Teasing: Hurtful or Playful?

We all know girls tease each other. Yet teasing is tricky because the question of whether it is meant to be playful or hurtful can be genuinely confusing. So how can you help your daughter differentiate between the two and address the behavior on her own?

Categories of Teasing

First, there is "good teasing." Good teasing can be a cornerstone of a strong friendship. Someone who knows your daughter well and cares about her can joke with her ("with"—not "at"—being the operative word). When your daughter is being teased like this she doesn't feel the teaser's motivation is to put her down. And, if she asks for the behavior to stop, it will.

Second is "unintentional bad teasing." Your daughter can identify this kind of teasing when she feels the person doesn't know how she feels or that the teaser's motivation isn't to put her down. This kind of teasing can be difficult to address because a girl might dismiss the complaint or the teaser may refuse to admit that her actions were hurtful by saying, "I was just joking," or "You know I'm sarcastic—I don't mean anything by it." If your daughter is the teaser, her saying, "I'm only joking" can come across as her right to joke or be sarcastic at the expense of her friend's right to be treated with dignity.

The last category is "intentional bad teasing." The teasing is used to silence the target, and/or put her in her place (i.e., below the teaser in the social totem pole). Your daughter will recognize this when she feels intentionally dismissed or if the teasing gets worse after she speaks up about it.

Teaching Her to Assess

Ask your daughter to fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise. Then write down on one side of the page the three most important things she needs in a friendship. Girls may answer honesty, loyalty, and respect. But don't let her stop there. Next, ask your daughter what those characteristics concretely look like. For example, loyalty may mean her friend doesn't choose other people over her. Honesty may appear as your daughter being able to tell her friend when she is mad at her. And respect shows up as neither friend betraying confidences.

On the other side of the paper, ask her to write the top three things that describe her relationship with a particular friend. Now ask her to compare the two sides. Do her experiences match her friendship standards? If they don't, resist telling her to end the friendship. Instead, ask her to think about what she's getting out of the friendship and what she's sacrificing. Then let her think about that question and talk to her the next day. The goal is twofold: to help your daughter develop social competence and show you are a good resource to guide her through difficult problems.

The Girl Scout troop or group is a particularly good place to tackle tough social situations because many girls see Girl Scouts as a sanctuary from the harsher climate of their schools. The Girl Scout setting also offers a safe space for girls to exercise these skills. It's important that girls learn how to face problems such as these. If girls can learn to successfully navigate these problems within the girls in their troops, they may very well transfer these skills to the larger world and into their adult lives.