It’s dark outside. A 14 year old, Jenna, sneaks out of her house.
She’s is meeting a 15-year-old boy named Jason. Jason is very cute and he and Jenna have been chatting online and on the phone. They make plans to spend some time together and agree that Jason’s brother will drive them somewhere private to talk.
Jason’s brother pulls up and she speaks to him before jumping into the front seat of the van. He tells her Jason is in the back. She smiles and seems both nervous and excited to be meeting up with her new admirer.
As soon as Jenna slams the door two people in skull-masks grab her from behind. Jason’s brother grabs her on the arm, his fingers digging in as she screams and struggles wildly. Terrified, she desperately reaches for the door.
Jenna hears a man yelling her name. She doesn’t stop struggling. All her focus is on escaping the people who are holding her captive.
The masks are pulled off. The man yelling her name is Jenna’s father (wearing a #1 Dad jumper). The other person restraining her is her mother.
The couple start yelling at the girl. Her mother screams, “give me your phone!” and snatches it away. Both parents express disappointment in Jenna for being so stupid.
Jenna sits there blankly, huddled against the door. She is processing slowly that her parents have just pretended to kidnap her. They have been part of an elaborate prank to “teach” her about online safety. She accepts her parents’ tirade without saying a word.
The footage is hard to watch (post continues after the video):
It is a part of an online prank in which a man named Cody Persin tricks girls into thinking they have an admirer, then dupes them into a scary scenario to teach them a lesson. Persin has the girls’ parents permission to publicly fool them.
In his latest video, he tricks girls aged 12, 13 and 14 into first thinking that they are chatting with a 15 year old boy, and then convinces them to hand over their home addresses and come out to meet him.
Thirteen year old Mikayla agrees to meet “Jason” in a park near her house. When she gets there, she realises that the man she is meeting is a burly 20-something man and starts to back away. Her father then charges out from behind the bushes, his face red with fury. “Mikayla, are you crazy?” he yells. “Are you out of your mind? He could have been a rapist. He could have been a paedophile. Why would you do this?” Mikayla apologises quietly while her father rants and steers her out of the park.
“Jason” asks to come over and visit 12 year old Juliana while her father is asleep. What she doesn’t know is that her father is actually sitting in the back of “Jason’s” van. Julianna shares her home address with “Jason” and then answers the door when he arrives. She is greeted by her father who yells at her. “How could you do this? You’re only 12!. You could have been raped and murdered!” he yells. “I already lost your mother! What would I do if something happened to you?” Julianna melts into tears.
While the scenarios are fake, there is something very real about these pranks: The girls’ fear.
The girls are truly terrified. And by the end, they are all in tears.
As important as online safety is, it’s hard to imagine that their fear for their lives is justified. What’s more, they have been humiliated publicly (their parents have identified themselves, so it seems unlikely that people will not know the identity of children involved) and they have been manipulated by their parents – the people they should be able to rely on and trust the most.
These videos are nothing short of abusive. There is no doubt that Jenna’s experience was physically abusive, but each of these girls have been emotionally abused by this experience.
There has been a disturbing rise in videos of parents “shaming” their kids in order to teach them a lesson. Every few weeks, a parent’s “discipline” goes viral, as children are branded with their crimes (often literally hung around their necks) and shamed in front of a massive audience. Earlier this year, a 13 year old girl took her own life after her father uploaded a video of him cutting her hair as punishment for breaking family rules.
The experts are clear on this: shaming a child does nothing to deter the behaviour, and may impact them negatively in the long term.
“There’s a lot of evidence showing the very worst thing you can do developmentally for a child…is humiliate them,” said University of Toronto psychology professor, Gary Walters.
“When you look at how children respond to this kind of thing, the kids who have had a lot of humiliation in their life — a lot of attacking of them and what they do, and belittling — fare much worse as adults.
“They’re really self-doubting, they tend to have more a lot more depression. It’s a nasty business…It affects their relationships, how they relate to other people.”
Humiliation as children has particular ramifications for young women, who may find themselves in abusive relationships down the track, “partly,” he said, “because they don’t feel they deserve to be treated any differently.”
The best thing that parents can do, is to sit down with their children and give them a good old fashion talking to. “Kids who have a lot of ‘talking to’ conversations with their caregivers, in general, fare a lot better than the ones who are dealt with more abruptly, either physically or through verbal abuse,” he said.
Any way you cut it, humiliating your children is abusive. Pretending to kidnap them is also physically abusive.
Allowing a man who is known for his elaborate internet pranks to target your child is cruel – and is likely to have ongoing negative impacts for girls at a particularly vulnerable age.
By all means, if you want to humiliate yourself on video, feel free. But as parents, you have an obligation to protect your children’s interests – and those interests are never served by making a fool out of them and allowing the world to watch.
Do you think that the “fear factor” ever works with teenagers?
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