We’ve had a lot of coverage about the very real dangers of bullying recently. Massachusetts has passed anti-bullying legislation in the wake of teen suicides, and schools all over the country are pushing for tougher measures to get kids to play nice with each other.
But what about affectionate teasing? The innocuous, playful taunting that goes on between family members, or a teenagers flirting? That’s a harmless game, right?
Research says no, Gretchen Rubin points out on the Happiness Project. While people teasing their friends and loved ones often feel affectionate and playful towards them, the people being teased tend to see the behavior as “malicious and annoying”.
The tidbit of research Rubin quotes doesn’t really get into why people being teased tend to like it less than people doing the teasing, but the answer is probably simple: who does like being teased? It’s embarrassing and annoying.
In my experience, when someone is teasing me, even if they seem to be doing it affectionately, the criticism is coming from something real in our relationship. Someone who’s teasing me about my lousy housekeeping actually thinks my home is unspeakably messy, and someone who loves to pick on my fashion sense probably really thinks I dress like a slob. I try not to spend a lot of time with people who do this.
It’s a fine line though, because I love wordplay and verbal sparring. My closest friends are the people who can walk that line with me. We can play with each other without putting each other down.
I try to do this with my kids, too. Rubin mentions that in her house, there was very little teasing. In mine, there’s a lot of silliness. I think it’s all in good fun when, for instance, I tell the girls they have squirrels in their hair instead of knots. They giggle and pretend to feed their squirrel hair cheerios before we get down to brushing it out.
But does my teasing seem as good humored to my kids as it does to me? Time will tell. If I’m playing this one wrong, kids, I apologize now. I think you’re the best thing since sunshine.