Behavior & Development • Dec 30, 2011

Hey Jimmy Kimmel, you’re teaching our kids how to bully!

What did Americans “Like” on YouTube in 2011?  Parents modeling bullying behavior for the sake of cheap humor. 

Jimmy Kimmel is a late-night talk show host and comedian whose most-viewed YouTube clips of 2011 involve parents playing tricks on their kids, filming their angry children, and posting it on YouTube.  Collectively, these posts generated more than 40 million YouTube views and an overwhelming flood of “likes” across the social media spectrum.  It also made the front page of Reddit, a popular social news website.   

In his Halloween “YouTube Challenge,” Jimmy Kimmel asks parents to pretend that they ate all their kids’ Halloween candy, then film their kids’ reactions and post it on YouTube with the title, “Hey Jimmy Kimmel, I told my kids I ate all their Halloween candy.”  His staff collected the videos and made a feature clip that highlights the most popular angry children.  The feature clip alone generated more than 26 million YouTube views, with some of the individual clips posted by parents generating several million views apiece. 

After the overwhelming “success” of his Halloween prank, Kimmel issued a Christmas YouTube challenge in mid-December.   He asked parents wrap up a terrible Christmas present and give it to kids to open a few weeks early.  Parents again filmed their angry kids and posted the results on YouTube, this time under the title, “Hey Jimmy Kimmel, I gave my kids a terrible Christmas present.”  Slightly less popular than the Halloween challenge, the Christmas challenge has generated more than 14 million YouTube views to date.  Belligerent, cursing and crying these children have found their five minutes of fame, and without their consent.

I showed the first part of this video to my seven-year-old son—the latter portion includes too much inappropriate content.   His response: “What’s the point of a joke, anyway?  To do something silly, not to make people feel bad.”  I asked him if he could do this to a friend.  He said that would be a “bully” thing to do. 

My seven-year-old knows a bully when he sees one because his school recognizes that bullying is a crime and has implemented an anti-bullying curriculum.  Good adult role models are essential for teaching kids how to avoid bullying.  Although Jimmy Kimmel’s YouTube challenge may not be a crime, Kimmel is encouraging parents to model behavior that would be a crime if their kids repeated it at school. 

Imagine this: a first grader goes to a public school, gives a “terrible Christmas present” to an overweight, unpopular child, films the angry child’s reaction with the cell phone his parents gave him for “safety,” and convinces an older child to help him post it on YouTube.  What would happen?  Parents would be outraged.  The school would have to take disciplinary action.  The story would be all over the news.  YouTube would probably take the video down.  So why is it acceptable for parents to do this same thing at home?  It’s not.  Jimmy Kimmel just fell to cheap humor that gives millions a laugh at the expense of children. 

If the above scenario actually occurred, what would happen to Jimmy Kimmel?  Probably nothing.  He even gave a disclaimer in the intro to one of his segments stating that no children were harmed in the making of these YouTube movies.  I beg to differ.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, each day an estimated 160,000 students in the United Statesrefuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal aggression of their peers.  Six out of 10 American youth witness bullying at least once a day.  The effects of bullying can continue many years into adulthood. In the most extreme cases, children targeted by bullying have expressed their anger and despair through school shootings or by committing suicide.  Bullying hurts the bully, too.  Approximately 25 percent of school bullies will be convicted of a criminal offense in their adult years.  The National Bullying Prevention Center, is an excellent resource for anyone affected by bullying, as is the government sponsored program

The British statesman Benjamin Disraeli said, “Courage is fire, bullying is smoke.” Jimmy Kimmel, let’s see some fire.  We all need a good joke in 2012.