Young children are often described as “innocent” – which is (more often than we like to admit) just a polite way of saying they’re a bit dumb.
It’s not their fault of course. At age zero, children are empty vessels that take years to fill with knowledge, common sense and a sound understanding that other living creatures require the exact number of limbs they were born with. The world is a big old place, and kids have a lot of catching up to do before they can be trusted to display behaviour in public that wouldn’t get any normal-sized person arrested.
Many parents like to romanticise these early stages of development. We see their innocence as a buffer that protects them from the often harsh realities of life during the early stages of being human. Their naivety is often adorable, entertaining and sometimes even enlightening, with its own brand of warped wisdom.
And then there are parents who take advantage of their children’s innocence by pranking them for their own amusement. A hilarious (and sometimes heart-melting) example of this is comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s YouTube Challenge
, in which he asks parents to video their children’s reactions when they tell them, “Last night I ate all your Halloween candy”.
The kids’ wretched wails of shock, grief and loss are entertaining because firstly – and let’s be honest here – they’re not our
kids; and secondly, because immediately after recording their reactions the children are told that it was just a joke and their Halloween sweeties are returned.
But I have to wonder: isn’t this just a little bit cruel? Is it morally acceptable for parents to deceive their children purely for the fun of it?
I’m not sure – but it certainly is ethically acceptable. Parents everywhere lie to their kids all the time. Just for the Hell of it. When I was a kid, my dad told me that the sound of thunder is caused by two clouds bumping into each other. He also told me the wrong names for things because he thought it was cute (for example, he told me traffic cops were called “trappy stops”, because they trap you and stop you). Yes, I was raised by the original Troll Dad
. What a bastard.
Now my father intended no malice, and he was a reasonably efficient parent when he wasn’t talking total bullshit. But as I grew older I learnt to take every explanation he offered with a huge pinch of salt. Actually, I think he may have planted the seed of scepticism that blooms in me today, and for that I have to thank him.
But although it looks like a lot of fun, I don’t think I could bring myself to do it. My (lapsed) Catholic guilt has made terrible at lying and also, I suspect that using deceit for entertainment’s sake is perhaps not the best way to forge a trusting relationship with a new person who relies on me to make sense out of a crazy world.
And that includes the most traditional of all parental pranking, namely the Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas
and the Easter Bunny. Sure, I’ll tell them all about it, and give them all the presents and chocolate eggs their greedy hearts require, but I’ll also remind them not to tell their friends that it’s all made-up crap. I’ll let them be the pranksters in their own little world.
Do you think seemingly innocent pranks on your kids are harmful?
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