Teasing is part of growing up. Every adult was teased as a kid and every kid in today’s society has felt the sting of being teased. Unfortunately, teasing isn’t as innocent as it first appears. When adults tell a child to toughen up and get over being teased by other children or by teens or adults, the adult is overlooking the harm teasing can do and to what else teasing leads.
While it’s true that the dictionary definition of teasing is “to disturb or annoy by persistent irritating or provoking, especially in a petty way” the word also has another meaning. To tease is to “tear in pieces; especially, to shred for microscopic examination.”
Too often, teasing isn’t the annoying, persistent irritation provocation but rather, it’s the shredding of — and placing under a figurative microscope — the perceived shortcomings of the target as identified by bullies who hope to leverage this introductory effort into a larger scale attack.
Teasing knows no socio-economic, racial, ethnic and cultural lines. Neither does bullying. When teasing is left unaddressed and unchallenged, it teaches children that emotional and psychological abuse is acceptable even when physical abuse results in punishment for the abuser. This message allows bullies to be acceptably insensitive to other’s feelings and to continue emotionally and psychologically targeting their victim or victims.
It’s not just children who tease and bully, however. Teasing and bullying takes place in home environments, in the workplace and in society at large. Those who see themselves as innocent bystanders are as affected by the situation as those who are teased and bullied. They are consciously that the environment is unsafe and they begin to suffer the side effects of the teasing and bullying. These include, but are not limited to: fear; feelings of powerlessness to act; feelings of guilt for not acting; and the temptation to join in so as to remove himself or herself from the pool of potential future targets for the abuser.
So what does the circle of teasing and bullying abuse look like? First of all, there’s the individual who leads the teasing and/or bullying. That individual is followed by ‘henchmen’ who support their leader’s behaviours and play an active role in supporting their leader’s behaviours.
Then there are the engaged supporters who openly support their leader by their jibes or by calling attention to the situation without actually going out on a limb and being a ‘henchman.’ Next to the engaged supporter is the passive supporter who enjoys the fact that the victim is being targeted while showing no indication one way or another as to how he or she feels about the abuse.
Disengaged onlookers are those who are neither involved nor willing to take a stand against the abuse. These individuals adopt an agnostic-style approach to the abuser’s behaviour, unwilling to commit to an opinion either way on what they are observing.
Potential defenders are those who observe the abuse and who believe that the victim should be helped but who, for reasons that make sense to them, refuse to step forward to make it known that they dislike what the abuser is doing to the victim. These individuals are oftentimes afraid of being targeted themselves for speaking out and because of this fear, many potential defenders slip easily into the position of the engaged supporter.
And then there are the defenders. These individuals dislike the abuser’s behaviour and do what they can to help the individual being targeted by the abuser and his or her henchmen and engaged supporters.
While many adults will loudly proclaim that they do not support bullying in any form, society clearly does support teasing, bullying and cyberbullying.
Unfortunately, some of society’s most vulnerable along with some of society’s brightest find themselves bearing the heaviest yokes all because abusers and cyberbullies count on their henchmen and engaged supporters to help sink the targeted victim.
It’s time to take a stand against bullying and cyberbullying and reveal the names of those who enjoy engaging in this sort of behaviour. Maybe then we will see more defenders and fewer abusers.