The Clock Goes TikTok For Prankster Parents
It might seem all fun and games to prank your kids online, but these videos are more damaging than you might think.
Patrick Lenton says:
“If there is one thing that I enjoy, it is bewildered children, being mildly inconvenienced and scared, all for my own personal viewing pleasure.”
I’m sure there are millions of other meanies lining up around the proverbial block to high-five the Australia-based writer on his 2019 Junkee article toasting a “sadistic TikTok mother” who literally can’t stop pranking her “gormless progeny.” And I’m also sure that same lot would happily queue for a little longer to blow a raspberry in my face. Why? Because I can’t stand it.
I’m not just a giant party pooper though. I’ve seen plenty of videos by the likes of Felicity Kane, the focus of Lenton’s article, and I’d be lying if I said some of them hadn’t managed to raise the tiniest of smiles — I am human, after all. But I always quickly move beyond any amusement because, ultimately, I abhor parents using pranks on their kids.
I especially hate when these “influencers” (I shudder at the word) do what they do for financial gain, which is usually the case. They’re basically exploiting their children, and often also their spouses or partners, in the name of followers, views and — above all else — money.
A number of them make plenty of the stuff too and in lots of different ways. On TikTok, for instance, content creators can rake in cash through advertising deals with brands and monetary “gifts” from users. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, a single branded video can earn anywhere between $200-$20,000.
Lenton calls Kane a “genial psychopath.” I’ve long thought the same about Hannibal Lecter, so what does that tell you? That’s right, we’ve got another Chianti drinker on our hands! Lenton also jokes that Kane’s kids:
“are gonna be unpacking [their mum’s handiwork] in therapy for years to come.”
The truth is, they might very well be.
A friend recently told me that he bought a new TV, controllable through a smartphone app. One evening, for a good 10–15 minutes, he messed with his son, who, in charge of the remote and unaware of the app, was at his wit’s end trying to figure out why the TV kept shutting down or returning to the main menu. When the reveal came, the 10-year-old was legitimately devastated. What my colleague had initially thought would be hilarious genuinely hurt his little boy, who felt like a fool and sulked for hours afterwards.
If a prank like this, at the more gentle end of the scale, can cause such a strong reaction, imagine the emotional damage more complex scenarios could lead to.
I’m sure a handful of readers will accuse me of being overly dramatic, but I know from studying psychology, as well as being a parent, that trust is unbelievably important when it comes to kids. When a parent betrays their child’s trust, even for the sake of a little joke, it can be difficult to repair. This is not only likely to affect the child’s relationship with their parents, but also future relationships with other people. It sets a toxic and often irreversible precedent of wariness and hypervigiliance.
Sounds pretty bad enough as it is, right? It can get a lot worse though. If you throw a camera and Wi-Fi connection into the equation, recording the prank and uploading it on social media, the humiliation is out there for millions to laugh at until the end of time.
If one day, Kane or her fellow tricksters finally realise they’ve made a huge mistake with all the fake-blood-spattered chopping boards and chilli-sauce-laced drinking straws, sure, they can take the videos down. But once that sort of content goes viral, it’s not really going anywhere.
Those videos may no longer be available on their own pages, but by then, they’ve already been shared on thousands of others, praised by fans like Lenton and trashed by sceptics like me. Albeit with noble intentions, just by writing this blog post, I’m helping to secure place of this content in the vast webosphere, and consequently to ensure the digital shadow of the youngsters featured in it never fades.
But I’m not the guilty party here — I didn’t create that online shadow in the first place. The people who did need to open their eyes to the darker side of their seemingly harmless antics. Would they buy a huge motorway billboard and slap on it demeaning images of their children to entertain commuters for the next few decades? No!
Even writing that down sounds like utter madness. So, why do the same on the internet? It’s plain stupid and potentially damaging, particularly if you think about how many employers now routinely trawl through candidates’ social media to assess their character before hiring them.
And I’ve got the law on my side. Back in 2017, a father and stepmother in the US lost custody of their kids after playing pranks on them in a series of Youtube videos. The pranks included pretending one boy had been put up for adoption and smashing another’s video games console, causing the court to return the kids to their biological mother.
An extreme response to especially cut-throat capers, yes, but one that hopefully goes to show this isn’t the playful mischief people appear to think it is. We shouldn’t allow influencers to dress it up as anything better than intentionally upsetting kids for kicks. This just isn’t the right thing as parents and role models who are there to protect their children from exploitation.
Despite my impassioned criticism of online pranks here, I’m not some haughty guardian of misery. I love fun and I want families to have it — only, not at the expense of their little ones, and not for the whole world to see. People should cherish daft moments of humour with their kids, but keep them private —in the end, it’ll be far more valuable than any TikTok cheque.