The Other Thing About Parental Pranks

[Content Note: Pranks; hostility to consent.]

Parents—or other older family members, guardians, adult friends of the family—playing pranks on kids is not merely a grave breach of trust. It is also a dangerous communication—even if an unintentional one—that consent doesn't matter.

Kids who are taught by the adults they are meant to trust that consent doesn't matter are more likely to themselves be hostile to other people's consent. It's tough to, for example, convincingly teach your kid not to bully other kids while simultaneously teaching your kid that whether someone wants something done to them doesn't matter, as long as it's "funny."

And kids who are taught that consent doesn't matter are also more likely to have difficulty drawing boundaries for themselves, because they haven't learned they're even allowed to have inviolable boundaries. Particularly if a child's protests to pranking have been met with shaming that implies they're humorless or oversensitive or unfun, a child will also learn that speaking up on one's own behalf, in one's own defense, will yield more harm, rather than less.

Certainly, there are people who were pranked by their parents as kids who feel quite strongly they enjoyed the familial pranks and have no lasting effects from it. And maybe that is absolutely true for every one of those people, and maybe some of those people are less respectful of others' boundaries than they have really investigated. Either way, it's irrelevant.

The point is that parental pranking stands to communicate to a child that consent doesn't matter. And that is a very dangerous message to convey to anyone. Ever.

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