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Having a Sense of Humor About Humor

By Laura Fries

What do you get when you cross
a teddy bear with a skunk?

Winnie the P.U.

Mark Twain called humor mankind’s greatest blessing. Even our third president and noted scholar, Thomas Jefferson--not someone you typically associate with comedy--said, “Good humor is one of the preservatives of our peace and tranquility.”

Anyone who’s had to listen to the same knock-knock joke from a two year-old seven times in a row or had to endure a five year-old running around a party reciting potty jokes knows that humor isn’t always about peace and tranquility.

It is, however, a happy and healthy part of childhood.

Could you ever forget that first laugh? Remember when simply making a silly face or blowing a raspberry could elicit peels of laughter? At that moment in time, you were the funniest person on the planet as far as your kids were concerned.

There comes a point in every parent’s life, usually far too soon, when they shift from being a source of humor to the source of humor. By showing that you can laugh at yourself or take a joke is an important lesson to teach a child.

Giving children the gift of laughter and humor, experts say, is a very important part of social development. It’s particularly helpful to teach kids to laugh at their own foibles so they are better prepared to roll with emotional ups and downs of childhood. Humor can inoculate us against sadness and diffuse stressful situations. Besides, who doesn’t like to laugh?

Jokes, like laughter, are contagious and kids love to repeat them. Chances are, in addition to picking up jokes from the playground and on the school bus, kids learn a good deal of them from the entertainment world.

The majority of kids’ shows and films these days are comedies. And while the most consistent laughs for this demographic are still generated from that good old throw-back, physical or slapstick comedy, the level of humor can run the gamut. The basic tenants of humor include farce, parody, satire and irony, but as children’s programming becomes more sophisticated, sometimes the jokes outpace the audience. It’s not uncommon for a kid’s show or movie to throw in a joke or two for the parents in the room. Double entendres, pop culture references and even sexual innuendos appear in even the most benign programs. It does make you wonder--exactly how many pop culture references should a six year old understand? Sometimes it seems like some of the shows are just a front for elaborate inside jokes among animators or actually designed with college-aged kids in mind. Tween show stars are looking more and more like mini-Seinfelds with all of the snappy comebacks. And many plots feature these kids outsmarting the nitwit adults. Sarcasm has its place, but Helllloh? Do kids’ shows need so much of it?

So how do you monitor humor without losing your sense of it?

Humor changes and grows with a child and according to the National Association of School Psychologists, parents should, well, learn to take a joke--within reason.

The main rule of thumb is that humor should never be disrespectful or hurt anybody--unless of course the pain is from doubling over in fits of giggles or an ill-timed gulp of juice, which escapes through the nose. Most funny stuff for kids is pretty harmless, if not always in the best taste. It helps to know the broad stages of humor for children and to be aware of what is and isn’t age appropriate.

Preschool Humor

The Upside Down ShowFor a preschooler, humor is literally a release valve to expend pent up physical energy. Silly dances, goofy faces, making up nonsensical names—that’s A-list material at this age. The Upsidedown Show, for instance, uses physical comedy and clever jokes in refreshingly innovative ways.

Grade-School Humor

Potty jokes are all the rage in early grade school, and while it can be a question of taste for parents, it’s important to let kids know when and where to repeat the jokes and then let it run its course. For a parent, this stage can seem endless, but testing boundaries is one way for kids at this age to know where the line is drawn. 

Tween Humor

Fetch! With Ruff RuffmanTweeners, like everything else at this age, strive for stuff beyond their years. Sarcasm is big, but again, it’s a matter of testing boundaries. Riddles and brainteasers can be particularly satisfying at this age and Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman is one show that deftly combines problem- solving fun with some age-appropriate humor.

Still, some kids feel, especially in the high school years, that the best defense is a good offense and are willing to sacrifice a friend by making them the butt of a joke to avoid being the target. It’s never too soon to make sure your kids know that jokes are to be shared with and not pointed at people. Disrespectful material should not be tolerated. That kind of humor may garner laughs on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, but kids should never talk that way to peers or adults. Sarcasm done well is deft blend of self-depreciating and topical—think of Shrek or The Incredibles, which still have an irreverent sensibility but stay within the margins of good taste. It doesn’t hurt to do some parental self-editing either. Lightly teasing your kids may seem like good fun, but for sensitive egos, it can seem monumentally offensive very quickly.

In general, experts say parents should avoid overacting to the everyday joke since most are really a safe way to release anxieties and worries. Good judgment should be the main guide. If a joke makes you uncomfortable, it isn’t appropriate. Discuss the behavior and humor of characters or situations you see in entertainment and be sure you let your kids know if that behavior or language would be acceptable in your home. Define your standards, allow for some leeway in matters of taste and expect a whoopee cushion or two every once in a while. A good sense of humor should be a family trait, and the more it is shared, the more it becomes a natural, healthy part of life.  As someone wise once said, the best things people can have up their sleeve is a funny bone.


About the Author
A freelance writer and TV Critic for Daily Variety, Laura Fries has been writing about TV and film entertainment for more than eighteen years. She lives with her husband, daughter and a small menagerie of pets in Alexandria, Virginia.


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