While on tour this fall one of the most common questions I get from middle schoolers after giving an assembly is…
“Mr. Jeff, can I roast you?”  While roasting isn’t new, it’s making a comeback and, instead of being a fun form of comedy, students are sometimes using #RoastMe to cyberbully peers online.  While this may sound horrible, I believe it’s because this generation has taken “roasting” out of context and turned it into something entirely different.

Why Roast Someone?

Typically roasting is done by students that are simply trying to be funny.  Most students don’t want to emotionally hurt someone but rather they are attempting to gain their own popularity and applause by imitating shows like “Comedy Central Roast”.  

Why insult someone?  If you think about it, insults are funny.  Many forms of entertainment are based on humor at someone else’s expense.  There’s no such thing as a funny compliment.  No wonder students who want to gain popularity are turning to roasting as a ‘fun’ way to get the attention of their peers.  They know it will earn them some laughs.

Is Roasting Emotionally Damaging?

Whether a “roast” will hurt someone is subjective.  It’s really up to the individual and greatly depends on their level of socio-emotional resilience.  People that are resilient can handle a joke made at their expense and often laugh it off.  Think I’m crazy?  Just imagine how out of control the old “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts” and the roasts on Comedy Central would be today if the individual in the hot seat got upset everytime someone insulted them.

Recently, ABC’s Good Morning America did a segment on Roasting in which they suggested that roasting is damaging to the mental health of children and adolescents.  They focused more on using roasting as a form of social aggression/dominance behavior (often refered to as “cyberbullying”).  When asked why students might ask others to roast them, Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz said “It’s a self-destructive behavior.  Usually underlying self-destruction is the feeling that “I deserve it somehow”.  There’s often underlying depression, anxiety, or there may be a group who feels so left out of things – so on the fringe and shunned that they’d rather be the target than not be in at all.  Negative attention is better than no attention.”  I estimate is that this is a small subset of students and should not represent students engaging in this behavior, as a whole.

How Should Students Respond?

To illustrate this, I reached out to students on my email list from across the country over the last week and asked them to #RoastMe.  The purpose of this was to teach them the following…

1. Words only have the power that you give them.
2. It’s okay to make/take a joke about yourself in good fun.
3. Differentiate roasting from “cyberbullying”
4. Teach how to respond to someone who is being mean online.

Some students responded to my email with insults (and rather creative ones).  Others replied by saying that they didn’t want to be mean.  This experiment gave me a chance to have further conversations with these students about the difference of laughing WITH someone and laughing AT someone.

Students Roast Jeff Veley

Roasting is a Teaching Opportunity

Like many things, roasting is likely a trend that will linger for a while and then disappear.  Rather than freaking out or trying to eliminate it, I believe that the best respond is to view it as a teaching opportunity.  If your student sees roasting online, use it as a discussion starter.

Ask questions like…
1. How do you feel when you see people being roasted?
2. What’s the difference between someone asking to get roasted versus someone posting a picture of someone and starting a roast without their permission?
3. How would you respond if someone roasted you?
4. What might happen if you ask people to roast you?

When we teach our children how to be resilient and respond when people are mean, we are equipping them with social and emotional coping skills that can serve them for a lifetime.  While roasting may/may not be fun if you’re the butt of the jokes, it does give us a chance to teach resilience, empathy, and how to use humor appropriately.

The Rules of Roasting

Looking at the history of roasting, all roasts have three things in common that I believe many students are missing.

1. Only roast your friends, if they ask
2. Roasts happen in person, not online
3. Everyone laughs and finds it funny (even the person getting roasted)

An excellent example roasting.  Notice both sisters are laughing.

How to Respond to Cyberbullying

Use the Peace Sign Approach
1. Understand it’s dominance behavior – a power game.  The person being mean can only have power over you if you get upset.  This simplifies the behavior and helps students understand how to “win” when someone is mean.
2. Don’t Get Upset – By staying calm, your enemy will have no power over and will find that they are unable to upset you.  The insult game becomes no fun for them.  Anger is ammunition.  Be resilient and don’t fight back.  You’ll rise above their hatred and win.
3. Treat Them Like a Friend – Your enemy will become confused when you respond to their insults with compliments.  It will make you appear strong, even if you don’t feel strong on the inside.  Kindness causes confusion in the face of adversity.

It’s nearly impossible to continue being mean to someone who is calm and kind while being insulted.  The aggressor quickly looks foolish and realizes that they are losing.

Over 90% of students report that bullying stops or dramatically decreases after using the “Peace Sign Approach” for only one week.  It is an extremely effective approach for cyberbullying which empowers students with social and emotional coping skills.