Teasing is a word with many meanings. In human interactions, teasing comes in two major forms, playful and hurtful. In mild cases, and especially when it is reciprocal, teasing can be viewed as playful and friendly. However, teasing is often unwelcome and then it takes the form of harassment. In extreme cases, teasing may escalate to actual violence, and may even result in abuse, potentially meeting the legal definition of child abuse.

Children are commonly teased on such matters as their appearance, weight, behavior, abilities, and clothing. This kind of teasing is often hurtful, even when the teaser believes he or she is being playful. One may also tease an animal. Some animals, such as dogs and cats, may recognize this as play, but as in humans, teasing can become hurtful and take the form of bullying and abuse.

The nature of teasing

The most common kind of teasing is verbal bullying or taunting. This behavior is intended to distract, irritate, or annoy the recipient. Because it is hurtful, it is different from playful joking and is generally accompanied by some degree of social rejection.

One form of teasing is to pretend to give something which the other desires, or giving it very slowly. This is usually done by arousing curiosity or desire and may not actually involve the intent to satisfy or disclose. This form of teasing could be called "tantalizing", after the story of Tantalus. It is generally playful among adults, although among children it can be hurtful, such as when one child acquires a possession of another and will not return it. It is also common in flirting and dating. For example, a man or woman who is interested in someone might rebuff an advance the first time in order to arouse interest and curiosity, and acquiesce the second or third time.

Whether teasing is playful or hurtful, is largely determined by the motive of the teaser. If the intent is to harm, then the teasing is hurtful. A difference in power between people may also make the behavior hurtful rather than playful. Ultimately though, if someone perceives him or herself as the victim of teasing, and experiences the teasing as unpleasant, then it is considered hurtful. If the other person continues to do it after being asked to stop, then it is a form of bullying or abuse.

Other usage

To tease, or to "be a tease" in a sexual sense, can refer to the use of dress, posture, language or other means of flirting to cause another person to become sexually aroused. Such teasing may or may not be a prelude to intercourse, an ambiguity which can lead to uncomfortable situations. In a more physical sense, it can also refer to sexual stimulation.

In a very different context, hair can be teased, "ratted," or more correctly, "backcombed." As the name suggests, backcombing involves combing the hair backwards from end to root to intentionally tangle the strands to create volume.

See also


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