The fine line between teasing and bullying

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In today’s world, almost everything is taboo, especially when it involves another’s child, you want to better be safe than sorry. This is especially true in environments where you cannot independently monitor what your kids are up to. Like school. Kids often engage in harmless teasing. But it doesn’t take long to progress to bullying especially if one child is more dominant than the other. How do you tell the difference and what do you do about it?

Teasing

Teasing is a form of social banter between kids to provoke a reaction or a reverse teasing response from the target person. It usually strengthens the friendship between the involved children by showing closeness and willingness to engage. It’s a non-threatening, harmless and fun way to engage with kids and often creates a bond between them. It can also get across a common etiquette point while not being rude. Eg. Teasing a friend about eating with one’s mouth full is a fun way of pointing out that it’s unacceptable social behaviour sans the confrontation or rudeness. It is positive when –

  1. There is a premise of friendship between the kids.
  2. It is non-threatening and often two way and affectionate.
  3. A “joking” tone is used and not an aggressive one.
  4. The child being teased isn’t distressed.

When does teasing transgress into bullying?

Teasing and bullying are just a fine line apart. While teasing might be for fun or as a joke, it crosses a line, and becomes bullying if –

  1. The relationship turns hostile – the teasing is in poor taste (eg. Calling a kid “fat”)
  2. The person being ‘teased’ is actually hurt, alienated or distressed by the exchange.
  3. There is a power imbalance, eg. Many kids bullying one other kid.

What can adults do?

INTERVENTION

Immediately acknowledge that bullying is unacceptable behaviour and will not be accepted.

Talk to the offending child in a level, unthreatening voice and find out –

  1. Why is he/she teasing? Use the reasons to point out alternate ways of connecting without being offensive.
  2. If it’s attention grabbing. Some kids are used to using their large stature or harsh words to grab attention. Instead teach them ways to get positive attention by good behaviour and practices.
  3. Explain consequences for repeat offenses. Kids should be taught early to take responsibility for their actions.

Talk to the distressed child and find out –

  1. Why this is distressing. Finding out sensitive subjects to individual kids helps explain to the offending kids as to why their behaviour is unacceptable. For instance – Don’t tease Rohan about his large front teeth. That’s rude and he feels bad.
  2. Why they lack the confidence to stand up for themselves. Equip them with the tools to tell the offending person politely that they don’t like it rather than caving into it.

At home

It is never too late to have “the talk” with your own kids and explain that while mutual teasing might be fun and engaging and even bring about closeness between friends, it’s not the same when it isn’t mutual and someone is hurt. Always teach kids to be considerate of one another’s feelings. Teach them to apologize when wrong and demand apologies when hurt. Good discipline starts at home.

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