It’s a huge mistake when people urge the victim of bullies to “just laugh with them.”
This is lousy advice and it rarely works.
For the sake of this article, the term “bullying” or “bully” refers to ridicule and taunts, rather than physical aggression or verbal threats of harm.
So let’s take Dyrina, a teen who keeps getting ridiculed. The cards are stacked against her from the start, because she’s introverted, not charismatic.
She prefers writing poetry on Friday nights and then listening to classical music, rather than going out to socialize. You get the picture.
Her name is pronounced DY-REEN-UH. Within days of starting ninth grade, Dyrina began hearing kids call her diarrhea. All sorts of jokes came out of this as time went on; you can imagine it.
One day Dyrina reported this to her mother. Her mother told her to “laugh along with them and they’ll stop bothering you.” Her mother wasn’t empathetic at all. Her father offered the same advice.
Dyrina felt really awkward pretending that the taunts were amusing and funny. She felt totally out of her skin putting on the fake smiles and phony grins.
She even tossed in a few vocal chuckles, and immediately felt alien. This can’t be the right way to handle this, she thought.
Furthermore, the bullying continued. It even got worse. Every day she heard, “Diarrhea! Diiii-arrrrheeee-ahhhhh! Have you pooped today yet? With a name like that, I bet your BMs STINK!”
For this article I consulted with Misty Rosier, licensed clinical mental health clinician, therapist at Elevations RTC, a co-ed adolescent treatment center. She has worked with teens for 15 years and is a frequent presenter on the topic of bullying.
Rosier explains, “Pretending to laugh at a bully’s insults doesn’t usually work because body language is the most honest form of communication.
“A bully can see right through the victim, their real emotions and reaction, based on their non-verbal response.”
If you read enough online posts by former bully victims, you might come across one in which the ex-victim says that he ended the bullying by “laughing along with them.”
I’ve read tons of victim posts and have come across this maybe twice. It’s common advice, actually, so the rarity of coming upon a poster claiming that this advice actually worked does NOT reflect any infrequency of this advice; it instead reflects that it just does not work.
Bullies can spot the attempt of the victim to “laugh along with it” a mile away—the victim’s body language, eyes and mannerisms give off their distress like a neon sign, despite the pretend-laugh; the only way this could ever stop the bullying is if the victim truly, intrinsically, sincerely was amused.
Very Rare Exception
In the case of Anna, it worked. But Anna wasn’t pretending at all. She truly thought that Debby’s nasty remark was funny. And Debby could tell that Anna’s chuckle was the real McCoy.
Anna’s desk was behind Debby’s in homeroom. Debby had a habit of turning around and delivering insults to Anna, and Anna would ignore them (which didn’t make them go away).
Pennie sat at the front, several desks ahead of Debby, one aisle over, and had a habit of turning around and calling out to some boy in the back, calling out back and forth. One day Pennie turned around and called out to the boy, “Hey Ugly!”
Debby turned around and said to Anna, “Ann-uhhhhhh, she’s calling youuuu!”
Anna laughed. She sincerely thought this was funny. Debby never insulted Anna again.
This is an extremely rare case in which “laughing along with the bully” actually worked.
The victim did not pretend. The victim did not put on an act. It was for real, and Debby knew this, and felt defeated.
However, the advice of “laugh along with the bullies” has a very high failure rate.
Would you, as the parent, as the adult, follow your own advice if, every day on the job, coworkers ridiculed you for your body weight?
“Hey fatty, where’s that report? I wanted that report an hour ago, you hippo. What’ve you been doing, stuffing your pig face with donuts all morning?”
Or for your religion? “So what do you think God’s gonna do if you eat meat on Friday during Lent, you fanatic? Strike you with lightning?
That is the absolute dumbest thing, avoiding meat on Fridays. And getting ashes put on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? How dumb.”
Yep, laugh along with them. See how long you can last putting on this charade. See how soon it takes you to file a complaint with the HR department.
Or perhaps you lost your hair from chemotherapy and they were slinging shots at how ugly your wig is.
Maybe you have a scar from a horrible car accident that killed your best friend and they’re constantly pointing out how ugly it is. Would you simply laugh along with these workplace bullies?
THINK good and hard before you tell a bullied child to “just laugh along with it.” Even if the “teasing” sounds insignificant.