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Commentary: Why do people insist on playing pranks that are dangerous?

A Malaysian child actress fractured her hip bone in an alleged chair-pulling prank last month. At what point does a prank go too far? Yong Qiao Qing, whose daughters have multiple food allergies, shudders to think of the possible deadly consequences if her children are subjected to “harmless” food pranks.

Commentary: Why do people insist on playing pranks that are dangerous?

Puteri Rafasya, 12, fell on her back after the chair she was about to sit on was pulled by another child in a supposed prank. (Photo: Instagram/puterirafasya1)

SINGAPORE: Harmless pranks. We’ve all done them before as children and teenagers. They often involve a surprise or a joke that is meant to be funny, and is done with the intention of making people laugh.

Even as adults, many take delight in watching videos of people being pranked. A simple search for #pranks yields nearly 70 billion views on TikTok and more than a million posts on Instagram.

People may enjoy playing pranks for various reasons. For some, it may be a way to relieve boredom. For others, it may be a way to seek attention or gain social approval.

However, when does pranking become bullying? And who should take responsibility when an innocent prank crosses the line and results in serious consequences? How can pranksters make sure their actions do not humiliate or cause harm to others?

In February, a Malaysian child actress was seriously injured in an alleged chair-pulling prank. The girl fell and fractured her hip bone after the chair she was about to sit on was pulled back by another child. In the days that followed, the girl had to wear diapers and was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or sit.

Parents were up in arms when the story broke. Angry commenters called the prankster a bully, and many called for the prankster’s family to be punished.

In another incident earlier this month, Thor actor Chris Hemsworth and his wife were called out after one of their twin boys had his head pushed face-first into chocolate cake during their 9th birthday party.

“Only one way to eat cake in this house and that’s to have mum slam your head into it face first!!,” Hemsworth wrote on Twitter.

Some people said the prank was violent, others said it was a bit of harmless fun.

But truth be told, how many of us are guilty of having played the same pranks on others when we were young? Were we bullies too? Or were we just foolishly lucky to have not injured someone seriously?

As a mother to two young daughters with special medical needs, my feathers are quickly ruffled whenever I read about other children being hurt.


Why do children enjoy playing pranks? Dr Daniel Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and author of The Whole-Brain Child describes the brain as a two-storey house.

A child’s “downstairs” brain is fully constructed at birth and controls primitive functions such as breathing and fight-or-flight responses. The “upstairs” brain controls higher level thinking such as decision-making, and empathy remains under construction throughout childhood and adolescence.

This is why children and teenagers find it hard to consider things from another person’s point of view. Pranksters live in the present and do not consider the possible chain of consequences when they are focused on having fun.

Teenagers have always craved social belonging and validation. Today, our teens seek such validation through social media “likes” and “follows”. These likes can cloud their ability to discern between good and bad behaviours. Content that may initially look dangerous or silly can quickly seem acceptable once many people start liking them.

In 2020, a viral challenge on TikTok called the skull-breaker landed many youngsters in hospital. The challenge involved two people tricking a friend to jump in the air before kicking that person’s legs from under him or her, causing the victim to fall backwards. There are multiple reports of victims who sustained severe spinal or head injuries because of the prank.

In many of the videos, the pranksters’ immediate shock and regret is evident when they see their friend land on their head or back.


In 2019, three students in Ohio played a cruel prank on a teacher with a known severe allergy to bananas. The pranksters smeared banana on the door knob of the teacher’s classroom and threw the fruit at her, causing her to go into anaphylactic shock. She struggled to breathe despite being administered an EpiPen and was rushed to the hospital where she eventually made a full recovery.

In Singapore, food allergy families have shared accounts of their children’s schoolmates waving food allergens in front of them or threatening to contaminate the safe food they were eating.

Unfortunately, these acts usually go unnoticed by teachers because nobody thinks that throwing food around can lead to serious health issues.

These stories keep me up at night because both my daughters have multiple food allergies. My three-year-old was once hospitalised because she licked a slice of bread that she was allergic to. It scares me to think of the possible deadly consequences if she is ever subjected to “harmless” food pranks.


What can parents do to educate their children on dangerous pranks? If you found out that your child had participated in a dangerous prank, how would you respond?

According to Jacinth Liew, parenting coach and founder of Our Little Play Nest, instead of telling children what they should or should not do, parents can invite them to think about the consequences of their actions. By involving children in critical thinking, it becomes good practice for them to learn how to differentiate between games in the name of fun and those that can cause harm.

Every parent can attest to the heartbreak and anger when your child tells you that he or she has been treated unkindly.

Because both my daughters have very visible eczema rash on their skin, they have been subject to rude comments or unknowingly hurtful behaviours from others. Knowing that we cannot always be around to stand up for them, my husband and I have taught our daughters to speak up for themselves. We rehearse with our girls that if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, they should speak up in a firm voice, “Stop it. I do not like that!”

By the time we reach adulthood, many of us would have stopped enjoying pranks because we learn how to have empathy for others.

But before children can fully comprehend empathy, they need to first be aware of feelings.

We can teach children to identify and express different feelings instead of dismissing or downplaying their emotions. Only when children are aware of their own feelings can they identify that of the people around them. Parents can also help children develop empathy by talking about scenarios and ask questions like, “If you were the boy who was pranked, how would you feel?”


A famous quote by author LR Knost goes: “It’s not our job to toughen children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”

Our work to build a kinder world never ends. Let us hope that our children will have it easier than we did.

Yong Qiao Qing is a mother-of-two and founder of Little Warriors, an online business that specialises in clothes for children with sensitive skin.

Source: CNA/aj


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