The Problem with Teasing

A little teasing doesn’t hurt anyone, right? Wrong! Think for a moment about why children (or adults) tease. To get attention? To impress others? Are they trying to feel important by cutting down someone else? Most of the motivation for teasing is selfish: getting what one wants at the expense of someone else’s feelings. That’s why it is important to make sure children understand why teasing is hurtful. Shawn and His Amazing Shrinking Sister: A Book about Teasing, written by Ginger Hubbard and Al Roland, gives parents guidance for ending teasing while teaching children how to build one another up instead of tearing one another down. 

Shawn and Annie are excited for a family camping trip, but trouble awaits! Mom and Dad tease each other, and soon Shawn follows their lead and starts teasing Annie. But every time Shawn is unkind and teases her, Annie gets a little bit smaller. As Annie shrinks, the whole family learns how teasing can be hurtful to others and how it dishonors God.

In this interview, we talked to Ginger about teaching why kids tease and how to change that behavior.

Q: Please introduce us to your series, Teaching Children to Use Their Words Wisely. What inspired you and your coauthor, Al Roland, to create the series?

As a conference speaker, I have listened to parents all over the country express heartache over their inability to help their children get a handle on tongue-related offenses such as whining, lying, and teasing. So many children today are in bondage to enslaving addictions of the tongue, which stem from enslaving sins of the heart. Parents are looking for ways to uproot these issues, address them from a biblical perspective, and point their children to Jesus—who is our only hope for change.

I’ve written parenting books to help parents do that, but my coauthor and I wanted to write children’s books to help them grasp these same concepts in fun ways. My coauthor, Al Roland, had some creative story ideas to help us do that.

Q: What are the most common forms of teasing between children? Why is teasing harmful?

Teasing can manifest in many ways, such as mocking (imitating someone for the purpose of making them appear and feel stupid, silly, or ridiculous) or insulting (verbally ridiculing or belittling someone for the purpose of making them appear and feel inadequate or less significant).

Whether the teaser is criticizing, belittling, or making fun in a joking way, biblically, teasing falls under the category of “unwholesome talk” that fails to benefit the listener. In fact, unwholesome talk does just the opposite. It tears down the person being teased, which is a direct violation of God’s commands to love others (John 13:34) and build them up (Ephesians 4:29).

Q: How can parents identify the heart motives behind their children’s teasing?

There are at least three motives behind children teasing: to get attention, to entertain, and to verbalize what you truly mean. The latter typically loses the merit of truth when “just kidding” is quickly added after the so-called teasing remark. All three motives are selfish in nature, as they bring a form of satisfaction to the teaser at the expense of hurting someone else.

If there is an audience, the motive is most likely geared toward receiving attention and entertaining. There is selfish motivation at play when getting attention or getting a laugh takes precedence over the feelings of others. Desiring attention at the expense of someone else violates God’s command to value the interests of others over our own (Philippians 2:4).

Q: What is the problem with children using teasing as a means to express how they really feel?

It’s deceitful to verbalize what is true in the heart and then play it off as teasing. Proverbs 26:18-19clearly addresses this issue: “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’”  Matthew 5:37 commands that we let our yes be yes and our no be no. We are to say what we mean and mean what we say. That verse also warns that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Christlike, unselfish communication involves speaking truth in love and comes from a desire to bring blessing, not harm. According to Ephesians 4:15, it is through this sort of communication that believers grow in maturity in Christ: “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Q: Where in Scripture can we find examples of teasing to better understand why God takes this offense so seriously?

Second Kings 2 tells the story of a gang of boys (42 boys to be exact) who were teasing the prophet Elisha about his bald head. When Elisha called down a curse on the boys in the name of the Lord, two bears came out of the woods and mauled the whole gang.

The moral of the story was that to ridicule Elisha was to ridicule the Lord. God created Elisha’s bald head, just as he created us all with different personalities, characteristics, appearances, and interests. To make fun of any aspect of the unique qualities of God’s creation is to criticize the Creator himself. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their maker.” The severe consequences the boys in the story suffered as a result of teasing were God’s warning to all who criticize God’s creation.

Q: What is your three-step strategy to help children overcome the bad habit of teasing and learn how to treat others in a way that builds others up rather than tearing them down?

Step One: Ask Heart-Probing Questions. Asking questions helps children take ownership of the sin in their heart, which will help them recognize their need for Jesus. You might ask, “Could it be that you are putting your need to get attention or entertain above the feelings of the person you are teasing? Are your words showing love by building up, or are they tearing down? 

Step Two: Reprove Your Child for Teasing. You could use wisdom from Matthew 7:12 by saying something such as, “We are told in Matthew that we should treat others the way that we would want them to treat us. Would you want to be treated this way? When you tease, you are using unwholesome talk that dishonors God and hurts others. The first part of Ephesians 4:29 warns, ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.’”

Step Three: Train Your Child to Edify Others.  You might say, “The second part of Ephesians 4:29 tells us to speak ‘only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ Your words are not benefiting others. They are hurting others. However, the good news is that when God gives us commands, he also enables us through his Spirit to follow those commands. I encourage you to pray and ask God to help you to only speak words that will benefit and build up.”

Q: How does Shawn and His Amazing Shrinking Sister help children learn why teasing is hurtful and introduce the importance of building others up?

In the story, every time Shawn teases his sister, she shrinks. This represents how tearing others down makes them feel small.  It’s not until his sister has gotten so tiny that she’s almost gone that Shawn realizes the harmful effects his teasing has had on her. As the story progresses and Shawn asks for forgiveness, his relationship with his sister is restored, her size returns to normal, and Shawn learns why God calls his children to build others up, not tear them down.

Q: In the story, Shawn has picked up on teasing from his mom and dad. As parents, when our children struggle with an issue, should we look inward to examine our own hearts to see if we might be struggling too? When we recognize our own sin, how do we acknowledge it with our children?

Yes, we are told in Matthew 7:5 that we should remove the plank in our own eye and then we can see clearly to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. There is one thing we all have in common with our kids. We are sinners in need of a Savior just as much as they are. We need God’s rescuing grace and help as much as they do, and it’s encouraging for them to know that.  As parents, we need to be honest with our kids about our own struggles at age-appropriate levels. 

When we admit our own sin and our own need for Jesus to our kids, it encourages them to do the same. For a younger child, a parent might simply say, “Sweetheart, I sometimes struggle with hurting others with my words, too. But when I ask Jesus to forgive me and help me, he always does. And he’ll do the same for you. Let’s talk to God about that right now.”

Q: What other books are available in the Teaching Children to Use Their Words Wisely series?

There are two other books that released last year, Sam and the Sticky Situation and Chloe and the Closet of Secrets.

In Sam and the Sticky Situation: A Book about Whining,Sam has figured out a way to get what he wants when he wants it—he whines. In fact, it works so well that he’s started whining more and more to get his way. Not only does Sam’s mother give into his whining very quickly—he learned how to whine from her. But Sam finds himself in quite the sticky situation when his whining leads him to being covered with cotton candy and stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel!

In Chloe and the Closet of Secrets: A Book about Lying, Chloe has a sneaky habit of making up stories. She thinks it’s no big deal, but one day crazy little fluffs appear every time she tells a lie. Chloe starts stuffing the fluffs in her closet, but soon it’s almost ready to burst. Not only that, she realizes that her lies are sinful and are hurting her relationships. But after her father confesses his own lie and asks God for forgiveness, Chloe gains the courage to let out all of her secrets.

Q: What tools for parents are included in each book of the series?

At the end of each book in the series, there is a resource page for parents and caregivers that supplies biblical content and practical strategies for the problem at hand. 

The parent page at the end of Shawn and His Amazing Shrinking Sister: A Book about Teasing helps children recognize the heart issue behind teasing, the harmful effects of tearing others down, and the benefits and blessings that come from adhering to God’s command to build others up.

Q: Each book is written in a rhyming style. Do you find that helps keep children’s attention and retain the message better than if the story were simply narrative?

It is easier for kids (and adults) to remember words that are written in rhyme, which is why we are able to listen to a song just two or three times and then know the lyrics by heart.  I could recite several Dr. Suess stories to my kids without even opening the books. The rhyming words were catchy and easy to remember, so after just a few reads, they were in my heart. Nothing against Dr. Suess, but it’s far more beneficial for words based on the truths of the Bible to be in our hearts and the hearts of our children.

Shawn and His Amazing Shrinking Sister cover

Shawn And His Amazing Shrinking Sister

Shawn and Annie are excited for a family camping trip, but trouble awaits! Mom and Dad tease each other, and soon Shawn follows their lead and starts teasing Annie. But every time Shawn is unkind and teases her, Annie gets a little bit smaller. As Annie shrinks, the whole family learns how teasing can be hurtful to others and how it dishonors God. 

About the author

Ginger Hubbard

Ginger Hubbard speaks at women’s events, parenting conferences, and homeschool conventions across the country, and cohosts the Parenting with Ginger Hubbard podcast. She is the bestselling author of Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Wise Words for Moms, and I Can’t Believe You Just Said That and the coauthor of the Teaching Children to Use Their Words Wisely series. Ginger and her husband have four adult children and live in Opelika, Alabama, where they enjoy working together from home.

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