Reasons for Using and Teaching Humor
Humor for adolescents is “not just a weapon. It helps them deflect some of life’s more perplexing problems” (Davis, 1999, p. 15) that they experience everyday in their own lives and vicariously through the media. By helping them work through and with their own emotions, humor can be both a barrier and a tool for overcoming that barrier. An author must find a balance between the serious and the humorous to make the humor effective. Laughter can be a positive force when, even in the midst of pain, it can bring hope for the future and help characters overcome fears and adversity. It can also allow readers to look at social problems and cultural differences because it lowers barriers to discussion while providing a look a problems and issues in a new light. As Paul Lewis (1995) states:
The suggestion that we should work the study of humor into English curricula starting in middle school is based . . . on a sense that humor can be a powerful force in the expression of any value or idea . . . we should take [students] inside jokes to expose the subtle way humor can convey information, images, and assertions. (p. 10)
A number of researchers (Gentile & McMillan, 1978; Jalonga, 1985; Klesius, Laframboise, & Gaier, 1998; Kuchner, 1991; McGhee, 1979; Monson & Sebesta, 1991) have studied the humor preferences of various developmental groups. While children enjoy books with incongruous events, riddles, and linguistic wordplay, younger adolescents usually enjoy more complex, aggressive, or “sick” humor as well as slapstick comedy. When puberty begins, humor often becomes more aggressive and sexual with lewd jokes and with authority figures bearing the brunt of the humor. The interest in riddles is replaced with an appreciation of humor in real-life stories. Finally, adolescents develop an understanding of more complex intellectual humor including parody.
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