Teasing and Bullying: What's the Difference?

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13218

Teasing and bullying are two different things. How can you tell the difference? Learn how to distinguish one from the other so you can respond appropriately in these situations.


Communications, Interpersonal Skills

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Jay likes to play basketball with his friends. He is not a good player, but he likes to hang out with his friends at the basketball court.

Jay tries to make a three-point shot but fails. Daniel yells, "Nice try, Michael Jordan. Get off the court!" and others laugh.

  • Would you consider this teasing or bullying?

It is hard to know if you do not see Jay's reaction. If Jay laughs too, it is a friendly tease. However, if Jay looks confused and embarrassed, it is bullying!

This example shows how understanding the whole situation matters a lot when distinguishing between teasing and bullying. Your objective in this lesson is to know the difference and to act accordingly!

  • It is always great to have friends, right?

You build relationships with them because it is nice to have people around you who share the same interests. There will always be someone with whom you can talk, study, play, joke around, and get comfortable.

  • But how do you make sure you don't do things or say words that could hurt?

Let's unpack how having fun is sometimes on the edge of being inappropriate.

What is teasing?

In different situations, teasing can either be hurtful or playful. In hurtful teasing, people do things or say unkind words that make another person feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Playful teasing, on the other hand, happens among friends who seem to be getting along well with each other. When it is done with a positive intention, playful teasing is a good way to build stronger bonds among friends. A playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks is also called banter.

man whispering joke to a friend

What is bullying?

Verbal bullying is the opposite of playful teasing. The bully's intention is to embarrass others and make himself or herself look better and stronger.

Verbal bullying includes calling others names, making fun of how others look, and other forms of harassment whether in person or online. Sharing social media content that is meant to humiliate someone is an example of cyberbullying.

Keep in mind that bullying can start as teasing. If the teasing is repeated over and over again until it becomes hurtful and threatening, then it is bullying!

girl being bullied

What are the differences between teasing and bullying?

  • Can you identify the differences between them?

Teasing involves making fun of or joking around in a mutual way. Mutual means everyone involved understands the teasing is just for fun and nothing else. Bullying is not mutual.

Teasing does not include making fun of important characteristics like religion, race, or ethnicity; physical appearance; or a disability. Bullying does because a bully wants his or her remarks to be insulting and hurtful.

Bullying is teasing over and over again. This repetitive teasing can cause the victim to feel frustrated and powerless. This situation can turn a good friendship into something hostile or unsafe.

As you can see, teasing and bullying differ on intention. It is important to remember, however, that although your intention might be just to tease and have fun; you could make a mistake. You might joke about something you think is funny, but the other person feels embarrassed or hurt. It is important to observe how others react to your teasing, so you have the opportunity to apologize if you hurt another's feelings rather than be a bully.

To better understand, watch Teasing and bullying are different from StopBullying Gov:

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Because there is a fine line between teasing and bullying, your response will depend on the situation.

In the Got It? section, you will apply your knowledge of teasing and bullying! Get ready!

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