There’s a lot of information available today about bullying, and more awareness than ever of the problem. We know who’s being bullied the most, and where. We also know that bullying can be verbal as well as physical. But where does teasing fit in to the picture? It is bullying?
The short answer is: not usually. Most of the time, teasing is harmless. But when it’s intentionally hurtful or negative it can lead to bullying. Some learning and attention issues can make it hard for kids to tell when teasing is playful and when it’s mean and threatening. Here’s what you need to know about teasing and bullying to help your child navigate tricky social waters.
Teasing is a way of communicating.
Teasing is a social exchange that can be friendly, neutral or negative. Done in the right spirit, it can actually be positive. When kids tease each other about clothes, musical tastes or behavior, it helps them learn to deal with constructive criticism. It’s part of how they relate.
There are two main types of teasing—endearment teasing and influence teasing. Endearment teasing is a way to bond or form a relationship. When a kid misses a dunk in basketball, and a teammate says, “Hey Magic, nice shot,” it’s endearment teasing.
Influence teasing is intended to change someone’s behavior. One kid might tell another, “Stop laughing, goofball. This movie is so stupid.” Both endearment and influence teasing are ways for friends to exchange harmless back-and-forth banter.
Unlike kids who are being bullied, kids who are being teased can influence whether it continues or ends. If they get upset, the teaser will usually stop. The comments were never meant to be hurtful in the first place.
Bullying is meant to hurt.
Verbal bullying is different from teasing. It’s not done as a way to relate, or to make friends. Just the opposite. The goal is to embarrass the victim and make the bully look better. It may start out as negative teasing. But when it’s done repeatedly with the intent of being hurtful or threatening, it becomes bullying.
Verbal bullying includes calling a victim names, taunting and sexual harassment. It can happen in person, through texting and online, through social media and email.
Bullying of any sort is an imbalance of power. The victim usually hasn’t provoked the bullying. He also might not be able to defend himself. Bullies don’t back down. Their intention is to be hostile and their goal is to be in charge.
Kids with learning and attention issues are easy targets.
Kids with learning and attention issues are more vulnerable to bullying than other kids. They may stand out in school because of the extra support they get. They may show signs of low self-esteem. Kids with issues like ADHD may be teased or bullied for being disruptive.
A number of learning and attention issues can make it hard for kids to distinguish between teasing and bullying, or even realize there’s teasing going on. Some kids may also have trouble controlling their emotions if teasing upsets them.
Knowing the difference between teasing and bullying is key. You can help your child understand what’s actually happening, and how to respond. If you suspect bullying, there are ways to teach your child how to defend against it. You can also work with the school to put an end to it.