When Teasing Isn’t Funny

I think it’s essential to define teasing from the start. Teasing has been a part of society from its inception. It happens when one individual zeroes in on a target and proceeds to make it obvious to that person and the world the way in which they are different or react differently to others in the same situation. They take advantage of their target’s attention and twist it so the result pokes fun at, mocks, or humiliates them. In every scenario there is an inbalance of power. The teaser rising as the person in control and the teased subjected to being a victim.

There are varying levels of teasing. Some may be considered harmless, childlike and so thought to have little effect. Something this “silly” surely will not stick with its target. As the level of teasing intensifies it grows into bullying and harrasment with the sole purpose of making the target feel some level of social rejection, shame, humiliation, lack of power, and despair. At this level the teasing has escalated into its most evil form. One that borders on criminal and sometimes even falls into that realm.

What I am talking about now is the supposed light-hearted teasing that occurs daily among family, friends, and acquaintances. Its affect hits home across all ages, but for now, let’s stick with kids.

The acceptance of teasing is probably based on your own specific background. Nature/nurture – what was ever allowed in your social circle, family, school, etc. has most likely become your standard for evaluating the effectiveness and result of teasing. If you grew up where teasing was a normal part of your household you are less likely to connect to its negative effects on its target. You will be able to register that the teasing has hit home, but be unable to empathize with the potential pain left behind. You may think that teasing is all in fun. It grows character. But for those who let teasing roll off them without adverse effects, there are scores of others who are left with scars instead of an upgraded character. Yes, something as “simple” as teasing can have a monumental effect on certain people. They carry that emotional baggage around for the rest of their lives.

When a child learns the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad and the like they start to recognize the things that hurt. Everyone wants to feel safe and protected. A child will instinctively go to a parent or guardian hoping that the trust they have in them will protect them. Protect them from things in the world around them that they may not understand just yet. Protect them from things they’ve learned to fear based on past experiences. Safety. Protection. For your child, or any child, that is not too much to expect from an adult.

So now you should be able to recognize teasing. I hope that as adults you already can distinguish it from normal conversation and child’s play. The next step is to examine the state of the child targeted. Are they laughing along with the teaser? Is it actually that light-hearted? Is there a back and forth foray of teasing? Perhaps they truly are only kidding around with each other this time. No harm, no foul. When it’s over do they continue to play and interact as before or can you see a difference in the way they treat each other? Most likely the teaser is feeling great. They are loving life picking on the other kid. How is the target doing? Can you see the sting of the taunts? Even a slight twinge of a sting is not good.

OK, you see there’s been a direct hit. What do you do? Act immediately, if possible, to dilute the hurt. Explain that teasing is not acceptable. Explain how it hurts. The child who is targeted needs to be given the skills to cope. Explain to them that they have the ability to react in many different ways to being teased. They can accept it as truth and let it become a part of who they they think they are as a person, or they can learn to ignore it and stop it. As the adult you should be aware of the warning signs that your child is being teased.

Some signs your child is being teased:

    • Frequent bouts of passivity or not wanting to participate
    • Crying when confronted with the prospect of being around certain people
    • Making up symptoms to avoid certain people
    • Cuts, scratches, bruises. Funny how they always happen when they’re playing with a certain person.
    • Problems at school. Trouble learning or not wanting to attend school.
    • A noticeable change in a child’s view of himself. Negativity, calling themselves a loser, feeling they have no worth and not capable of doing things.
Solving The Problem

If the teasing is happening at home:

  • Be honest with yourself and how your family functions. If you’ve never given teasing a thought and therefore never disciplined against it, now is the time to acknowledge that teasing is not an acceptable tactic in you home. Now is the time to make some changes.
  • If you see teasing taking place, intervene. Immediately. Stop the teasing before it escalates. Set the ground rules and the consequences and then live by those rules. No giving in. You are the parent. You set the rules. Period

If the teasing is happening in public, like on a playground:

  • Intervene immediately. Initially to stop the teasing, but then to see if you can address the situation and use it as a learning tool to avoid teasing in the future.
  • If you can, look for someone to intervene as a third party. A coach perhaps could be the one who talks to the group as a whole instead of segregating the
    two parties involved. Make a lesson for the good of the whole group.
  • Work with the other parent directly if possible. If it’s obvious that teasing is sanctioned by the other parent you are less likely to be able to strike a chord for peace. In this case it’s probably best to simply end the interaction between the two kids and move on. All the while demonstrating to your own child that it is possible to remain composed and calm in this situation and just walk away.

If the teasing is happening at school:

  • Contact your child’s teacher.
  • Relay any information you may have about the teasing. Tell the teacher what your child has told you. Follow up to be sure the issue has been addressed.
  • If you actually notice the teasing while at school, bring it to the attention of your child’s teacher immediately.
  • If you are contacted by your child’s teacher with speculation that your child is being teased, work with the teacher to alleviate the problem. Be available and willing to make adjustments if necessary.
  • Talk to your child. Draw them out. Make them feel comfortable enough to tell you what is going on. Let them know you intend to do something about it.
  • If you can’t resolve the problem working with the teacher, keep moving up the chain. Go the principal next and explain the situation.
  • If everything you’ve tried to date fails – move your child to a different school if possible.

The worst thing you can do:

  • Don’t acknowledge the teasing when your child tells you about it.
  • Ignore the teasing if you see it firsthand thinking it is simple child’s play and has no effect.
  • Encourage your child to react to teasing by teasing in return.
  • Give up if your child has difficulty developing the skills to cope with teasing. They don’t have to “learn to live with it”.
  • Refuse to step in when your child asks for help. As I’ve stated before your kids expect you to protect them and keep them safe. By not fulfilling that expectation you run the risk of you child feeling betrayed and abandoned.

Teasing may exist in every culture and has been around for centuries. That fact alone does not make it acceptable. Recognize the signs and act accordingly. Whether your child is the teaser or the target of teasing you have a job to do. As the parent it’s up to you to let your kids know what is and is not acceptable behavior. Give them the skills to cope. Make them a better person.

If you’d like to read more about teasing I’ve pulled a few links for you to check out:

How do you handle teasing in your household? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share? You can leave a comment or contact LilyToad at:

By Gret Boyd


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