Bullied children using 'wrong jokes'

Bullying Children bullied at school are more likely to make jokes at their own expense

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Children who use self-deprecating humour among their peers are more likely to be bullied, researchers say.

A study from the University of Keele has examined links between bullying and different styles of playground humour.

It found that some positive types of humour were used by children to raise their status and show social skills.

But researchers found children who were victims of bullying were more likely to make "self-defeating" jokes at their own expense or about their appearance.

The boundaries between bullying and teasing and "just joking" have always been blurred, but this study of more than 1,200 children aged 11 to 13, has examined how different forms of humour are associated with bullying and aggression.

'Class clown'

Psychologist Dr Claire Fox says that humour can be deployed positively as a weapon to prevent bullying.

She says the "class clown" can be a classroom success, demonstrating their "social competence" by making other people laugh and telling funny stories.

This is known as "affiliative" humour - one of four types of humour identified by researchers - and it is seen as a positive type of joking.

Start Quote

Children who use humour to make fun of themselves are at more risk of being bullied”

End Quote Dr Claire Fox University of Keele

There is also another type of positive humour, known as "self-enhancing", which is where joking is used as a way of coping and reducing anxiety by laughing about something that otherwise might be frightening.

But the bad type of humour associated with bullying victims is "self-defeating", which is where children disparage themselves excessively and make themselves the butt of their own jokes.

This is characterised by children saying: "I often try to get other people to like me more by saying something funny about things that are wrong with me or mistakes that I make."

Dr Fox says that this becomes a vicious circle, with bullied children confirming a negative view of themselves.

Making fun of themselves or some aspect of their character or appearance does not make them more endearing or popular, instead it is seen as undermining their status and self-esteem.

The fourth type of humour, identified as "aggressive", shows another form of negative joke telling. In this type of humour, children use jokes as a way of attacking other people.

This is described as: "If someone makes a mistake, I will often tease them about it."

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and involving academics from Strathclyde University and Oxford Brookes as well as Keele University, looked at bullying in physical and verbal forms and in relationships, such as social exclusion.

The researchers want to see if children can be taught to change their style of humour as part of avoiding this negative way of labelling themselves.

"What our study shows is that humour clearly plays an important role in how children interact with one another and that children who use humour to make fun of themselves are at more risk of being bullied," says Dr Fox.

"We know that this negative use of humour is a nurtured behaviour, influenced by a child's social environment rather than genetics.

"This makes the behaviour easier to change, so we hope the next step for this study is to see whether it is possible to 'teach' children how to use humour to enhance their resilience and encourage them to not use negative forms of humour."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Nonsense. I have a cracking set of ears and was always at risk of the old 'dumbo' jokes. I always beat people to it and never hid from it. I cracked the "self-defeating" jokes regularly, and I still do, but I was never bullied. I was always proud of my unique asset, it's who I am!

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    @222 The-cat-crept-in

    That's a common misconception, they actually become Tory politicians

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    I'd like to know how many kids with Asperger's are bullied in mainstream schools compared with specialist schools? The policy of inclusion does not work for many and is more like a policy of "let's see if you can survive the bullying by people who alledgedly understand social matters and empathy better than you"

  • Comment number 222.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I was told by my child's primary headteacher that "...we don't have bullying at this school." Utter rot! All schools have bullying, the important thing is how they deal with it. Her secondary school have a form system that integrates children from all years, so younger children have older pupils they get to know and can approach for peer help. It seems to work well and bullying is well managed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Just went to the Jobcentre to sign on for JSA. never encountered anything liek the bullying for 20 years ago, stopped me going near again for all that time. Same experieince again with CONS and IDS in charge, will go back to ESA and stay away from Jobcentre as much as possible again now! Bullying is alive and well via IDS, and creating chaos and costing money again. 3 years and this mess!

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Not everyone has a sense of humour, its not built in, and no I dont believe it is a tool against bullying.Its the bullies that are wrong here, deflecting the issue on to the bullied because they dont have a sense of humour is shifting the blame.Besides, if you get bullied persistently you loose any humour you had. How about blaming the bad parenting of those bullies instead? or is that too simple?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    One reason teachers do not do more to defeat bullying is fear of their parents. Teachers regularly suffer threats of & actual violence from both pupils & adults. Moreover, the more canny children 'know their rights' and threaten to claim abuse. Many kids are simply carbon copies of what they see & experience at home. By the by. I dealt with my bully at school with a cricket bat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    "The victim does not need to change. Being told it is your fault you made yourself a target is ridiculous and will do more harm to the self esteem/confidence of the child. Its the bully that is wrong - ALWAYS."

    This is a cul-de-sac in thinking. It is only the victim that has a problem; a reason to wish the situation to change. The bully has no interest in changing anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Made a war orphan as a baby, brought up in a `private `school. When they realised I had no-one to fight for me, I was bullied mercilessly-then the teachers joined in. I am told to do something like `reporting it` especially with child abuse in the news-but the teachers-& most of the other bullies are now all dead. I told all on the `Friends re-united ` site-& have been banned . Any ideas, anyone?

    • Comment number

      Many people can be affected by bullying, in all walks of life. There are also lots of ways in which people can be bullied, for all sorts of reasons. There's a lot of advice that may be able to help if it's something that affects you. Have a look at the Radio 1 Advice site for information on bullying and ideas about dealing with it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/advice/bullying

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Being bullied at school is bad being bullied at a boarding school is infinitely worse - you don't get to go home at the end of the school day. I was bullied at boarding school by both other students and teachers for the crime of being a Scot being educated in England - you know what it got me? expelled - and gave a teacher a permanent limp after he "fell" from his second floor office window.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Aim the jokes at yourself and you are more likely to be victimised. Aim them at others and YOU are the bully. Not sure what this study has achieved, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    With schools my experience has been that complaining about bullying has always led to severe reprimand within two weeks against my own child for more minor offences.
    A year of martial arts was far more successful. Firstly self confidence, then when needed facing down and defeating the worst bully.
    The theme park trip we did on suspension day I consider a small price for a bully free school life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    The problem with self-deprecating humour is that it gives the bullies a reaction. And that's what they're after.

    There are only two options for the bullied; give the bullies no reaction so they get bored and leave you alone or, shall we say, give them such a reaction they won't do it again. The second choice often makes things worse though...

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    "... unfortunately we, as a society, are guilty of creating a climate where the weak and the different are seen as fair game for persecution"

    Yes - and politicians continue doing it, using Law-of-the-Jungle tactics.

    Note IDS and his antics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    The victim does not need to change. Being told it is your fault you made yourself a target is ridiculous and will do more harm to the self esteem/confidence of the child. Its the bully that is wrong - ALWAYS. Children need to learn to behave, we need to teach them and tell them they are nasty if they are, give them consequences, then praise them when they learn to behave well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I was bullied at school to. This method of self-discriminating jokes is a self defence mentality. In running yourself down you don't suffer the mental attacks on you from bullies. Once your immune,. and people find your own jokes funny then it kind of gives you a boost and restores confidence.. its a personal opinion.. but i'm happier than ever now, it worked for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    I really regret not attacking some of the people who gave me grief as a child / youth, they now have everything and I have nothing but a myriad of mental issues, EVIL PAYS
    Everytime I hear of someone shooting classmates I am wonder how many of those eulogised upon death were in fact dreadful people who preyed on the weak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.




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