I have observed an alarming trend: teens and preteens are being driven around by a parent, or other supposedly responsible adult, to toilet paper people’s houses. This is an activity that consists of flinging toilet paper on a person’s home, yard, trees…and extra points are awarded if some is attached to the family pet. It is a fairly harmless prank, as there is no damage inflicted.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to be a kill-joy. The part I want to draw your attention to is that “responsible adults” are conveying these pranksters on their escapades. As parents and adults, we are required to retort “my children would never do that.” Even though, secretly, we know they are little cretins who would go along with whatever bridge jumping their friends were involved in. If, however, we are directly involved; that blanket denial becomes an outright lie. We have just indicated to our children that it is okay to violate another person’s property and then lie about it.
It starts innocently enough
Now, you may be thinking that if a parent is involved in an activity that would likely take place anyway, there would be some control and restraint. Yeah…right. How many adults do you know of that aren’t basically thirteen year olds with a little knowledge and experience? Go to any kids baseball or football game if you need proof. Parents screaming and throwing tantrums that would embarrass my four year old.
Children are often introduced to neighborhood pranking by friends or siblings, but it could just as easily be a parent. We are driven, and expected, to entertain our offspring. If a child is bored, or just momentarily un-stimulated, we scramble to provide a distraction. Some misguided parents, in a moment of weakness, have chosen activities they remember from their own childhood. “I have an idea!” they exclaim, “We should go toilet-papering.”
The waiting-to-be-stimulated child may look skeptically at the excited parent, but they tend to go around looking skeptically at everything. “Come on, it will be fun. You can invite some friends…just don’t tell your dad.”
The lure of naughty
The adrenaline rush that accompanies such an outing can prove irresistible. Soon your preteens will be sneaking out on their own, with friends, to create mischief, along with every roll of toilet paper in the house. They will plant a forest of plastic dinnerware in the neighbor’s yard, called “forking”. When Halloween rolls around, they graduate to pumpkin smashing. This requires stealing jack-o-lanterns from doorsteps and porches and breaking them in the street.
You can easily see the slippery slope you have just shoved your child down in the name of good, clean fun. They will begin to stare vacantly at the breakfast table, often twitching uncontrollably, and they lose interest in their regular activities. Don’t worry. It’s not drugs…yet. They are suffering from a lack of sleep, having spent half of the night carrying out nefarious mischief. They have likely run miles playing ding dong-ditch or fleeing attentive homeowners.
If you become aware of this obsessive behavior early enough, you can intervene before they start climbing buildings and car-surfing. Teenagers generally have no self-control, common sense, or fear of reprisal. They can not see forward to the possible repercussions of a particular act. Also, they are susceptible to coercion and herd mentality. Yes, the dreaded “everyone was doing it”. It is not easy to counteract these ingrained characteristics.
Some parents try indifference. Their reasoning is this: We have taught our children to obey the law and respect others; they are merely engaging in harmless fun. Nice try, but young adults experience temporary insanity from about age 13 to 30. They forget every lesson of importance you have instilled in them from birth. All important decisions they make are influenced by friends, television, and the internet.
You might consider locking your precious children away from the influence of friends and the world. They could be homeschooled and blocked from internet and television, except for carefully chosen programs. If you lock them in their rooms at night, there is no chance of them sneaking out to commit skullduggery. Well…good luck with that. Kids are way more resourceful than we give them credit for. You would only be prolonging the inevitable. eventually they will cut loose, and it will be a doozie.
I guess all we are left with is trying to guide the little stinkers in their interests and activities. We aren’t nearly as disconnected from our children as our parents were. Chances are you listen to some of the same music, and clothing styles are coming full circle. I have even started seeing teenagers sporting mullets again. (What does that tell you about their decision making skills?)
If you are unable to find an area of common interest…perhaps you have a neighbor in need of a good “forking”. Que sera, sera. Cleaning toilet paper out of your trees may suck, but Idaho doesn’t.