The Influence of Banter on Young People 

I am currently observing a trend with my clients where many young individuals are struggling with issues such as low confidence, self-esteem, anxiety, friendship challenges, and school refusal. A common thread among them is their difficulty with handling ‘banter’ from their peers. Although they may pretend to find it amusing, deep down, they feel crushed and embarrassed. Has this always been the case? Perhaps, but it seems more widespread now. Could it be linked to the vast amount of content readily available to young people today? It’s unclear.  

Banter is a form of playful conversation or teasing that can be enjoyable when done correctly. It does not involve insults or belittling others but is a mutual exchange between equals, crucial for social bonding. The primary purpose of banter is to establish or strengthen connections between individuals. When friends interact, banter is often a key element. The more familiar you are with someone, the more comfortable it is to engage in playful teasing, indicating trust and closeness. Banter also showcases intelligence and charm, requiring quick thinking and wit. This can be beneficial, especially when interacting with someone you admire. 

The distinction between banter and bullying has been a topic of discussion for many years. It can be difficult to differentiate between light-hearted teasing and hurtful behaviour that may lead to bullying. Banter, originally a term from 17th-centrury London slang, has evolved over time and become popular in schools, blurring the line between friendly banter and harmful bullying. While banter is a common form of humour among young people, its presence in school settings has made it challenging to distinguish between harmless teasing and hurtful insults. This ambiguity has left students uncertain whether a joke will result in laughter or distress. 

Determining whether banter crosses into bullying is subjective, some argue that it becomes bullying when the intent it to harm or upset, while others believe it becomes bullying when the recipient feels offended, regardless of intent. A key aspect in recognising bullying versus banter is the presence of a power dynamic – banter typically occurs between peers or friends of equal standing. However, discerning between the two can be difficult, as some individuals may justify their behaviour as harmless teasing when targeting a friend. Even within friendships, what one person considers harmless banter may be hurtful to the other. Therefore, it is crucial to educate young people about the impact that seemingly harmless ‘banter’ can have on their peers and how it can be perceived as bullying. 

Developing resilience is crucial, but it’s also essential to empower young individuals to choose how they respond.  

Here are some top tips for mastering the banter game: 

  • Be a jokester, not a jester: Steer clear of jabs at race, gender, or anything else touchy. Even if someone pokes fun at themselves, it’s not an invite for others to join in. 
  • Keep up with the cool kids: Stay in the loop with Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok to decode the humour your squad is vibing with. While staying 100% updated might be a stretch, having a peek into current trends can help you banter like a boss. 
  • Don’t cheer on the cringe: When a joke goes rogue and leaves someone feeling off, it’s your cue to step in. Ignoring inappropriate jibes only fans the flames. 
  • Be the hero: Even if you’re not the one in the banter hot seat, swoop in when someone’s feeling uneasy. Backing others not only shows support but also gives the joke a reality check. 
  • Suss it out: Before diving into banter, read the room. While long-time pals may roast each other, it’s vital to suss out the vibe before joining in, especially with new faces. 
  • No hitting below the belt: Teasing someone’s weak spots, even in jest, can sting. Respect boundaries and keep clear of poking fun at insecurities. 
  • Mind your words: Brushing off hurtful comments as ‘banter’ won’t fly. Before cracking a joke, put yourself in the hot seat. Just because something tickles you and your crew doesn’t mean it’s fair game. 
  • Surround yourself with awesome people: Hang with people who are your happiness squad, giving you the space to be your fabulous self. Or spill the tea to a friend when you need some extra love and support and remember, seeking help from a pro is always an option! 

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