Helping Youth Deal with Teasing
Teasing. The dictionary defines it as a statement intended to provoke or make fun of someone in a playful way. In some families, members often tease each other, and depending on the personalities involved, it can be a great way to laugh and let off steam. Friends can enjoy fun together with kind and playful teasing. But teasing isn’t always playful. Many people use teasing in a cutting or disparaging way. In fact, within our school systems, teasing is sometimes just the first step towards bullying.
As a parent, it can actually feel painful to hear that our child is being teased. We don’t want our child to feel attacked, and we also feel a bit helpless to stop or prevent it, since adults are typically not around when teasing among tweens and teens takes place. Our only avenue is to offer our children advice on how to handle the teasing themselves.
One of the most common pieces of advice parents turn to is trying to help their child develop a cutting response. As a culture, Americans prize themselves on having a quick comeback. We think that if we can put down or embarrass the teaser, the problem will be solved. Unfortunately, this response often doesn’t work for a few reasons: 1) sometimes our comeback is just as, or more, cruel than our teaser’s comment and that means we are no better than they are, 2) it can escalate the conflict which brings more teasing, and 3) lots of children simply can’t remember or think of a great comeback in the moment.
Experts have some helpful advice to nip teasing in the bud. Typically, teasers are looking for a reaction. If you deprive them of the reaction, the teasing is no longer interesting. Ask yourself how the teaser predicts you will react, and then don’t give them the response they expect or want.
Make sure your teen understands the ineffective reactions to teasing:
- Calling the teaser a name back
- Giving an overly lengthy response
- Getting really upset
Help your teen practice effective responses to teasing:
- Do not lose your cool – shrug and walk away but not in a way that indicates upset
- Actively ignore the teaser
- Say something humorous back to them IF it’s funny, not insulting, and your child feels comfortable with that
Teaching our children to stay calm – to avoid showing any sense of the teasing bothering them – is the absolute best way to handle teasing and prevent it from escalating. If your tween or teen can shrug and walk away with an air of indifference, they will be able to get through life’s insults relatively unscathed. Despite our instincts, SILENCE and WALKING away are two of the most powerful things a human can do.
Even if our youth can perfect the indifferent walk away, it does not mean that the teasing doesn’t hurt their feelings. Let youth know that the teasing doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them – it’s an indicator that the bully has something wrong with them. Mean teasers tease about what they fear being teased about or act out in hurtful ways because they have been hurt.