The Humanist Dilemma: Since When Is It OK to Play Cruel Jokes on Little Kids?

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Trick No Treat For Kids: Every year, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel does this thing after Halloween where he has parents tell their young kids that they ate all their candy, and then the parents send in videos of the resulting meltdowns. Although I can see the humor in it, I am much more appalled than amused by how deeply distressed the kids are—and what a misguided thing this is for parents to do to their own young children.

I know many people express their objections, yet Kimmel continues to do it, and the segment continues to get lots of airtime in replays beyond his show (which, of course, is why he keeps doing it). Can anything be done to stop it?

— Kimmel Critic


Dear Kimmel Critic,

I feel exactly as you do. I really enjoy Jimmy Kimmel, except for this segment (and Unnecessary Censorship, which I find unnecessary, and anything about the Bachelorette​). And I totally support what he’s said about affordable care, gun control, and giving aid to disaster victims. But​ I considered not running this question, as it may propel anyone not already familiar to watch just to see what we’re talking about, or​ Google the clips and thereby bestow more clicks (so no links here—I’m not gonna make it easy).

I have very limited tolerance for “practical jokes” when they cause real emotional or physical damage under the guise of “harmless fun,” which this one does, even if no life-threatening injuries result. Some of the kids do hurl themselves to the floor or try to hit their parents, but most just wail piteously, crumple in despair, or, even worse, bravely suck up their obvious disappointment (“I still love you anyway” they say, choking back tears​).

No matter how quickly the parents reveal it’s just a joke, the damage is already done. Not only have the children experienced the trauma of their parents’ double-whammy betrayal (first the claim that they polished off their candy, then the confession that they lied), they also learn that their parents would subject them to this emotional roller coaster just so they could send Kimmel a video the world can laugh at, at their children’s​ expense. What kind of parenting is that?

Someone suggested the kids should tell their parents they drank all their booze, but I don’t think that’s the answer. One of the kids last year wasn’t fooled, because he had heard about the prank. So maybe what we all need to do is tell every little kid we see that if their parents tell them they ate all their candy, maybe it’s just a game they’re playing with a man on TV. If there are no more “entertaining” reaction clips to air, there will be no more incentive to keep doing this year after year. There are better ways to rack up viewers and laughs.