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No joke

February 11, 2014 - Betsy Bethel
There are few things that get my dander up more quickly and thoroughly than pranks. I have absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to practical jokes and pranks. When I hear about one or even watch it in a movie, my heart feels squeezed and my neck hairs stand at attention. I usually avert my eyes the moment the victim's world comes crashing down. The pain. The shame. It's unbearable. It should never have happened.

Now it seems prank-playing is an Olympic sport. There are movies and TV shows devoted entirely to people getting one over on unsuspecting victims. Is it any wonder some very young children today think playing pranks is funny and OK? We are desensitizing them. I have heard of elementary age kids pulling stunts on their parents, younger siblings and classmates (although I'm sure siblings have been doing this since the very first family). I know groups of older kids are out there just like the ones I knew in high school, thinking it's OK to TP someone's house or rig a locker to spill its contents when opened. What is the difference between this behavior and bullying?

I'm sure part of my aversion is because I had a practical joke played on me once as a young teen, perpetrated by an older boy who thought it would be funny to pretend he was going to kiss me and then humiliate me instead. His friends were hiding in the bushes and came out laughing and high-fiving him. But that's not the only reason I hate these jokes. In my opinion, not having respect for another person and their feelings is wrong. Plain and simple. It really makes me see red! (If I were dropped into the world of Veronica Roth's "Divergent," I think I might belong in either the Abnegation or Amity faction.)

I know, however, that empathy is a quality that doesn't come naturally to most people. It has to be learned. And at the same time, some people are born with thinner skin than others and it would behoove them to form some callouses.

Slapping on the knee-jerk labels of "bully" and "victim" is not the answer either. If there is a known pattern of egregious behavior, that's different. But when they're young, that's the time for our children to learn — to learn what empathy is AND to grow the thicker skins they'll need in order to survive in this world. Although it's hard for me to admit, I do believe a young child should be allowed to test the limits and make mistakes, to discover for themselves what is and isn't OK. As much as I hate pranks, perhaps my zero tolerance of them is unreasonable.

We are all different. Our children are all different. There are pranksters among us, among them. And I am pretty sure I am in the minority in how I feel about them. I think the best we parents can do is be models of good behavior and try to be understanding and non-judgmental of all our children. And, dare I say it, maybe we — I — could loosen up, just a little?

We can't — and shouldn't — change what our kids are made of — whether they have funny bones or thin skins. But we as parents CAN give them a firm foundation, one made of love and rock-solid support. And we can help them learn to use their God-given materials to build a life that makes them happy and proud, a life that includes giving and receiving love, a life that does not involve putting others down in order to feel good.


Article Comments

Feb-20-14 9:13 AM

I really get what you are saying and have seen that often too. The key ingredient to pulling a "prank" on someone is that you must not like them very and want them to be humiliated or to sense fear. That is aggressive behavior not friendly fun. I recall a co worker who had a fear of birds. Yeah I know that is odd but we all fear something and she was afraid of birds. On her birthday a co worker put a fake parakeet in a box, wrapped it up with a card. People got her cards and a cake, it was nice. She opened the box and became hysterical and eventually passed out falling to the floor. An ambulance was called and she was taken to the hospital to help her control her erratic breathing. The co worker kept saying it was just a prank. Pranking is ugly conduct but is portrayed now in the pop culture as being funny. Seldom is it funny since harming someone or causing fear is the goal. BTW the woman's son ran into the guy in a sports bar and pranked him by punching in the nose.


Feb-13-14 10:08 AM

Good blog. I'm worried about pranks as well. Do a search on the word "agsaf"


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