No Offense, But…
“No Offense” and “Just Kidding” certainly aren’t new phrases to the teen girl vocabulary. Heck, I remember girls throwing them around when I was in middle school! Girls, and sometimes parents, have used these phrases for years as a way of saying what they want to say, no matter how hurtful or mean, without having to apologize for it. They are “get out of jail free cards.” In The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons articulates this phenomenon perfectly:
“The phrases are verbal fulcrums, feeble attempts to balance girls’ need to tell the truth with the need to be seen as Good. When someone says “just kidding” or “no offense,” the listener is expected to agree without comment. Resist and she will hear some version of the script countless kids have been cornered with: “What’s your problem? Can’t you take a joke? Don’t be so sensitive, chill out!” The person with the problem is silenced, and she learns that refusing to go along with the “joke” means losing her spot in the group.” (p. 64)
Although these phrases appear harmless on the surface, they have serious consequences. The logic follows: if I didn’t mean to offend you, then my comment couldn’t have hurt you. If I was just joking, you can’t take my comment seriously. Thus, these phrases create a system among girls where no one is held accountable for hurtful digs and jabs. Subtly disregarding another’s feelings in order to save face is hardly a dignified tactic. Using these phrases allows and perpetuates a habit of not taking personal responsibility for how one’s actions impact another.
Let’s erase “just kidding” and “no offense” from our girls’ vocabulary, and teach them to speak honestly, with integrity. The old adages “Think before you speak” and “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” are great rules of thumb here. Taking the time to consider how your words might affect someone before you say them is a sign of real respect in a friendship. And, choosing your words and your tone wisely allows you to make your point effectively without causing major damage to the friendship.