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Monday Morning Parenting: Is Teasing Bullying?

Monday, June 11, 2012

What got me asking this question started with the May 21, 2012 issue of TIME magazine featuring a model-mom breastfeeding her 3-year-old son with the confrontational title, "Are You Mom Enough?" The inflammatory cover sparked a heated debate across the world wide web and most of the flames ignited in the mommy blogosphere. While there were calls to be civil and not to play into the "mommy wars," there was a sinister aspect to some of the reactions that was largely overlooked, except by Alexia at Babies and Bacon who called it out immediately. Smart lady.

I am talking about comments that ranged from, "that poor boy is going to be teased relentlessly" to "that kid will never be able to show his face on a playground!" One mother left a comment on a blog that her son said something to this effect when he saw the magazine photo. It struck me as odd that a mother would use her son's ill-informed reaction as an argument to justify her beef with the magazine cover, but  what really rubbed me the wrong way that she obviously agreed with him and said nothing in her post about correcting him. In essence, she condoned his belief that it's okay to pick on people with different lifestyle choices. People, people, people...teasing is bullying.




This mother missed an opportunity to teach her son a valuable lesson about tolerance, one that is essential to our kids character development and goes a long way toward preventing bullying. The lesson is that some people look, act, think different from us and that is okay. We don't have to like it, but we do have to respect it. I imagined conversations about that TIME magazine cover between parents and their children taking place in hundreds, even thousands, of households and I wonder how many of the adults made comments ridiculing the mother and son in the photo. Children get their first social cues from their parents and imitate them. All the anti-bullying programs in the world will not work unless the mindset change is also happening in the home.

There is some old-fashioned way of thinking that undermines our ability to solve the bullying epidemic (and, yes, it's become an epidemic when victims of bullying are committing suicide at alarming rates). One belief is that teasing is just kids being kids and it's a harmless rite of passage. This could not be further from the truth. Believe me, words can hurt just as much as a fist. The emotional scars from being teased are real and take a long time to heal.

The next time you have a witty barb or backhanded compliment on the tip of your tongue ready to make fun of someone stop and think about the message you are sending to your kids. We must do better so that our kids will know better. Parents have the real power to put an end to bullying.

15 comments:

Kristin said...

I actually think that words hurt more than a fist,

Good article...raises some thoughtful points.

Still Blonde after all these YEARS said...

While I don't disagree with you, I also think that our actions set us up sometimes for the teasing. Not that we ask for it, but being a dork can attract the teasing. Do we also need to teach our kids that certain behavior can trigger the bully and maybe contain it a little too?

Suburban Style Challenge said...

Very interesting take on it. Definitely raised some interesting points and made me think of something that happened over the weekend.

See, my brother teased my husband about something, and my husband teased him right back. And my brother got all upset and stormed off muttering to himself about how everyone teases him all the time. Meanwhile, he was the one who started the teasing, and my husband's reaction was one that would have been no different had it been his own brother, a cousin, a friend, or even his wife. A very typical DH kind of good-natured ribbing, said while laughing at the comment my brother made.

So my take on it is, sometimes teasing can be hurtful, yes. But if you're prone to being hurt by teasing, then perhaps you shouldn't tease others. You know... "if you can't take it, don't dish it". And that, I think, would be a valuable lesson to teach as well.

Aeryn Lynne said...

I've had more than my fair share of teasing growing up... hell, my whole family has - so I'm not arguing that teasing is okay in any way. The mother that mentioned her son as saying "That kid will never be able to show his face on a playground!" I read it as that boy saw the signs that this child would be teased for it, and was speaking up in warning, not that he himself would tease that child. *shrugs* Children see the red flags 'cause their parents taught them to. Even today, when I'm *cough* over thirty, I still get teased for my weight, but even mainstream media says its okay, that I somehow brought it upon myself to be teased. There was a woman who told her daughter right in front of me to "drop that shirt, it's *plus sized*" like its a disease to even so much as touch that fabric, and the child responded, "So what? I like the shirt." The mom scolded her right there stating, "You're *never* to wear anything thats plus-sized!" So that child is going to grow up thinking its an abominable thing... again, this all happened in front me while I was standing there looking at the same nice shirt, lol.

Lena & Alex said...

Hate teasing with all my heart. Especially because the teaser doesn't understand that words hurt. My classmate 15 years after we graduated school told me that I was way too sensitive about her jokes.

Tiffany said...

I think teasing is definitely a form of bullying. Making fun of someone else at their expense is never okay. I'm glad you put this post out there. The more attention that is given to this the topic the better. Great blog too.

Shayna said...

I think that we can't be so quick to lump every "not nice" thing a kid does into the category of bullying. We are putting unnecessary and damaging labels on kids with that. No, teasing is not nice and it's our job as parents to teach our children that words hurt. I was teased as a kid and although I don't think it's something I did on a regular basis I'm sure that at some point I teased right back. I wasn't a bully and I don't feel that I was bullied. I'm not saying that I don't think bullying is real and that it's not a problem, it surely is. But conflict is part of life and children learn valuable life skills when we teach them how to deal with conflict appropriately.

CinnyBBS said...

I think there are different types of teasing and some could be categorized into bullying whereas others may not be. For example, if your friend teases you about how you're going to make everyone drop dead tonight cuz of how good you look, that's not really bullying, right? So there are different types of teasing and of course, we should teach children that certain types of teasing is unacceptable.
Whirlwind of Surprises

LOVE MELISSA:) said...

I hate teasing. Even with my 3 year old, I get so sensitive if I see someone teasing my girl. I can't imagine when it gets older. Teasing is definitely a form of bullying!

Maureen Sklaroff said...

This is a very interesting post that has generated some very interesting dialogue. I have to say that my husband and I tease each other and our kids a lot, but everyone teases each other equally (even my son with Asperger's manages to get in some good ones). At the same time, I have felt such guilt over the years, because when I was younger, I used to tease a friend for being so short. She actually just hit puberty late and later bloomed into a tall and beautiful young woman (short would have been just fine also). I later realized that she was at that age when we all feel so insecure and probably was very self-conscious about her height and that as her friend, I should have supported her, not teased her. I was very tall (2nd tallest kid in my elementary school in 6th grade), so maybe I felt threatened by her??? Maybe I thought she took it all in good fun??? I don't know, but I now look at it as bullying on my part and I feel ashamed. I don't know how we can set clear guidelines to distinguish between good-natured ribbing and bully-level teasing. Being as tall as I was, not to mention strong, my solution to stop people from teasing me was to slug them. It was a very effective means of stopping the unwelcome behavior, but not something I'd recommend.

toi said...

teasing, name calling are totally another form of bullying, and i don't like it.

Marthalynn said...

This is a conversation I was having with a friend recently. A world without teasing, bullying, name-calling, and meanness would be wonderful but is that possible? Are we holding our children to standards we can't even keep for ourselves? Some of the adults I know are the biggest meanies I've ever met.

Quiana said...

My husband and I tease each other a lot and there are times when we each think the other is too sensitive. I think it's always good to be a bit self-deprecating and for me, teasing with my husband is a good way we make sure we don't take ourselves too seriously. I guess it's a fine line and you have to be careful how you engage in it.

Help! Mama Remote... said...

I wish everyone would respect differences. Many things are taught at home and a LOT of things our kids pick up from others. However its our responsibility as parents to correct them.

Kim said...

Wonderful post my friend. I have thought long on that cover and it has hurt me in so many ways. I hate the comments that have come out of it. So weird and backwards. I love your message here. Yesterday after school when we were discussing his day, Deaglan told me that he and his buddy had left someone out because they didn't want to play with him. He explained how he and his buddy had run away from this other kid who just wanted to play. It took everything in me to be patient and considerate when I explained to my son why that was plain wrong and not nice. It hurt me that he felt so justified - our communication gap didn't allow for me to determine whether this left out kid had done something to irritate my son and his friend. Nonetheless, I asked him to put himself in that boy's shoes, asked him how it would make him feel to be left out. He answered in the right ways but I was so disheartened to know that it starts this early even when you think your child will not be the one to do the mean thing.

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