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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

What children find funny tells us a lot about their stage of development, says parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Jokes and pre- and early adolescent boys go hand in hand. Particularly funny are bodily functions, strange noises, silly faces and others’ misfortunes.

Adolescent humour can, at times, be immensely frustrating, especially when you are trying to make a serious point, control a class, coach a team or get them to settle down at the table. Worse is the formal situation when something tickles their fancy and they develop the giggles. You may have noted that boys can be worse than girls at giggling on these occasions. This is when frustration can turn into sheer embarrassment.

The truth of the matter is that this is how boys communicate. There is research that shows that boys of this age rely on humour to communicate with their peers 68% more often than girls in social situations. Joking is a safe way to initiate communication with peers and males tend to continue doing this throughout their lives. A shared joke can define a social grouping - if you get the joke you’re in, if not, you’re out.

Jokes are also an indirect way of dealing with issues that concern them and offer a chance to try something out. If it doesn’t work they can quickly pull back with an "I was just joking". It’s a way of testing what is and is not acceptable.

So, boys get pleasure out of poking the child in front of them (or, in the distant past, dunking her pigtail in the ink well), mocking others, pulling faces, clowning around, and being told by a girl they "are funny" or by anyone that they’re "being gross".

Laughing is a most human behaviour and what children find funny tells us a lot about their stage of development. From the one-year-old enjoying peek-a-boo; the two-year-old laughing at things out of place such as nonsense words and things where they shouldn’t be; the toilet humour of the three-year-old mastering toilet training; the 6-year-old struggling with the intricacies of the language with jokes and riddles (and I’ve heard some strange ones these holidays from our six-year-old); to the 10-year-old telling quite violent "jokes" and the move to jokes of a sexual and sexist nature.

As we reach this stage, the challenge is not to knock the humour on the head but to lead your son to an understanding of acceptable and unacceptable humour and appropriateness of occasion and to help him sort out genuinely funny from hurtful or bullying. Their mates will usually play a part in tempering the humour quite effectively, too, as they grow through adolescence.

Allow them their fun, but teach them about the audience and that usually just a touch of humour can do the job quite nicely.


The final years of childhood, ages 10 - 12, should be untrammeled. Back in the day, we were in 'gangs', that raided the huts of other, absent, gangs.

Recently, such play has been labelled 'socialised delinquency'. Not then. Normal squire, honest injun.





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