Recently a friend and fellow psychologist, and I were talking with our 9- and 10-year olds who told us about the term “roasting.” Obviously, I’ve heard the term before—a ceremony where the guest of honor is ribbed by those who like and respect him or her. But as moms, we never expected to hear it was going on between fourth graders at recess.
After careful questioning, we learned more details about roasting in elementary schools. Rather than a good natured ribbing, this kind of roasting can be far more mean-spirited. Two students go back and forth hurling insults, while other students stand around and applaud what they consider a really good one. The kids dread being the one picked for roasting, and the process, while in the name of “fun,” has the potential to reach the level of bullying.
I value humor and kindness in my children and others. I tend not to take simple, lighthearted humor too seriously. However, as parents we should definitely be aware when our children are roasting others, or are the recipients of roasting themselves.
Roasting may be fine if you’re an adult and writing for SNL or Comedy Central, but kids do not yet have the emotional or cognitive skills to identify those subtle nuances that can be pointed out in a funny and affectionate way. Instead, they’re likely to point out the obvious—often physical—attributes and say things that are hurtful.
So, what can you do to investigate whether roasting is occurring in your child's school?
First and foremost—ask your child. I’m a child psychologist, and this was the first time I heard the word used in elementary school. Determine what roasting means to your child, whether they have ever been roasted, if they were directly involved, or if they’ve ever witnessed it. Remember, bullying behavior occurs in the presence of an audience, if enough children know to not engage in this behavior, then it will likely decrease.
Second: if they have experienced roasting, ask them how they felt. Did they speak up? Laugh? You find that most students will express their discomfort because they know that the behavior felt wrong, or they felt bad being roasted, but just didn’t have the tools to speak up.
Third: Remind them of the importance of kindness and appropriate communication. If your child felt bad about it, it’s likely that other kids did as well. Give them the language to redirect a roast. For example, coach them to say, “Let’s play another game?” or “She is my friend, and I think she is very nice.”
Finally, encourage them to go to a trusted adult. Teachers and other school personnel need to be aware of roasting and work to redirect that behavior. If you think your child is being bullied or is bullying others, it is essential that you contact the school as soon as possible.
If your child talks about roasting in school, it has likely reached the level of bullying behavior. Children who engage in this behavior are not bad kids, rather, they have yet to understand the consequences of their actions on another, or learn the tools to stop that behavior, in themselves or others.
Remember that kids are not emotionally mature enough to be on the receiving end of roasting, and the roasters are likely saying things that are hurtful.
Comedy and humor are important life and relationship-building skills, but they can be nurtured in other healthy ways such as writing funny stories, putting on a comedy show, or practicing sarcasm. If you think your child is the next Colin Jost, work on other ways to encourage this comedy that is not at the expense of the emotional well-being of other children.