Teasing is educational

Teasing is educational, argues Dacher Keltner, a Berkeley psychologist.

In seeking to protect our children from bullying and aggression, we risk depriving them of a most remarkable form of social exchange. In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas. No kidding.

Via Ann Althouse.

About Joanne


  1. wahoofive says:

    “Educational” isn’t synonymous with “desirable.” If I let my kids play with fireworks, and they get their hands blown off, that’ll be “educational” too; they’ll never do that again. In fact that would be a much more effective and immediate way of imparting that lesson than all my nagging. But still.

    Anyway, it’s not either/or. There’s a wide range of behavior between “teasing” and “bullying,” even though neither psychologists nor school administrators, nor apparently Ann Althouse, can tell the difference.

  2. In my house, we have rules about teasing. In my family, teasing is ok and is generally used to show that:

    *the people we love have idiosyncracies
    *they know they have idiosyncracies
    *we can gently tell them that we know who they are and we still love them.

    Basically, teasing is only ok if, and only if everyone is enjoying it.

    Besides, how else can you deal with a adult sister who gardens and won’t eat vegetables?


  3. I’ve always felt that while teasing is not a fun thing to go through by any means, it can be helpful in terms of teaching us how to deal with others and letting things roll off our backs. Both very important things to know. Obviously there are other ways to learn this sort of life lesson, but personally, teasing was the most instrumental in teaching me how to laugh at myself and not take things so seriously. I can only speak for myself, though.

    Of course, there is a difference between teasing and bullying. I was fortunate enough to not go through the latter and only imagine what a soul-scarring experience it can be.

    There’s also a difference between malicious teasing and playful ribbing — my friends and I always tease each other in good fun.

  4. I think it all depends on whether there’s affection or malice behind the teasing. Being teased by a family member or true friend is a very different experience than being teased by a bully.

  5. More importantly, teasing will not stop no matter what authority figures do, so it teaches kids how to deal with unpleasant inevitabilities. It also shows that authority figures are not omnipotent–one suspects that this lesson is what is really behind any serious attempts by authority figures to stop teasing.

  6. As someone who was teased and bullied in public school, I must say that the only thing I learned was how to feel really bad about myself. It took me years to get over it. This is not the way to learn social skills.

  7. Boys tease girls they like, at least I did and still do. Why waste time teasing someone you dislike? Teasing can be a way of getting attention, or a way of inviting the teased to tease you back. In Hemingway’s short story “Ten Indians,” When Frank Garner teases Nick about his Indian girlfriend, Nick “felt hollow and happy inside himself to be teased about Prudence Mitchell.” It would be a boring world without teasing.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    “Why waste time teasing someone you dislike?”

    To make your friends laugh, to show your superiority to someone of low status, to humiliate someone. Especially if the victim cries; that gets extra points.

    Playful ribbing is fun, but I’m afraid the delights of malicious teasing elude me. That is, the delights from the point of view of the victim– it’s clear what the bully is getting out of it.

  9. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Yet another reason to educate at home.

  10. There needs to be a balance here. If we swoop in and rescue every time a teasing situation arises, kids will be ill prepared for those times in life when there’s no one around to rescue them. If we turn a blind eye to it, the bullies get the mistaken notion that it’s ok.

    There is a grain of truth to what the quoted psychologist says, but it’s unfair to leave kids totally defenseless. We need to help kids acquire the skills they need to handle teasing. Jim Fay has a great article on teaseproofing kids here: http://www.loveandlogic.com/pages/teaseproof.html

  11. I was bully-teased all through grade school. The bad stuff I learned was to question my worth as a person (I still do), that sometimes people who call themselves your friends will not come to your aid if they fear retribution, and that someone who is saying something nice to you now may be using it as a way to “build” an even bigger way of bullying you later (so be suspicious of people being nice to you).

    The good stuff I learned? Being bullied really, really sucks, so it’s best to be compassionate to those around you, especially those below you on the “pecking order.”

    I am not sure that the good stuff totally outweighs the bad.

    To this day I have a very hard time separating “kindly” teasing from “hostile” teasing, because so much of my experience of it as a kid was hostile. (In my family, we didn’t really tease, so I had no “inoculation” there)

  12. Richard Nieporent says:

    It is easy to see who the losers are on this website. I’m just kidding. No, really, I am not teasing you. 🙂

    I wonder why people think that their children can or should be protected from life. They must not be exposed to anything that “hurts” them in any way. I joke about parent’s covering their children in bubble wrap to prevent them from hurting themselves when they go outside to play. I guess now they are also going to have to stuff their children’s ears with cotton to prevent them from hearing anything that hurts their feelings. Being teased and teasing others is a normal way that children and adults interact with one another. There is nothing wrong with it and it is not the same as bullying.

  13. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I’ve seen bullying and nasty teasing behavior in the corporate workplace — except there it is called “office politics.” I don’t know whether it is adults who came through middle school learning how to navigate this behavior are successful because they can function within in or because they know how to victimize others. Nobody really tries it on me for very long because I’m just unfazed by it (I learned early that not reacting/participating shuts it all down very fast), but I’ve spent a lot of time observing the dynamics in both adults and teenagers, and they’re largely the same.

  14. Margo/Mom says:

    Like LS, I have learned (as an adult) that I have a certain power to impact some really harmful stuff by simply refusing to participate. I can refuse to listen, I can challenge (often through a single re-directing sentence), I can say things like, “I don’t get into that kind of talk about people,” I can be the counter example who take time to figure out what contribution someone has to make.

    I have, as an adult, been victimized by people (ie: employers) who have power to hurt people unchecked–and I am better off when our relationship ends. From this, I can try to teach my one child–who is a virtual lightening rod, ways to avoid victimization. But that is not the way that I choose to operate when I am in a position of responsibility for children. Children deserve to know that there are other ways of operating in groups, that we live in a society that grants rights to those who are among the least able to defend themselves–and do so out of a belief system that is good. They need to know that certain behaviors are NOT just the way that people are, that there are things that can be done. I don’t know that jb envisions when s/he speaks of what authority figures do–but I suspect that this vision exists within the paradigm of those with the most power rule (sort of) and that the way that someone would seek to teach something other than harassing behavior would be through some authoritarian system of punishing the bad kids.

    Just as we don’t teach multiplication or spelling by punishing or excluding the kids who make mistakes, we don’t teach respect by punishing the kids who follow bad examples. We teach them the right way.

  15. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Richard N.

    Teasing may be common in your circle but not everyone teases. There are better ways to handle the feelings that lead to teasing. Children who learn those better ways are not being coddled, they are being armed. I know a number of children educated at home who have never been teased and am confident that when they do encounter it later in life, they will not tolerate it.

  16. The best teachers I ever had were those that teased the students mercilessly if they got out of line. The students therefore *seldom* got out of line, and I therefore learned more than I did with more wishy-washy teachers.

    Students, not so much.

  17. Sarcasm often falls under the teasing category and most children do not understand sarcasm. Teasing happens, but how you teach children to deal with it is one thing. Teaching them to do it, is another.

  18. Richard and Dal

    We are living in the age of Oprah, in which people have hyper-tuned their feelings so as to be offended, hurt or victimized by things people wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at forty years ago. Better knock off the teasing. People take themselves very seriously these days. Besides, I feel the dark shadow of anti-teasing legislation closing in on us. On the other hand, could some posters be confusing teasing with assault and battery?