The use of insults at a young age improves social skills and helps children develop a sense of humour, it was claimed.
Dr Erin Heerey, a psychologist at Bangor University, North Wales, also said "play fighting" gives pupils the chance to tell the difference between real and pretend violence. The comments came as children across the UK returned to school following the Christmas holidays.
Experts fear discipline is deteriorating in primary schools as increasing numbers of children are suspended for bad behaviour.
But Dr Heerey insisted that teasing and nicknames were an "essential part of life" and should not automatically be confused with bullying.
She said that personal nicknames such as "lurch", "shorty" or "chubs" could make children more popular in the long run.
"If everybody's smiling there's no reason to step in and stop it," she said. "The children are learning about social norms and how to interact with each other."
Teasing helps children to discover how to use their bodies, voices and faces to communicate nuances of meaning, she added.
Dr Heerey said: "I think it takes a while for kids to gain proficiency. You can watch teenagers queuing up to buy a movie ticket and they banter with one another. They say really horrible things to one but they are all laughing and it's all fun."
The academic - an American - carried out recent research into the role that teasing plays in US college fraternities.
It found older students mocked newcomers with crude nicknames about drunkenness and other failings in a way that encouraged them to change their behaviour and helped group bonding.
The study - with Dacher Keltner of California University - found that these "playful humiliations" led to people becoming better friends.
When the researchers revisited the group two years later, students who had been the butt of jokes were in leadership positions and playing the same role of passing on social norms.
She said: "It's absolutely essential in building teams. In my workplace people engage in these teasing, bantering, off-record comments all the time.
"It allows people to get along and build better relationships with one another."
Dr Heerey, originally from Wisconsin, said British people seemed more serious with their teasing than Americans.
She said: "People will say something outlandish with a totally straight face. But people in Britain poke fun at themselves a little bit more than Americans.
"As an American, you're expecting to see these non-verbal cues that say 'I'm joking' but you don't see them - but they are there and you just have to look a little closer." (By Graeme Paton, Education Editor)