difference between banter and bullying

Banter or Bullying - What's the Difference?

By Bethany Spencer on November, 14 2017
Estimated time to read: 4 minutes

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Today, we live in a world filled with banter. Restaurants have adopted the noun to resonate with the youth of today and searching for #banter on Instagram pulls almost one and a half million images and videos from around the globe.

Banter having become a vastly recognised form of humour has meant that it has of course trickled into the classroom, but its prevalence in schools has made it difficult for both students and teachers to determine when banter becomes bullying. The jestful name calling between friends has made it difficult for some to decipher when the line has been crossed from friendly teasing, to repetitive insults from dominant peers causing someone harm or upset - we can't decipher if it's bullying or banter. banter or bullying?

Whether or not teasing remarks are seen as bullying has been said to be subjective with different sources theorising that bantering becomes bullying once the person giving the insult has the intention of causing harm or upset. On the other hand, opposing theorists suggest that bantering becomes bullying once the person is offended regardless of the perpetrator's intent.

The biggest differentiator between bullying and bantering is that with bullying comes an imbalance of power; banter is clearly defined as happening between peers and friends. Even so, it’s not as simple to distinguish between the two with these definitions - there are those who will claim their behavior was simply in jest because they regard the victim as a friend.

But even when the recipient and perpetrator are friends, this doesn’t mean to say that what someone sees as just a bit of harmless banter isn’t upsetting; even to their best friend. With this being said, it’s important that we communicate to students the impact harmless ‘banter’ can have on their peers and how it can in fact be seen as bullying.

We’ve come up with some simple steps that you can present to your students to help get them thinking about their actions so we can help them answer the questions, what is the difference between banter and bullying, and when does banter become bullying?

(It’s also good just to remind ourselves, regardless of age, how our actions and humour may impact others even when harm isn’t our intent.)

Know what humour is acceptable

Making fun of someone’s race, gender, religion, disability, ethnicity or appearance isn’t cool.

Channel your inner Mean Girl

Even if someone pokes fun at themselves it doesn’t make it okay for you to do the same - remember Janis and Damian in Mean Girls ‘That’s only okay when I say it’.

Don’t humour unfunny banter

We’ve all been there, you’re all having a laugh and someone oversteps the mark. Because they’re your friend you laugh it off, but if you don’t call someone out on the fact they’ve taken it too far, you’re only going to encourage more comments of a similar vein.

Don’t be a bystander

Even when you’re not on the receiving end of banter you can still make a difference. If you can tell someone isn’t enjoying the banter being thrown their way, point it out. It will help them in feeling supported, but it will also let the perpetrator know that the jokes they’re making aren’t funny.

Read the room

Every relationship is different and it’s important to take this into consideration when bantering. Friends of years may well make fun of each other in front of others but it may not be your place to do the same. Always remember to read the room and don’t join in on teasing you may not feel comfortable with, especially if you don’t know the person well enough to join in.

Don’t hone in on people’s insecurities

Poking fun at something you know someone is already insecure about is never nice, no matter how close you think you both are - it’s only going to make them feel more insecure, and bringing it up in front of others is only going to embarrass them.

Turn the tables

By saying ‘it’s only banter’ doesn’t excuse your actions if you’ve upset someone. Before you make a jibe at someone you’re unsure about put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you’d find it funny in their position. Just because you’re friends and you think it’s funny, doesn’t actually mean it is.

For more information on ways to prevent bullying visit the Anti-bullying Alliance and remember we don't always have to wait for Anti-Bullying Week to raise awareness of bullying. 

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