‘Roasting’ is not a new occurrence. Many of us grew up hearing roasts such as Yo Mama’s so ugly that…… or Yo Mama’s so fat that…. These Yo Mama jokes may be mean and cruel, but they’re an indirect insult vs. direct – and because of that, they usually aren’t used to bully or intentionally hurt someone.

The ‘roasts’ that are mostly used by kids today; however, are more of a direct insult (not referencing someone else). Examples include: Do you just have bad luck when it comes to thinking? and Some babies dropped on their heads, but you were clearly thrown against a wall. These types of roasts have the potential to be more hurtful because they’re referencing the person that they’re spoken to. These types of ‘roasts’ can also become bullying.

Why Kids ‘Roast’, Joke Around and Tease

Often, ‘roasting’ is a behavior that is learned by observing peers or older siblings. Kids will often roast because their friends are roasting. Many times, it becomes a game to see who can give the biggest burn. When there’s either no comeback or a weak response, the ‘roaster’ will often share with friends, “I burnt him good!”

Rather than refer to it as ‘roasting’, some kids will say that they’re ‘joking around’. But, joking around and teasing can also be hurtful and humiliating.

When ‘Roasting’ Becomes Bullying

Some ‘roasts’ are just senseless insults that have nothing to do with the person that they’re spoken to. Although they may not be intentionally personal, they can still be hurtful if they’re unwanted by the roasting recipient.

Joking around and ‘roasts’ can become very hurtful when they purposely become personal – meaning that specific traits of the target are being ridiculed. For an example, to say to an overweight kid, You have more chins than friends, would be a roast that is purposely ridiculing.

Usually, recipients of this type of behavior will respond in one of two ways. They’ll either ‘roast’ back or will laugh along with others – even if they don’t really want to. This is why ‘roasting’ or joking around can become an emotionally harmful activity. 

‘Roasting’ becomes bullying when it intentionally and repeatedly occurs to the same target against their will – meaning that the individual who is being ‘roasted’ feels powerless to stop it. 

Talking to Kids About Roasting and Bullying

Most kids don’t mean any harm when ‘roasting’ others. The problem is that ‘roasting’ has the potential to go too far. ‘Roasts’ that start as senseless insults can change to personal insults. Or, those who are the targets of ‘roasts’ may feel hurt, uncomfortable or angry, even if the insult was meant to be harmless.

Kids should be taught to practice empathy. Before ‘roasting’ or joking around with someone else, they should ask themselves, would they like it if someone else was jokingly making fun of them? Are they absolutely sure that their jokes or ‘roasts’ are wanted by the person that they’re targeting? Are they sure that they’re not hurting the other person’s feelings? And, if they were the recipient of these ‘roasts’, how would they feel?

Kids should also be taught to speak up. If they’re witnessing a ‘roasting match’ that doesn’t seem right, they should speak up – either to the person who is giving out the ‘roasts’ or to the victim. For an example, a bystander could pull the ‘roaster’ aside and say something like, “I think that what you said may have hurt his feelings.” Or, the bystander could approach the person who was being ‘roasted’ and say, “I felt bad hearing him say those things to you. Are you ok?”

Kids that are targets of ‘roasts’ and don’t enjoy it, should be taught that they have more power in the situation than they may realize. If they don’t like the joking around or ‘roasting’, they should not engage by laughing along or ‘roasting’ back. If the ‘roasting’ is being done by a friend, a good response may be, “I don’t like this. Can you please stop?” If the child who is being targeted laughs along or doesn’t specifically say that they’re not enjoying the ‘roasts’, the behavior is likely to continue.

Those who become victims of bullying should also be empowered to either stop the bullying or stop allowing the behavior to make them feel bad. Parents can empower their child by using The Three E’s, Empathy, Empowerment and Engagement:

Empathy – Empathize with your child about the bullying by allowing him or her to talk. Don’t make assumptions. Ask your child open-ended questions such as “How did you feel when he said those things to you?” Take time to let your child talk. Don’t try to guess his or her thoughts. Part of the healing process for your child is for her to share how she feels.

Empowerment – Empower your child by asking him or her what they’d like to do about the bullying. It is important for children and young adults to feel empowered to handle issues themselves. After your child has created and shared her plan for moving forward, encourage her to practice carrying it out through role play.

Engagement – Once a plan has been established, it’s very important for you to regularly check-in with your child to help him stay empowered and to help increase him self-esteem. Open communication with your child is essential. If you do need to involve others, be sure to tell him.

While there may not be a way to prevent ‘roasting’ or joking around from occurring, you can use empathy, empowerment and engagement to help your child understand how that behavior can potentially make others feel bad. You can also use The Three E’s to help your child overcome any negative feelings associated from being a victim of ‘roasting’ or bullying.

Click here to learn more about when joking around and ‘roasting’ becoming bullying.

About Danielle:

Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.