A research expert says dad jokes aren’t just delightful, they’re great for child development
What’s brown and sticky? A stick.
How do you get a country girl’s attention? A tractor.
My wife asked me to stop singing “Wonderwall” to her. I said maybe…
Dad jokes tend to be simple, inoffensive attempts at humor that are often puns and never funny. Except, of course, to the dad who tells them. But he usually gets more of a kick out of the embarrassment it caused his children than the joke itself.
According to a new essay, that’s the exact point.
Marc Hye-Knudsen, a humor researcher and the lab manager at Aarhus University’s Cognition and Behavior Lab, wrote an article in the British Psychological Society that explains how dad jokes teach children how to be resilient.
The article’s title is an embarrassing dad joke in and of itself: “Dad jokes? That’s the way eye roll…”
In the article, Hye-Knudson shows how dad jokes are an extension of a father’s more aggressive parenting style. Dads are often the parent to initiate playfighting, which seems social at first glance, but on a deeper level, helps to train kids to be stronger, more resilient and discover personal boundaries.
In the same way, dad jokes work to teach children how to handle embarrassing situations for themselves and their parents.
“Ideally, fathers’ rougher style of joking fulfills a similar function: by teasingly striking at their children’s egos and emotions without teetering over into bullying, fathers build their children’s resilience and train them to withstand minor attacks and bouts of negative emotion without getting worked up or acting out, teaching them impulse control and emotional regulation,” Hye-Knudson quotes Dr. Peter Gray.
This badgering is even more helpful when children reach adolescence and are more prone to embarrassment. “In this sense, dad jokes may have a positive pedagogical effect, toughening up the kids who are begrudgingly exposed to them,” Hye-Knudson writes.
The term “dad joke” may have originated in America, but the same concept exists in other cultures, suggesting that the parenting strategy may be deeply rooted in human psychology.
In addition to toughening up children by exposing them to embarrassment, it also shows a willingness to be embarrassed on the dad’s behalf. This is another way for a father to model how to handle embarrassment and show that it’s not that big of a deal to be the butt of a joke.
The joke makes the subtle point to the child that if an adult can handle mild humiliation, they can, too.
Ultimately, the dad joke appears to be a way for fathers to teach their kids that it’s OK to put yourself out there in the world without worrying about what other people think. And, if you happen to fail, that’s OK; get back on the proverbial horse and try again. It’s a valuable lesson for kids because resilience will play a big role in the child’s future success, whether in relationships, creativity or professional life.
“By continually telling their children jokes that are so bad that they’re embarrassing, fathers may push their children’s limits for how much embarrassment they can handle,” Hye-Knudson writes. “They show their children that embarrassment isn’t fatal.”
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