“JJ’s making fun of my face!”
“Averi’s laughing at my drawing, and it’s not supposed to be funny!”
“MOM! Tell Gracen to stop teasing me!”
Teasing can manifest in many ways between children: 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, teasing falls under the biblical category of “unwholesome talk” that fails to benefit the listener. In fact, unwholesome talk does just the opposite. It tears down the listener, which is a direct violation of God’s commands to love others (John 13:34) and build them up (Ephesians 4:29).
Teasing is a Heart Issue
There are at least three motives to consider as to why children tease: to get attention, to entertain, and to verbalize what they truly mean, with the latter typically losing the merit of truth when “just kidding” is quickly added after the verbal jab. 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 motive 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).
When children use teasing as a means to say what they really mean, it is equally as selfish and hurtful. Some children use teasing or joking to send hidden messages, because they lack the nerve to come right out and tell the other person how they really feel. When they are called on it, they backpedal with “I’m just teasing.” The “I’m just teasing” is a falsehood because, in fact, they spoke how they really felt. They were not truly teasing.
Other children have difficulty expressing their true feelings simply because they don’t have healthy communication skills, so they mask their true feelings by teasing and joking. Either way, this sort of teasing lacks the merit of truth, which is a matter clearly addressed in Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
No matter the reason or motive, using teasing to express feelings is not in line with God’s instructions. To verbalize what is true in the heart and then follow it with “just joking” is deceitful. In Proverbs 26:18–19 we are told, “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” God instructs his children to say what they mean and mean what they say (Matthew 5:37). This verse also warns that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Biblical and unselfish communication involves speaking truth in love and encompasses the motive to bring good, 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.”
3 Steps to Help a Child with Teasing
1. 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 say, “In the Bible we are encouraged not to do things out of selfishness, but to value the needs of others above our own. Could it be that you are putting your desires 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 this person down? How would you feel if you were being teased in this way?
These questions will help the child to begin thinking about what’s truly going on inside and what does and does not please God, even if they do not answer.
2. Reprove Your Child for Teasing.
Don’t overdo your reproof. Keep it simple. You could use wisdom from Matthew 7:12 by saying something like, “Jesus says 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. God’s Word instructs us: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.’”
3. Train Your Child to Edify Others.
Now that you’ve set the scriptural basis to avoid teasing, follow up with training in how to be an encouragement instead of a discouragement. You might say, “Not only are we commanded to not allow unwholesome talk to come out of our mouths, but Ephesians 4:29 also 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 what he says. I encourage you to pray and ask God to help you to only speak words that will benefit and build up.”
God designed us to bring him glory. Sometimes that manifests in us giving thanks, and sometimes it looks like us laughing and finding amusement, pleasure, delight, and enjoyment in him and his creation. Good-hearted laughter with others that does not bring harm or hurt is one way we enjoy the humor he has given us.
Unfortunately, like all good things God gives his children, there are times when sin corrupts and perverts humor into a behavior that is not sanctioned by or pleasing to our holy God (often by way of teasing). God takes sinful teasing very seriously. When a gang of boys were teasing the prophet Elisha about his bald head in 2 Kings, he called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Two bears came out of the woods and mauled all forty-two of them (2 Kings 2:23–24). That’s a story that is sure to get your kids’ attention! Elisha was the Lord’s prophet. To ridicule Elisha was to ridicule the Lord. The severe consequences the boys in the story suffered as a result of teasing were God’s warning to all who would scorn the prophet of the Lord.
We can learn from the story of the boys who jeered at Elisha, “Get out of here, baldy!” 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 17:5a says, “Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their maker.” Therefore, Christians are not to tear one another down through hurtful teasing that dishonors God. Instead, we are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Adapted from Shawn and His Amazing Shrinking Sister ©2023 by Ginger Hubbard.
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.