We use the word “teasing” to describe a full spectrum of behavior, from good-natured, give-and-take banter between close friends to malicious, intentionally hurtful insults hurled at an overweight child about her body size or shape. The second example is clearly bullying, even though we often hear it described and excused as “just teasing”.
It’s much easier to tell the difference – and see when we’ve crossed the line – when we use completely different words. Teasing is the acceptable, humor-based, equality-based version. Taunting is the mean-spirited, one-sided, power-imbalanced bullying version. Use the words often and teach them to children early. Ask the question “Is that teasing or taunting?” to help kids discern the difference. With practice, kids and adults will both internalize the distinction.
The defining differences between Teasing and Taunting are shown side-by-side in the infographic below.
Credit: Building on and with thanks to Barbara Coloroso for her pioneering work in children’s bullying prevention. Her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander was and continues to be a key contribution to our understanding of children’s bullying.