I was in sixth grade. One of the girls in my class approached a group of about six of us on our way to the cafeteria and told us about a game we were going to play at lunch. She was going to tell a bunch of nonsense jokes and we were all supposed to laugh hysterically. The game was to see if The Target, another girl in our class, would laugh, too. The theory was that this girl was such a follower of our Super Coolness that she would laugh, too, even though she couldn't possibly Get the jokes. And the game would prove, unnecessarily, that we were cool and funny and The Target was a Loser. Unnecessarily, I say, because our 11-year old minds had already been made up about this girl.
If someone had questioned my involvement in the "game" that day in sixth grade, I would have brushed it off and said that we were just playing a joke. Just teasing. Was it bullying? Nope. Bullies are tough, mean boys who rough you up on the playground and trade your milk money for a black eye. But I would have been wrong. I regretted my involvement almost immediately, and we never played a game like that again. I didn't think the girl held a grudge against us for our behavior--she did, after all, invite us to her birthday party later that year. But if that day is seared so indelibly in my mind and still, 21 years later, I feel remorse about it, just imagine the effect it had on her. And even though we lost touch after sixth grade, I've thought about that girl often. I used to hope that she found better friends than us when she got to middle school. It wouldn't have been hard.
When I was in sixth grade, the stereotypical image of a "bully" didn't match me or my friends. We didn't think that what we were doing was so wrong. We were just joking. Just teasing. And that's where we come to a problem with our vocabulary. It's always the Joker, the Teaser who says that it's all in good fun. Ask The Target, The Victim, and she'll have a different word for it, for sure. The word is Bullying, and it's time we stop making excuses for our behavior and the actions of our children and start calling a spade a spade.
When kids start name-calling, it's not Kids Being Kids or "Playground Politics," it's bullying.
When you pass along an offensive joke on Facebook (whether it's directed at an individual or a group of people), it's not funny...it's cyber-bullying.
When someone makes a hurtful observation about another person in a public and humiliating way, it's not "telling it like it is," it's bullying.
It's time we start teaching our kids, early and often, that Teasing is Not Okay. I know that some people are going to tell me to lighten up....but I won't. Teasing hurts and you can never know how deeply it can hurt and how long that hurt is going to last. So just don't do it.
Maybe this will create a generation of "soft" kids....kids who can't take a joke. Maybe. But maybe it'll be the first generation that doesn't produce a Ted Kaczynski...or a Timothy McVeigh...or an Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold....or a Seung-Hui Cho...or...a bin Laden?
(Imagine if it were that easy to cure the world....)
So teach your kids to be nice. And funny. I'm all for funny. Being nice and being funny are not mutually exclusive. The funniest jokes are the ones that make everyone laugh--for real.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.