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When Should I Intervene During Teasing?

My 13-year-old son is constantly teasing his younger brother, who is 10. I never know when to intervene. On the one hand, I want to let them work it out themselves. On the other, I worry that my older son is going to think it's OK to be mean and my younger son is going to have some lasting emotional scars. What do I do?
- Janet

Squabbles between siblings are common and a natural part of family dynamics. Often, it's wise to let kids work out their differences themselves and not intervene unless there's a possibility that one of them is going to get hurt.

If the teasing is done in a friendly, playful, and mutual way, and both kids find it funny, then you probably don't need to worry. But if it becomes relentless, hurtful, and unkind, with one kid always doing the teasing and the other always on the receiving end, it's smart to address the issue. If the teasing continues unchecked, your older son may think such behavior is OK at school and with friends — and it could take a toll on your younger son's self-esteem.

If you're concerned about the teasing, talk to your sons about it. Set ground rules for acceptable behavior at home, and stick to them.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: July 2013