Last night, Jimmy Kimmel (dressed as Mr. Kotter from Welcome Back Kotter) announced that for the eighth year in a row, his show would be continuing one of their go-to Halloween pranks: Recruiting parents to tell their kids that they ate all their Halloween candy while they were sleeping. We love Kimmel, but this mean-spirited segment has to end.
Kimmel is a notorious prankster and the candy prank may be his most popular recurring gag. The videos from the last seven years have a combined total of nearly 200 million views. But the fact is, as some have rightfully pointed out, asking parents to lie to their kids to make strangers laugh is a pretty terrible tactic that does more harm than good.
The purposeful deception around which this prank revolves might seem harmless. But child psychiatrist Meg van Achterberg believes parents lying to little kids could have longterm effects. According to Achterberg, kids in the video aren’t crying because of the loss of candy, they’re crying because of “a sense of betrayal that will linger long after their parents own up to the joke.”
Plenty of people might disagree with Achterberg and even accuse her of being overly cautious. But it’s difficult to argue with her assessment when you go back and watch some of the old videos. Are they funny? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t also cruel. For the video to work, a child can’t just be sad, they need to be devastated. And so parents will go all out to make sure they have properly traumatized their kid to hopefully get on Kimmel. As a result, we all become conditioned to laugh at this kid’s pain, forgetting that this is a developing human being who really felt this immense sadness.
And yes, in the end, the parents reveal that they did not actually eat their kid’s candy. But a kid’s trust is a sacred thing and parents shouldn’t be so willing to play with that trust just to pull a prank for a bunch of strangers. Hopefully, this tradition dies off sooner rather than later and Kimmel can stick to good old-fashioned pranks, like kids pushing their dads in the pool on Father’s Day.