Q&A: Wondering if humour is damaging


I’ve always tended to express myself in a wry, ironic way. It’s all a joke, and I don’t mean any harm by it. But I’m wondering if my sarcastic style of humour might be potentially damaging to my teens. What do you think?

Answer: This can be a complicated subject, but on the whole parents need to be careful about the way they use sarcasm. This is especially important when dealing with teenagers. There are two major problems related to teens and parental sarcasm.

First, sarcasm can hurt feelings, and words uttered in a “humorous moment” can cause ongoing pain later. You don’t necessarily need to place an all-out moratorium on playful sarcasm, but there should be boundaries. Give your children the right to tell you when it bothers them.

The second pitfall is more subtle. Sarcasm can mask sensitive or vulnerable feelings. Imagine a father watching his lovely sixteen-year-old daughter come downstairs. He might say, “Honey, you look beautiful tonight.” Or if he tends to be sarcastic, he might quip, “Man, you were such an ugly little girl! What happened?” Same underlying point, but one is obviously much more complimentary than the other.

One last point. As parents, we need to remember that we reap what we sow. You may call your “style” of humour sarcastic, but when the tables are turned and it comes back at you from your teen, you’ll probably call it “disrespectful.” It never hurts to say what you mean and mean what you say.

After all, a teen’s world is tough enough. They probably get plenty of barbs and arrows at school or among their peers. Home should be a refuge from that kind of treatment—a safe haven from hurt and a filling station for high-octane edification.

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