Sarcasm is widely used and enjoyed. Some families employ it regularly in their homefront banter. Some people use sarcasm as a tool to defuse tense situations (arguably dangerous though it may be).

Since it is used by so many, it is easy to see why people would think it an ok thing and not so harmful. However, when you take a look at how adults use sarcasm vs. how teenagers and children use sarcasm, you begin to see a difference worth exploring.

Sarcasm as Humor

Adults use sarcasm, mostly, as humor. It may be in a playful joking way with friends or family. It could be to lighten the mood of a sticky situation. Sarcasm, when used in a healthy way by an adult, can be a harmless form of communication. Adults can, and do, use sarcasm in harmful ways, just not as the norm.

Sarcasm to Destroy

Teenagers, and even children, do use sarcasm. But look at how it is used. The majority of the teenagers (and children) use sarcasm to slice and dice someone, to tear them down. Very rarely is it used as humor.

Teenagers, let alone children, don’t get sarcasm. One view is that as children observe the communication patterns of the adults around them, they mimic those patterns in an attempt to communicate in the same way, and gain approval from the adult(s). Since they don’t have as much experience communicating responsibly yet, they tend to do so in extremes. So what is humorous to adults now becomes a weapon to a child. And with a still developing brain, their ability to manage judgment and impact on others is limited.

Once I learned this, it changed how I interact with teenagers (many of my clients through the years) and the use of sarcasm. Parents need to know how their communication patterns, healthy or unhealthy, are perceived by their children.


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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