No Offense, But I Was Just Kidding: Dealing with Mean Jokes

By | March 31st, 2016 | 57 comments

“When girls say ‘just kidding,’ what percentage of the time are they really joking?” It’s one of my favorite questions to ask girls, and I rarely hear numbers in double digits.

That’s because “just kidding,” and its cousin, “no offense,” are phrases girls (and guys, though less frequently) use to hurt each other without having to own up.

The phrases seem fairly innocuous, cute little jabs that aren’t supposed to leave a mark. They allow you to say something mean and still appear to be a likable Good Girl. Adults often ask me why it’s not enough to respond, “That’s not funny!” Partly because there is a social script kids use in situations like this. If you fight back against a mean joke, you’re likely to hear retorts like, “What’s your problem? Can’t you take a joke? I was just kidding! You’re taking it the wrong way,” and so on. The hurt girl is silenced. She has learned that if she doesn’t go along with the joke, she’ll lose membership in her group.

To be sure, not every instance of “just kidding” should raise our hackles. Teasing is often healthy and fun, not to mention an important part of interpersonal and individual development. But when it’s abused, “just kidding” contains a disturbing logic: If I didn’t mean it, it didn’t happen.

To understand this more clearly, consider that every act of aggression can be divided into two parts: intent and impact. Intent first refers to what you meant when the aggression occurred; impact, to what actually happened. The meaning behind “just kidding” is: if I didn’t intend to hurt you, the impact didn’t occur. If I was just kidding, or I didn’t mean it, I can’t get in trouble. You can’t be mad at me. You can’t not be my friend. And so on.

This logic is dangerous for two reasons. First, true respect in relationship means respecting others’ feelings. In other words, we can’t tell someone else how she should feel. Only you get to say if you’re hurt or not. Second, the logic allows kids to deny responsibility for rude behavior. “Just kidding” also compromises girls’ integrity because it allows girls to project a “nice” image, even as they make disrespectful remarks.

If you’re a girl with a friend who makes mean jokes, try this:

Ask her to respect your feelings. Tell the joker that just because she didn’t mean it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Sure, you understand she didn’t mean it, but you  need her to respect the fact that it hurt you. If she says, “you took it the wrong way,” remind her that everyone takes jokes differently and people are sensitive about different things. Teach her the NJZ (see below).

Ask her what’s really bothering her. Girls who use jokes to be nasty are often hiding other feelings they are struggling to express. Ask her if she’s okay and if there is anything you need to talk about to clear the air.

If you’re a parent or teacher and have a “just kidding” epidemic at home or in your classroom, try this:

Define the behavior as a form of aggression. It’s not just a joke. Affirm that you find the behavior inappropriate and compare it to a type of aggression she already understands: overt insults, hitting, etc.

Create consequences. Explain that if you continue to hear “just kidding” used as a way to be mean, there will be a consequence—loss of a privilege for a period of time, for example.

Look in the Mirror. Do you use humor as a way to take swipes? The girls in your life are watching and listening. She will follow the right example if you set it.

Create a No-Joke Zone (NJZ) in your home or classroom. Establish the NJZ as a code that anyone, adults or kids, can use to draw the line. The NJZ creates a new script, and the protocol goes like this: When someone makes a joke that crosses the line and an NJZ is called, the other person must apologize – sincerely, not “sorrreeeee!” – and the subject must be changed.

As my Mom always said, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Using definition,  positive alternatives and consequences for girls will help foster critical truth-telling skills and make them more trustworthy, honest young people to boot.

57 Responses to “No Offense, But I Was Just Kidding: Dealing with Mean Jokes”

  • Skelebones says:

    My friend sometimes makes insensitive comments when we joke about. I mean, we are quite rough on each other already (Calling each other bitches as a form of comedy between us.) But they’re are somethings she knows actually make me angry when she says, and not the oh hahaha angry, like, IMMA ABOUT TO SMACK YOUR FUCKING FACE TO 3017 IF YOU DON’T FUCKING LEAVE! Type angry (I get angry easily.) Like, calling me fat. That’s a no. Calling mW a fat slut whilst joking about. Yeah no, I ‘playful’ hit her (I said playfuly but I was too mad and hurt her by mistake) and I refused to properly talk to her for a good two periods after that (I was in school, each period is fifty minutes) I honestly think she didn’t mean to, but just knowing that somewhere, in my ONLY friends mind, she thought that about me, even if it only was in that one instance, made me, disappointed. Sorry if that was too long.

  • James says:

    i made a joke post about jesus. i didnt mean it in any way and thought others would get my humor :
    “me : there better be ramen”
    [ searches for ramen ]
    me : this is why im atheist. i hate my life. fuck you god”

    and i hurt someone who supported me? they were upset by my post and i apologized,,,but then they started being rude and trying to make me feel guilty with : “oh i sidnt understand it was a joke 🙂 everyone jokes about it :).”
    and when i said ill delete the post she goes “nononono dont worry about it its fine i understand you werent trying to upset me or anyone just leave your post up;you dont have to apologize”
    i didnt mean for my post to come off in that way? and i sincerely apologized but i understand why she was clearly upset with me. it actually makes me very sad??? im not sure what to do though i deleted the post.

  • Aaron says:

    The Girl that I’m talking to, which is a previous ex- girlfriend of mine, will remain serious even through hurtful jokes, to potentially make me aggitated or stressed. after she sees that her words are working against my favor, she try’s to ice the conversation by saying “im just kidding” and “why do you take everything up the ass”
    This is a constant daily thing, and it is quite obvious that some part of her is not joking around when she says hurtful things. Is this a form of flirting or a form of disrespect..?

  • Tom Savage says:

    The no joke zone has worked with me for a long time. It creates a clear boundary for people and I’ve had a lot of success with it. Great update.

  • Jas says:

    My girlfriend always says bad things. Like that she’s breaking up with me, that I’m not allowed to do this or that, that’s she’s angry with me. Then after I get upset she just says she joking, why does she do this. She always says she’s sorry, and she didn’t mean to upset me. But why does she still do it?

    • Sue says:

      This sounds like an emotional roller coaster. People use this technique to gain “Power” over their partner. Be careful it doesn’t lead to emotional abuse (search google to find out what this is) as this can lead to ill mental health. Never be afraid to walk away! I did and it was the best thing I ever did! Someone who truely loves you wouldnt mess with you time after time if they see its hurting you!

  • Cari says:

    My boyfriend and I have this issue too. I’ll say something, most of the times it doesn’t bother him unless he’s not feeling well then he compares me to his ex doing so. If its him joking, he says I’m taking it out on him because xyz happened earlier that day and he’s only joking. So I spin it back around and tell him, well you didn’t like it when this happened a few weeks ago, I apologized for that occasion though he drug it out for an hour. When he apologized to me I got what I had to say out in which he says I never tell him how I feel, so I did. ANd he shut up. ANd I moved on from the subject. Easy as that.

  • Swetha says:

    I have sister in law who I feel has something against. She keeps saying things which hurts me. I am really not sure if she is being sarcastic or if am taking it too seriously.
    It just happened that y husbands younger brothers wife is pregnant, and I have been trying since last 5years with 2 failed ivf.
    After hearing the good news my sister in law calls me up and comments that at least my in laws would be happy now since my mother in law was complaining to her whenever she happens to attend a birthday party and now that their wish is being fulfilled they won’t mind now.
    Is it a casual comment or am I taking it too personally?please help

    • samantha says:

      you should probably start speaking to her. this thing happened to me once by the new girl in class. she called me a bitch because i once wore a crop top she was saying all the time yout personality is bitchy and all these sort of things. i didn’t say a word to her because i thought that it would have been hard for her to be part of us. dhe continues saying these things all the time and whenever i say something to her she gets offended. her mother is my teacher so i think that making her my enemy would be bad for my grades. i have been “friend” with her but she’s actually a pretty evil person. i don’t know why she does these things. i think that the best thing for you to do is to tell your friend that she really hurt your feelings before it is to late

  • valeria says:

    i have my best best BEST friends who pulled a prank on me saying ” F*** YOU” i replied “what is your problem” and they kept on saying LOL that was a joke hahahaha. they said jk and sorry. but im still mad at them.
    what should i do?
    -valeria

    • Skelebones says:

      Me and my friend do that a lot, so she might be doing it as a silly joke like me and my friend do, or she is used to it from a past friendship. But if it makes you feel uncomfortable, just tell her to please stop, and that you don’t like it. If she still dose it, even after you expression how much you may dislike it, sit her down and tell her why she has to stop. If sshe still continues and/or dose more things to upset you, despite the fact you told her not to (Like if she makes rude comments or forces you to do stuff you don’t want to do) it may be time to start thinking of ending the friendship. But only if she is getting meaner after you tell her to stop.
      Hope I helped!
      -Skelabones

  • Tom Miller says:

    My wife’s friends husband, constantly makes me the brunt of his jokes in front of people that I do not know. Introducing me to a future in-law, he will say, “this is my friend Tom, he just got out of the psychiatric hospital, but don’t worry, he’s on meds and isn’t violent.” The person looks at me like I have 8 eyes. Finally, after a number of years of taking his jokes (as he calls them), I literally called him outside and clearly, calmly told him what I though of his constant demeaning statements. I explained that a joke is funny for all participants, but when the joke hurts someone’s feelings, it isn’t a joke.
    I truly believe by putting people down he got some sort of high, that made him feel better about himself.
    He told me he wasn’t going to apologize for his sense of humor and that in his whole life no one has called him out, I told him that was long overdue.
    So, my wife and his wife are still friends, but, he’s not part of my life any longer. Don’t miss him.

  • Felix says:

    So basicly I am one of those(guy) how relise I make some mean jokes. The thing the text miss is how do i stop doing it?

    -A guys who needs help :/

  • Terrie says:

    My kids crack jokes about me it hurts 🙁

  • tina says:

    i have a friend’s group there is guy in with whom my equations does not match at all because he tries to pull my leg all the time but sometime i find that things rude becaue jokes are sometimes very hurtful! i dont say anything back because i feel her girlfriend who is one of my friend in that group would feel bad!! but i feel bad and have nobody to share with !! what should i do

    please help

    • Anna says:

      I think you should just tell that guy that it hurts your feelings and you don’t like it when he does that, so tell him if he could please not do that anymore. Don’t worry, your friend that his friend wouldn’t feel bad, i’m sure she might be surprised you stood up for yourself, but if she’s not making the jokes then she wouldn’t have to feel bad. But I think you should really try talking to your guy friend and maybe see if he will understand not feel bad.

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