In his post on the Wall Street Journal Blog, “Should Parents Crack Down on Teasing?”, John J. Edwards III asks if parents are cracking down too much on teasing. Comments ranged from the need for children to learn to fight back to the need for children to learn empathy and tolerance. Also, there was no clarity about what criteria to use to judge whether teasing was beneficial or bad or wrong. When two people agree to tease and they stay within the limits and boundaries, teasing can be a lot of fun. And even allow things to be said in a friendly way that might be hard to say or hear in other ways.
But when only the “teaser” wants to tease, and the “teasee” doesn’t want it, then it’s bullying. Whether the teasing is racist, sexist, focused on disabilities, or because someone is small or smart or different, or the teasers simply enjoy having a scapegoat, or it’s done through cyberbullying – it’s still bullying!
The effects on the “teasee” can be very damaging if the “teasee” doesn’t rise up and stop it. When the “teasee” stops it, he or she grows much stronger in character, courage and skill.
Within our family, we helped the kids see the limits beyond which teasing became hurtful. When teasing was outside our family, we helped the kids see a continuum from fun teasing, through teasing you might ignore or tolerate, to learning to stop bullying and bullies. Sometimes you have to move up the scale to fighting back. If you do, make sure you’re effective. I wrote about my experiences in my book, “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” and there are other examples in the book and CDs, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
Bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find ways to stop them.
True bullies will interpret our empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness. They’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, it’ll encourage them to attack us more. The bully will show you how far you need to go to stop them. Get out of your comfort zone and stop them.
When children learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they will develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They’ll need these qualities to succeed against the real-world bullies they’ll face as adults. I learned effective techniques through growing up in New York City, by watching our six children (three girls and three boys) deal with each other and with bullies at school, and through my experience as a coach, psychotherapist and consultant.