by Jeff Tierney, Director Evaluation & Certification - Site Certification
Imagine, for a moment, being a Family-Teacher going through your first certification evaluation. So far, things are going well. The evaluators have their glasses of Kool Aid, all of your kids have asked a guest-oriented question, and the tour is about ready to begin. Then all of a sudden and without warning you hear the seven words from one of your youth that have struck fear in hearts of Family-Teaching couples since the dawn of our Model: “I heard a joke at school today.” And despite your best efforts, there is no un-ringing that bell and the joke proceeds to be told.
Many of the children and youth in our programs at Boys Town have experienced life circumstances that are nearly incomprehensible in terms of tragedy, failure, and disappointment. Often they have been robbed of many things that are essential for a normal, happy childhood…including the ability to laugh. And it’s easy to see why. For many of our kids, life has been anything but a laughing matter.
But cultivating a good sense of humor and ability to laugh are critical to our kids’ happiness and eventual success as adults. Researchers have linked having a good sense of humor with lower stress levels, better interpersonal relationships, longer life-span, and greater career advancement.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good role-models for having an appropriate sense of humor out there for our kids. This is especially true for television where much of the “humor” there is fairly mean-spirited. Consider TV shows such as Punked, Wipeout, Scare Tactics, and Off Their Rockers. Comedy at other people’s expense and discomfort doesn’t seem to be the best way to teach children what’s really funny.
A good place to start is knowing the difference between being funny and having a sense of humor. Being funny means being able to express humor of one kind or another by being witty, telling a well timed joke, making a pun, getting other people to laugh, etc. And most comics say you do need to have a sense of humor to be funny. Trying to be funny without a sense of humor can easily come across as sarcastic, belittling, and defensive toward others.
In contrast, having a sense of humor means being able to laugh at, or at least see the humor in, life’s absurdities (even when they happen to you). But you don’t have to be funny in order to have a good sense of humor. A great skill that everyone (including our kids) needs to learn is how to not take oneself quite so seriously, be able laugh at our own mistakes, and know the line between good natured ribbing and malicious teasing.
We actually have two skills in our Teaching Social Skills to Youth manual that directly address the issue of teaching kids to use appropriate humor and be able to laugh at themselves. These skills are, and you probably guessed this, “Using Appropriate Humor” (skill #139) and “Laughing at Oneself” (#164). While there are specific steps to both of these skills (e.g., avoid humor that makes fun of groups in society), many of these steps could take a lot of discussion and role-play with a youth in order for him/her to become comfortable and proficient with them. It would be very interesting to hear some of our readers’ ideas on the best ways they know to teach kids how to laugh, have fun, and even deliver a good one-liner.
Good luck and keep smiling.