What should a parent do when a 2-year-old shrieks inconsolably because her string cheese wrapper tore “the wrong way”? Increasingly, the answer is “snap a photo, add a snarky caption and upload it to Instagram.”
Publicly laughing at your toddler’s distress has somehow become not only acceptable but encouraged. Websites offer “best of”compilations, or canned quips readers can use when posting tantrum photos and videos (“Metallica has a new lead singer”).
As psychologists and parents ourselves, we understand the urge to laugh when a child howls because he’s forbidden to eat the packing peanuts from the Amazon box, and we also understand the impulse to make these moments public. The problem is the mockery.
Naturally, joking serves a purpose — it provides psychological distance from negative feelings like shame or anxiety. A study of 105 wheelchair-bound college students found that humor, especially concerning bladder and bowel problems, was a key method of coping with distress. As one respondent said, “We have to laugh at ourselves to make life easier.”
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