Bored of Banter? When Banter Turns to Bullying

Banter can be harmless fun but it's also become an excuse for bullying or saying offensive things. Where's the line between banter and bullying?

One friend makes a joke to another.

Sick of being told you're just too sensitive?

“It’s just bants mate. Can’t you take a joke?”

Urg, we’ve all heard that one before. Whether you’ve been on the receiving end of offensive ‘banter’ or you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable by disrespectful comments about other people, it’s important to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. We’re here to help you navigate the murky world of banter.

There’s a fine line between banter and bullying  

Banter can be harmless. Perhaps a mate makes a light-hearted joke about how long it takes you to get ready for a night out or you mock-argue about who supports the best football team. This form of banter is often affectionate and a sign that someone feels comfortable around you.

But if banter is relentless, one-sided, particularly personal or outright nasty, that’s when it turns to bullying. Those people dishing out the banter will often defend their comments by telling you you’re being sensitive. But if something makes you feel uncomfortable, respect that feeling by doing something about it. Here are things you can do as an alternative to awkwardly laughing off nasty comments:  

  • If the banterer in question is your mate, try talking to them. Tell them straight up you don’t find the comments they’re making funny and you wish they’d stop. If they respond by saying you’re sensitive or even worse by telling you to “man up”, try something like “if you’re my mate, you’ll respect the way I feel and you’ll stop.”  
  • Don’t keep it to yourself. By doing so, your banter bully is getting away with harassment. If you’re at school, try telling a teacher or someone else in a position of authority. If you’re at work, try telling your boss or HR.
  • If the unwanted banter is taking place online, keep a record of what is being said, take screenshots and save nasty messages. This can be used to prove that banter is more than just a joke.
  • If the banter relates to the colour of your skin, your religion or your sexual orientation this could be considered a hate crime by law. Read our article on how to deal with hate crime.
  • Work on your self-esteem and don’t let bad banter grind you down. You don’t deserve to feel uncomfortable or hurt by these comments.

Dodgy online banter

The other kind of banter you may have come across – usually on private messaging platforms like WhatsApp – is the sharing of intentionally offensive ‘banter’ like violent videos, racist comments, jokes about rape and other such dodgy content. Because these groups aren’t IRL, they become a safe space for people to say what they like with the intention of shocking.

Dodgy chat groups are often defended as being ‘harmless banter’ but in reality they’re cruel and they perpetuate phobic attitudes. If you’re thinking about sharing offensive content online or you’re in a group where other people are doing it, consider this…

  • Don’t feel the pressure to join in just because your mates do it. It’s far stronger (and cooler) to stand up for your values. People will respect you for doing this (even if your mates don’t initially.)
  • Before making a sexist, racist or ableist joke, imagine sending or saying these things to your mum, a person of colour or someone with a disability. How does that make you feel?
  • Know the consequences of the comments you’re making. It’s becoming more common for hateful chat groups to be exposed and as a result, people have lost their jobs, been expelled from university and gotten into sticky situations with the law.
  • If you’re offended by something you’ve seen online, report it to the social platform you’ve seen it on and read our article on how to stay safe online.


Next Steps

  • Being Mankind is a project creating conversations about the unique issues that men and boys face in the 21st Century.
  • BullyingUK offers advice and support to victims of bullying. Call on 0808 800 2222.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 26-Feb-2019