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When "Just Kidding" Isn't Funny

"Just kidding," "No offense," and their cousins, "Chill out" and "Psych," have become staples of preteen vocabulary. The phrases may seem innocuous  -- but to many kids, they're hurtful.

That's because sometimes they're used to justify mean behavior. After taking a swipe at someone ("Everyone thinks you're such a baby!"), a kid might add, "I was just kidding! Chill out." Going along with the "joke" is the only way for the hurt kid to avoid even more embarrassment. If you overhear your child using this kind of language:

Call her on it. Is she saying "Just kidding" because she really didn't mean it or to let herself off the hook?

Ask her what she really thinks. She may be sitting on something deeper (such as anger with a friend over a previous fight) that she's struggling to express.

Explain how these words hurt. Compare them to aggression she gets, like overt insults or hitting.

Create consequences  -- for instance, if you hear this kind of talk again, she'll lose her Internet access for a day.

Look in the mirror. Do you use humor as a way to take swipes at people? Your child is watching and listening.