, it can also be used to point out, embarrass or alienate another person, which weakens the friendship. The interaction of teasing can turn hostile when the person being teased is very upset and possibly feeling unsafe around the teaser.
Teasing about physical appearance is almost always hostile and hurtful. This is not surprising since appearance has so much influence on social acceptance and is out of the individual’s control.
Bullying is different. Bullies do not care that their words or actions are hurting the person they are harassing. Hurting the intended victim is their goal.
Bullying occurs when…
~ they are trying to hurt, embarrass or shame the other person.
~ the remarks are hostile.
~ there is a power imbalance (i.e. the bully has lots of friends and followers).
~ it occurs repeatedly, despite being asked or told not to (by parents, school and forum admins).
If you or someone you know is being bullied, or even if it’s someone you don’t know, speak up to the person in charge. Let your teacher or principal know.
At Kennedy’s Voice, our goal is to have a comprehensive plan on bully prevention, how to stop bullying in its tracks, what to do when bullying occurs, and how we can help you and your friends have a safe experience at school.
To see more about what we’re doing, “Like” our Facebook page, Kennedy’s Voice, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter. “Share us” with your family and friends. Help us get the word out.
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About Brenda Corderman
Brenda Corderman, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Brea, CA. She is a member of Kennedy’s Voice and an advocate against bullying. For more information, visit her website at www.brendacorderman.com.