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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Teasing Gap

A FEW YEARS AGO my daughters and I were searching for sand crabs on a white-sand beach near Monterey. A group of sixth graders descended on us, clad in the blue trousers and pressed white shirts of their parochial school. Once lost in the sounds of the surf, away from their teacher’s gaze, they called one another by nicknames and mocked the way one laughed, another walked. Noogies and rib pokes, headlocks and bear hugs caught the unsuspecting off guard. Two boys dangled a girl over the waves. Three girls tugged a boy’s sagging pants down. Dog piles broke out. In a surprise attack, one girl nearly dropped a dead crab down a boy’s pants.

As they departed in sex-segregated lines, my daughters stood transfixed. Serafina asked me, “Why did that girl try to put the crab in the boy’s pants?” “Because she likes him,” I responded. This was an explanation Serafina and her older sister, Natalie, only partly understood. What I witnessed might be called “the teasing gap.”

Today teasing has been all but banished from the lives of many children. In recent years, high-profile school shootings and teenage suicides have inspired a wave of “zero tolerance” movements in our schools. Accused teasers are now made to utter their teases in front of the class, under the stern eye of teachers. Children are given detention for sarcastic comments on the playground. Schools are decreed “teasing free.”

And we are phasing out teasing in many other corners of social life as well. Sexual-harassment courses advise work colleagues not to tease or joke. Marriage counselors encourage direct criticism over playful provocation. No-taunting rules have even arisen in the N.B.A. and the N.F.L. to discourage “trash talking.”

The reason teasing is viewed as inherently damaging is that it is too often confused with bullying. But bullying is something different; it’s aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate. Sexual harassers grope, leer and make crude, often threatening passes. They’re pretty ineffectual flirts. By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge, in which we provoke to negotiate life’s ambiguities and conflicts. And it is essential to making us fully human.

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Posted by Ajay :: 3:02 PM :: 0 comments

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