“April Fools!” One of the fun parts of childhood is playing practical jokes on your parents on April Fools Day. Kids love “knock knock” jokes and enjoy learning jokes that were already old when their oldest relatives learned them as children.
Sometimes though, kidding around starts to take an ugly turn. Often society accepts downright meanness as “humor”. I even hear adults defend mean humor, teasing and hurtful kidding as a necessary part of toughening up children for the real world.
What really is appropriate for kids to do in the name of humor? What about parents? Are adults allowed to be mean in their humor when directing it towards other adults?
When I talk about mean humor, I am not just talking about dirty jokes or verbal abuse. I am also talking about constantly “just kidding” the child who blushes, about her blushing. I am talking about “just joshing” with the heavy kid about wanting the last piece of cake. We would have a fit if someone used a racial slur (at least I hope we would) around us, yet we laugh and look the other way when someone says something is “retarded”. We would hate for someone to point out our graying hair, yet allow people to “tease” each other about developing bodies or physical features like moles or crooked teeth which people can’t always control (especially kids).
Short of pulling an Elisha and having bears come out and maul anyone who is ugly about their teasing, what do we need to teach our children? (I Kings 2:23-25!) One of my daughter’s favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:8 “Finally brothers, whatever is true, what ever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.” (NIV)
If we obeyed this verse, wouldn’t we focus on the positive instead of the negative? Wouldn’t we do like Paul admonished and build each other up and encourage each other, even spur each other on to good deeds? Would we even think mean or hurtful things were amusing anymore? There is plenty about life that is funny in a healthy uplifting way. There is nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves when silly things happen to us. Where it takes an unhealthy turn is when everyone around us is still teasing us about the same incident over and over again, long after we would like to forget it.
Talk to your kids and see what they think. I bet they have seen and even experienced a lot of mean humor. Do they ever participate? Do they ever encourage a change of subject when they sense the person being “kidded” becoming uncomfortable? Are they even able to sense when someone has gone too far and feelings are being hurt? It always amazes me how many well educated, professional, Christian people can be so vicious when it comes to their humor. Wouldn’t it be great if instead, Christians showed the world how humor can be hysterical and not hurt others in the process?
After your discussion, have some fun. Go to the library and check out some joke books and silly picture books. Are those writers able to be funny without hurting someone’s feelings? How do they do it? What are some things that should never be said under the guise of humor?
You will often hear people say, “I’m not trying to be mean, everyone is just too sensitive.” Maybe God would rather have us be a little more sensitive and think about using positive humor to encourage and brighten people’s day instead of the opposite. I think a reading of the Bible will reveal that God has a sense of humor. I just don’t think it is mean spirited.
I would love to hear your child’s favorite joke in a comment below. What topics do they feel people tease or joke about that should really be off limits? It will be interesting to hear what your kids think about the topic. Maybe we adults can learn something from their observations.