Bullying or Teasing? Teach the Difference

Bullying is hurtful and can have serious consequences, even suicide. However, there’s a place among friends for gentle teasing—if the participants understand the difference. In a world gone crazy with school violence and bullying, we need to know and teach the difference.

Bullying or Teasing – Which was it?

Bullying or Teasing

I walked through the school’s office area and saw a grim-faced second grader sitting outside the principal’s office. I sat down beside him. “What’s going on, Jeff?”

He wiped his tear-streaked face with the back of his hand. “The teacher said I bullied Jason. I was just teasing.”

I leaned forward. “What’d you say to Jason?”

“That he’d better hit the ball.”

“Maybe it was how you said it. Can you tell me your exact words?”

Jeff wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I said, ‘You better get it right this time.’”

“Isn’t Jason new to our school?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“It’s kinda hard to know what’s teasing and what’s bullying until you know the person.”

“I say things like that all time to Noah, and he just laughs.”

There it was—the fine line between bullying and teasing—knowing the person allows you to be gentle with sensitive areas.

There are three guidelines to teach kids about teasing:

Know the recipient.

Unless you know the person well, you may be in forbidden territory. Jason in the story above may feel insecure about his ability to hit a ball. If so, the words of a new classmate would hurt.

Use gentle words.

Words like “you better” sound threating. “This time” implies that he often misses the ball.

Only tease in areas of confidence.

If Jason said the same words to Noah, who is a good athlete, they would be friendly teasing.

The family is the place to learn the difference.

These three guidelines are helpful. However, the best way to teach is to model gentle, fun teasing in the family. When a family jokes and teases together, the children learn how to tease and be teased by their classmates and friends—and that is a great social asset.


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