There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than a snarky, loudmouthed kid who makes inappropriate comments and makes you want to pretend that you’re not actually her parents. But show me a kid who can really banter with the big boys and understands the fine art of sarcasm, and that’s the one I want to hang with. That’s the one I’m proud to call my own.
Teaching our kids the difference between being playfully and appropriately sarcastic and being fresh and completely rude, though, is tough. But it can be done. And when it’s done successfully, it’s one of the most charming qualities you’ll love about your kids. Because contrary to the old-school philosophy of kids needing to be seen and not heard, allowing and encouraging a child to be witty and playful can enable that child to grow into an adult who can carry themselves in social situations and engage the people around them. And do it well. So it’s a life skill, as far as I’m concerned—a really valuablelife skill.
Let me explain why I feel so strongly about the benefits of raising a child with a healthy sense of sarcasm. But before I do, it’s important to clearly define the true essence of sarcasm. First of all, according to my bud Oscar Wilde, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence.” So right there you know it’s got some teeth.
In simplest terms, and according to Merriam-Webster, sarcasm is the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to be funny. Now the extended definition includes words like ironic and insult and irritation, but that’s not the kind of sarcasm I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is the kind that’s meant to be a harmless, non-offensive joke. Because the last thing I’d suggest is that we teach our kids how to mock other people or convey contempt. That would be bad.
What I am suggesting is that there are some real hidden benefits to raising a kid who is quick-witted. For example, when tossed out with thoughtfulness and self-control, sarcasm can enhance your child’s creativity because they’re forced to think more abstractly. In other words, it stimulates the creative thinking process. Not to mention that they have to be able to process their exchanges with people much faster than in just regular conversation.
In today’s culture, raising a kid who can survive and thrive in a world where sarcasm has become mainstream is essential. And I can actually back that up, thanks to John Haiman, a linguist at Macalaster College in Minnesota, who agrees that “sarcasm is practically the primary language in today’s society.” Yeppers, it’s true. So in an effort to prepare our kids to be able to successfully engage in today’s competitive world, they need to be fluent banterers. It’s a fact.
Some of the most well-adjusted kids (and adults) I know have an incredible sense of humor. And as far as I’m concerned, it just adds to their charm because they know how to make people laugh and think and feel at ease.
That’s because humor does a lot of things, actually. It teaches our kids to be playful and lighthearted. It encourages them to be quick on their feet. It enables them to think multi-dimensionally and be critical thinkers. And it can ward off things like moodiness and depression. Not to mention that laughter, in general, is super beneficial because it actually oxygenates the blood and improves brain function. Oh, and it helps diffuse things like kid meltdowns. (Really hard for your second-grader to throw the remote at you if she’s peeing herself laughing.)
In the same way that learning to play music or speak a foreign language or painting expands our children’s learning capabilities, so too does sarcasm. (Crazy, right?!) But it’s like calisthenics for their brains. I mean, we encourage our kids to play sports as a form of exercise and learn an instrument to stimulate their neural processing; so doesn’t it make perfect sense that we exercise their sense of humor, too? Well duh.
I know that historically, most new parents pray that their kids are well-behaved and stay under the radar in social situations. So I realize that good sarcasm probably isn’t on most parents’ top ten list of desired kid traits, but I think it should be. It really is ok to embrace having a kid with a sharp sense of humor. It’s good for them and good for you because it’s something you can bond over, believe it or not. We do with our girls. In fact, it’s almost like a contest in our family to see who can be the most sarcastic. (Obviously slightly different rules of sarcastic engagement apply to your immediate family and friends and the rest of the general population.) Your family and friends will get you. And while the rest of the world may or may not, peoples’ reaction to our sarcasm is a definite litmus test that helps us gauge which people are most like us and who we belong with for the long haul.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that there is, and should be, a very distinct line between healthy, appropriately timed, harmless sarcasm and full-on snarkiness. That’s why Dave and I raised our kids to know the difference. Because we both recognize that it’s all too easy for people, especially kids, to cross the line and turn an innocent remark that’s designed to be funny into something rude and chafing. Which is definitely not ok.
So the trick is to coach our kids on where and when sarcasm is applicable in their everyday lives. Start small, in the confines of the house. Take a few shots to the chin before you expose them to other people. Let them settle into a groove first and get a feel for what they can and can’t say. Then, gradually, once they get their sea legs, let them loose on the rest of the world.
And if anyone judges you for having appropriately sarcastic kids, just tell them you’re encouraging your kids to exercise their sarcastic side and they should be doing the same. (Just remember to say it in an ironic-sounding tone.)
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