Taking the Fun Out of Teasing

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Oct 9, 2010

The Problem

  • My child is being teased. How can I get this to stop?

Background: Characteristics of Teasing

Teasing is defined as critical remarks directed at another child. It does not include intimidation or threats, the topic of Chapter Twenty-Four, or rumors, which are spread when a child is not present. Rumors are addressed in Chapter Twenty-Two. Studies suggest that teasing is the most common form of victimization in elementary school, where younger children tease primarily by name-calling while older children tease by disparaging the victim or the victim's family.1

Teasing can attack the dignity of family members (especially moms, because it hurts more). Anything that will get someone upset, or get laughs at another's expense, will do as a tease. Teasing may be humorous, but the humor is a sarcastic comment made at the expense of the victim, and frequently it is done in front of onlookers. Many victims of teasing also tease others at times.2

The dominant motivation reported by teasers is their pleasure at the discomfort of the victim.3 Children who are effective at stopping teasing employ humor in response to being teased.4 This response is rated by onlookers as most effective, and the children who use it are rated as friendly and popular.5

First-grader Lara, for example, makes her classmate Kim's life miserable. At first Kim joins in playing tag with other children, but Lara is quick to point out that Kim is a slowpoke and calls her dumb. None of the other girls wants to risk being teased along with Kim, so none of them says anything. After a while, Kim asks to stay in at recess, ostensibly to help the teacher, because she is afraid of being teased.

Kim's mother is upset when Kim tells her about the teasing. She knows that if she tries to do anything about it herself, Kim will look worse to the other girls. It would also give Lara something more to tease Kim about and make Kim feel even more awkward.

Why do kids tease? Do they pick on the child who is different just because she is different? This is not the real reason. Two examples will demonstrate this. Both involve overweight second-grade boys, Donald and Timothy:

Overweight but not teased: Donald is clumsy in sports, can't throw a ball well, and runs in an uncoordinated way. He is very polite, well groomed, and considerate of others. He is an average student, enjoys riding his bicycle and skating, and he plays goalie on his soccer team. Several boys always want to make play dates with Donald.

Overweight but frequently teased: Timothy is a pudgy eight year old. Two of his classmates enjoy calling him "Fatty" because when they do, he gets tearful, chases after them, tells them they are not being nice, or threatens to tell the teacher. This makes them laugh. Sometimes he says nothing but hits the teaser, which gets him in trouble with the teacher and yard monitor. Timothy's responses to being teased have made the teasing more fun for the teasing children, since now the children provoke him to hit them in order to get him into trouble.

If being overweight were a reason to be teased, both boys would be teased. No one teases Donald because what he lacks in physical graces he makes up for in social graces, including how to respond to being teased. Children who are constantly being teased don't know how to respond. Before presenting responses to teasing, you should be able to make the distinction between teasing and tactless feedback.

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