Have you ever been the victim of a barbed or hurtful comment and then been told, they’re only teasing you? I know I have. Other times such hurtful comments are watered down with supposed calming responses like “They meant nothing by it” or “Don’t let it get to you” or “It wasn’t that bad.” Then there’s the all time famous “You need to have tougher skin” response. The problem is that in the case of out and out bullying, those comments are meant to hurt, belittle and just make the victim feel bad and in those instances, it’s not simply teasing.
A tool that many teachers and others in similar roles use to determine which side of the teasing/bullying line any particular comment falls on is that it’s only a joke if everybody thinks it’s funny and that includes the intended subject of the joke. If the comment is intended to in any ways mentally harm the victim then, I’m afraid, that is bullying; end of story. Bullies may try to hide behind the cover of having a joke but if the victim feels the comments direct at them was intended to be hurtful, then that cover need to be taken away.
Now, I know that people have different thicknesses of skin and what may be passed off as a harmless comment by one person may be seen as totally offensive by another. Where do you draw the line? The answer is there is no one place where you can put that line, it needs to be moved with each and every person. In the case of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, that line has to be moved even further. Many people with ASD will take anything said literally. Furthermore, they often lack the social skills to determine what is meant as a joke and what isn’t. They may not see a comment directed at them as hurtful and because the comment has everyone laughing, even when they shouldn’t be, they think it’s funny too. However, this does not excuse it one bit. More often the case, comments directed at an Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer are often taken to heart by that person. A comment made innocently in jest, can be taken on board by as factual by a person with Asperger’s and the result is that person is totally hurt by the comment. Their fragile self esteem can take a real blow that it will be difficult for them to recover from. Therefore, great care needs to be taken when interacting with people who have the condition.
Going back to my previous post about why victims of bullying don’t fight back, the same applies to teasing. Often the victim will get told to tease them back. However, this can be treacherous ground for this person. Many bullies who hurl insulting and abusive comments at their victims do it not only to make their victim feel bad but often times to show off in front of their friends. If that victim makes a point scoring comeback, the bully now becomes suddenly offended, especially as a good number of bullies can’t take what they dish out. Fearing they’ve been made to look bad by their victim, they respond with violence or threats of violence. The effect on the victim is that next time they are faced with the same situation they are fearful of responding due to the threat of physical injury.
In “He Was Weird,” Mark encounters all of the above at one time or another throughout the story with devastating results. That is why I believe that the subject of teasing needs to be looked at more seriously. I am not advocating the end of friendly banter or joking, far from it. What I am saying is that children should be taught was is teasing and what is hurtful and specific needs of targets also need to be taken into consideration. I know this sounds extremely complicated but it’s really not.
Next post: I Blame the Parents