As the School counsellor, who has been working in a variety of education systems, I would like to address a common and important issue that affects many of our teenage boys: banter, teasing, and bullying. Boys at this age are especially prone to these behaviours, and they can have a significant impact on their mental health and overall well-being.

One of the most common mistakes for teenage boys "it's just banter" or "I'm just joking." While banter can be a positive thing and can help build friendships, it's important to recognize when it crosses the line into exclusionary or harmful behaviour. Research has shown that boys often struggle to distinguish between inclusive and exclusionary banter, and this can lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy, and isolation.

One study published in the Journal of Adolescence found that "boys who reported experiencing exclusionary banter were more likely to experience negative emotions and report lower levels of self-esteem and social support" (MacDougall et al., 2018). Another study published in the Journal of School Violence found that "boys who experienced bullying and teasing reported higher levels of anxiety and depression and were more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as substance abuse" (Suldo et al., 2016).

It's important for parents and educators to recognize the difference between inclusive and exclusionary banter, and to help boys understand that even seemingly harmless teasing can have a negative impact on others. As one study published in the Journal of Adolescence states, "it's important for boys to recognize that banter can have a powerful impact on the emotional well-being of others, and to develop the skills to engage in inclusive banter that promotes positive relationships and a sense of belonging" (MacDougall et al., 2018).

Inclusive banter can have positive effects on group dynamics, as it can help build a sense of camaraderie and increase social cohesion among members. As noted by Dov Greenbaum, a researcher and lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Inclusive banter that does not target marginalized groups or individuals can help promote a positive social environment." By engaging in playful and light-hearted jokes, individuals can bond over shared experiences and create a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Moreover, inclusive banter can help break down social barriers and promote a sense of equality among group members, regardless of their background or status. However, it is important to note that banter must always be respectful and not target marginalized groups or individuals. As Greenbaum explains, "It is important to be aware of the power dynamics at play in any social setting and to avoid using banter as a way to assert dominance or reinforce harmful stereotypes."

To promote a positive and inclusive environment for all students, we encourage parents to have open and honest conversations with their sons about the impact of their words and actions on others. We also encourage students to speak up when they witness exclusionary or harmful behaviour, and to seek help from a teacher or counsellor if they are struggling.

Navigating banter, teasing, and bullying can be challenging for teenage boys. It's important to recognize the difference between inclusive banter and exclusionary banter or bullying. Inclusive banter is playful and light-hearted joking that brings people together and creates a sense of belonging. Here are some examples of inclusive banter:

Joking around with friends about their interests or hobbies.

Playful banter to a friend about their music choices.

Banter with your father that he knows nothing about computers.

Exclusionary banter, on the other hand, is teasing or joking that is intended to belittle or isolate someone. It can lead to hurt feelings, shame, and a sense of not belonging. Here are some examples of exclusionary banter and bullying:

Name-calling or using derogatory language towards someone based on their appearance, race, or sexuality.

Making fun of someone for not being good at a sport or activity.

Excluding someone from a group or activity to assert dominance or control.

Navigating these dynamics can be difficult for teenage boys, and it's important for them to have healthy environments that promote positive relationships and a sense of belonging. Adults can help guide students by modelling inclusive behaviour and addressing exclusionary behaviour when it occurs. Encouraging open and honest communication and emphasizing the importance of treating others with respect and kindness can also help create a positive school culture where all students feel valued and included.

Inclusive banter is typically only successful when there is a pre-existing positive relationship between the individuals involved. This is because inclusive banter is rooted in trust, mutual respect, and a shared sense of humour. When people have a good relationship, they are more likely to understand each other's intentions and to take banter in the spirit in which it was intended. They are also more likely to have a shared sense of humour and to enjoy joking around with each other.

In contrast, when individuals don't have a positive relationship or don't know each other well, banter can easily cross the line into exclusionary or harmful behaviour. Without a strong foundation of trust and respect, teasing and banter can be misinterpreted, and jokes can come across as mean-spirited or hurtful.

This is why it's important to focus on building positive relationships and fostering a sense of community within schools and other social environments. By encouraging students to get to know each other, to practice empathy, and to treat others with kindness and respect, we can help create an environment where inclusive banter can thrive and where all students feel valued and included.

Lyle Gothmann
TGS Counsellor

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