Prank No More

Why Pranking Your Kid Is Dumb And Dangerous

No matter how many page views or how many comments or how many followers it garners, nothing can redeem or justify pranking your kid.

Photographed by Sheed/Moment/Getty Images

I love the Internet because I can order dinner without speaking to anyone and also because now traffic is a good thing. I hate it because of prank culture. Pranks have existed, of course, ever since the serpent was like, “Eat this apple!” and Eve did and the serpent was like, “It’s just a prank, bro.” And it’s gone down hill since. The advent of Vine in 2012, with its six-second video — a perfect time frame to show a reaction with none of the consequence — was the real point of inflection. But when Vine withered, in January 2017, prank culture transferred to YouTube. Thus trash people like Logan and Jake Paul became celebrities, raking in millions of dollars in pranks. From this odiferous morass of human ignorance came the most toxic of variations: the dad prank.

A dad prank, in the sense that I mean it, isn’t a child pranking his or her (though usually his, since pranking like prostate cancer almost an exclusively male affliction) father, but a father pranking his son or daughter. Just as there are circles in Dante’s Inferno, there are degrees in dad pranks. Some seem relatively harmless — remember that Dad who wrote a fake rejection to his daughter because she cheated at Mario Kart or the other dad who “pranked” his kid replacing mayonnaise with vanilla pudding and eating it, much to the horror of his offspring? Both of those are silly but not insidious. Why? In the case of the rejection letter, because it was so clear that the prank was a prank. In the case of the pudding-cum-mayo, it’s because no harm was being inflicted upon the children, other than being grossed out by their dad, which happens naturally anyway.

But the vast majority of dad pranks are dumb and sadistic and dads shouldn’t do them. No less an esteemed, if not a smite sanctimonious, personage than Jimmy Kimmel is guilty of these. These sorts of dad pranks, like Kimmel’s famous “Youtube Challenge: I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy,” where he asked parents to film themselves pretend confessing to their kids that they ate all their candy and aired the devastating results, rely on betraying a child’s trust which is, in the hierarchy of shitty things a father can do, pretty high up there.

This is why dad pranks are even worse than normal pranks. In a normal prank, the prankee and the pranker have a more or less neutral relationship. You’ll never hear me defending that towheaded pustule Logan Paul but for the most part his victims — when they’re alive — are just his fellow human beings. But in a parental relationship, the prankee isn’t a fellow human being. It’s your fucking kids, the little beings for whom their relationship and ability to trust you will effect how they exist in this world. Hahaha. Just kidding, the raccoon is just taxidermied and that video of a monster popping out of the sand is make-believe! But the the trauma lives on.

And anyone calls me out for getting all outraged by Youtube videos, think about it from the kids point of view. There’s two possibilities here. The first, I guess the better, option is that they don’t give a fuck about views. To them this is just their father proving that he doesn’t care about their fear or their feelings of foolishness or their pain. (For fear, shame and pain are the Holy Trinity of pranks.) And added to this sense of betrayal is the fury at knowing that he betrayed them for his own fame. They were just currency, chits to cash in, chattel to be flogged for views. The second option is even more depressing, that a kid already internalizes that getting views and gaining followers is an end that justifies all means, even if it is their own pranking.

A colleague of mine once suggested that “pranks and tricks can be a meaningful and productive part of play.” But I would argue, a prank — especially a Dad Prank — is by definition harmful. (A joke, on the other hand isn’t.) It’s the difference between magic and a con. And no matter how many page views or how many comments or how many followers it garners, nothing can redeem or justify pranking your kid.