By Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea
Children and teens who have social challenges have difficulty with understanding which type of language to use in various settings. They might try to gain attention from others by inserting “edgy” comments into conversations. What they don’t realize, though, is that this attention-getting strategy may frequently offend the very people they are trying to impress. Most people won’t express their discomfort if someone mentions an uncomfortable topic and they might even laugh to mask that discomfort. Here is a guideline we created to help children and teens understand some of the conversation pitfalls that they should avoid.
Note: For all of these topics, having a respectful conversation in the appropriate setting is fine. We are referring to “jokes” or flippant comments regarding these topics in a casual social environment.
Creepy Talk – we coined this term for comments that include guns, fights, wars, or aspects of our lives that are generally deemed sacred (cemeteries, death, etc.), alarming news topics, killings, or school shootings.
Topics to Avoid – Politics, political affiliation, money, religion, physical appearance, disability, LBGTQ, adoption.
Harsh/Offensive Language – Sucks, stupid, idiot, shut up, swearing, the r-word or any derogatory comments about those who are different from them, some slang.
Attention Seeking Comments – Inappropriate content or “locker room” talk, any crazy story that you make bigger to impress others, use of drugs, drinking, smoking, vaping.
Humor that Insults – Comments that disparage others, putting others down for entertainment, and laughing at others rather than with them.
This guide is a framework for those with social challenges to be used within the context of differing situations. As an example, hanging out with your teen friends versus meeting your girlfriend or boyfriend’s parents for the first time, are very different scenarios. For those who have trouble discerning when to use a certain type of language in a given social situation, it is best to err on the side of caution, so as not to offend potential friends.