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.


  1. I saw the Halloween video, and while it could be construed as bullying, my reaction was that these parents betrayed the trust of their children in an attempt to go for cheap laughs and their 15 minutes of fame. Really, what’s funny about crying or angry children who can’t believe their parents would do this to them? In one segment, the parent went from playing the trick to switching back to “authoritative” parent when the child became too upset. How hypocritical, considering this was a very childish premise in the first place. I don’t care how viral this video went — it was, for the most part, cruel and not funny.

  2. Oh come on. It was funny. My Dad used to play jokes on us on Christmas all the time and give us fake gifts and he is a great parent. These are not bad parents, they just have a sense of humor. Some people are just too sensitive. I grew up fine, even after getting bullied in school (I know this logic doesn’t carry, but people get by.) The picture you paint of an “overweight, unpopular child” is contrived. I understand how serious bullying can be, but Jimmy Kimmel will never be responsible for it happening due to this skit, it just seems far fetched. I feel like this same argument could be made for any sitcom/cartoon on tv (maybe except Caillou, that kid is a little too corny even for toddlers.) I think your heart is in the right place by being concerned about the severity of bullying, but this may be a bandwagon stretch.

  3. Thanks, Patrick, for your comment! You know, even I have to admit that I laughed when I watched these videos. But there is good humor and there is cheap humor. Most people will laugh at both, but cheap humor stinks because you are laughing at someone else’s expense. This is often how we learn important lessons in life— I remember falling out of my chair in elementary school and the whole class laughed. After that I resolved to break my bad habit of rocking backwards in my chair. But these videos don’t teach any good life lessons. They only teach that it is OK to be mean if it makes someone else laugh. As my seven year old said, “What’s the point of a joke, anyway? To be silly, not to make someone feel bad.”

  4. Thanks, Doug, for your comment! As I mentioned to Patrick above, these videos can at first seem funny. But the humor is gone when you see the cruelty behind them. These parents have betrayed their children’s trust and love for the sake of other people’s cheap laughs.

  5. Hey Jimmy, there are much better ways to be funny than using kids. That’s right, Jimmy, USING them. To get viewership, to make money. Suppose someone took videos of your most embarrassing raging fits of anger over things that seriously matter to you, and put them on Youtube? No celebrity likes their ugly dirty underwear displayed in public. To do this to children, whose cognitive powers are not yet developed, is abuse. Child abuse. You, Jimmy Kimmel are guilty of encouraging parents to abuse their children. It is not funny. And if you have to resort to those tactics, then you are no real comedian.

  6. Wow, really? Let’s coddle our children, and teach them that the world is a living place full of joy and unicorns and they can always have whatever they want. And let’s teach them that jokes are not ok, and are in fact “criminal”, as you say. Get a grip, people. Yes, if your kid went and did something mean to an “unpopular kid” at school THAT might be bullying. But playing a harmless joke where they will still get their Halloween candy or Christmas presents is something else entirely. Kids are wimps these days, and instances like this are why.

  7. Parents playing jokes on their kids is one thing. But somehow I feel like doing it to send it in to a TV show makes it worse. Filming your kid being honestly upset and hurt and then making it public just feels insensitive. Startling your kid with a live lobster or fake mouse isn’t the same – it’s sudden, but they quickly realize what is going on. In the Halloween & Christmas situations, they are having a whole range of real emotions, laid bare and being laughed at.

    Of course, I’ve been accused of over-thinking things.:)

  8. I have seen similiar looking videos on “America’s Most Funniest” …..all the time fave; so Just because the parents were not being awarded any kind of perks in Jimmy Kimmel ,doesnt mean he has to serve jail time for that . First We have to Send away Mr V funny from AFV .

  9. This is ridiculous! Jimmy Kimmel is for adults…first if in “late night” It’s a joke people..a gag..a practical joke!! Good god!! Vaudevillians used to use pie in the face and any number of pratfalls in their humour. We have come to a point where kids are so damned molly coddled we have to tip toe around them like they are delicate little china cups. This is ridiculous. My dad used to play tricks on us…it was fun because it was done in a playful spirit and we knew he loved us!! Geez…get a grip!

  10. This is a nicely written article. I agree that asking parents to do something mean to their children and then film it and send it in to an adult comedy show is pretty rotten. But let’s remember the source here: have any of you ever seen Mr. Kimmel’s show? I have, if only a few times, and I was pretty surprised at how crude and cheap his brand of humor is. As a result, I avoid his show or anything he has to do with.

  11. REALLY?!?! It’s a joke, get over your judgmental, stick-up-the-*** self! These kids are not damaged by the parents’ prank; once the joke is revealed they let out a huge sigh of relief and move on with their little kid lives. It’s something the family will laugh about for the rest of their lives. Besides being utterly RIDICULOUS, calling this bullying depreciates the TRUE meaning of bullying, which immediately damages self esteem and feelings of self worth. Quit being overly sensitive & deflecting from true issues. And get a sense of humor!! Ugh

  12. I don’t think these pranks are teaching bullying – bullying would be more like actually taking the candy, or threatening to. However, I do think the parents are damaging the child’s trust in them, which I find both hurtful and unwise. But then, I’m not a fan of those kind of pranks in general, including the ones where he had people unplug the tv at a crucial point during the Superbowl. But if you see the show, they do that kind of humor to themselves and everyone – squirting staff with stuff while they are working in the offices, scaring the bejeebus out of the security guard, or giving customers a hard time returning stuff at Costco. It is always at someone else’s expense, but I couldn’t qualify any of it as bullying.

    I am always touched, though, when the kid victims of the holiday pranks respond with grace and compassion… It’s like the prank is on Jimmy.

  13. I showed my nine year-old daughter a few of the halloween reactions. She knit her eyebrows together, looked at me and said, “You’d never do that.”
    “I wouldn’t? Why not?”
    “Cause that’s really mean. You’re a *nice* mom.”
    “I think it’s just supposed to be a joke.”
    “To make your kids cry on purpose? Ha-ha, some joke. That’s just mean.”

    From the mouths of babes.

  14. Its candy and bad presents. This isn’t parents blowing up a TV or crushing the kids car or grounding them for a week for a laugh, its children crying because their parents “ate” their candy. I am sorry I get what you are getting at and its a good point but I think you are reaching with this one. It isn’t nice, I wouldn’t call it bullying but its certainly mean and insensitive…though funny. Bullying is becoming the next in a line of things where people look SO hard to find it happening that they label everything bullying when in reality its not.

  15. I appreciate your thoughts in this article and I agree. This is not the kind of behavior we want to model. Practical jokes should not elicit the kind of tears I saw on Jimmy Kimmel. I didn’t laugh–I felt sorry for the kids. I don’t think your article warranted all the unkind things people have said in the other comments. I am surprised at the emotional responses. Kudos for some good thoughts worth reflecting on.

  16. I beg to differ with Patrick as do many of the above posts. Any, I repeat Any action by a parent that provokes a child to disrespect his parent by cursing/screaming at then is the worst kind of roll model teaching. Anything that a child sees his parent/s do is set as a model for his own behavior. A good example is when a child sees a parent drink alcohol and he the child asks for some of his own. The response is usually, No, this is for adults, or they lie and tell them that it’s soda pop and then pour the child some. The child always wants to emulate the parent, always. By telling them something as an excuse, it teaches the child to lie, and to sneak around behind the parents back. Watching the Kimmel videos teaches in itself that this type of bullying or teasing or prank is “entertaining”. To me, it’s disgusting and indicative or extremely poor moral and ethical training, whether or not it is accepted behavior in this society today. The more we do of what we’re doing, the more we get of what we’ve got. The increasing violence on the part of children today is a symptom of a very sick society.

  17. 1. KIDS shouldn’t be watching this show this late at night.
    2. The PARENTS were the ones being stupid and childish. He didn’t hold a gun to their heads and force them to do this.
    3. Since WHEN do KIDS get to ‘give their permission’ to post videos of them???
    4. Isn’t it funny how every other day there is a huge NEWS segment, Yahoo article, or other spotlight on a video of a kid crying, being upset over some stupid joke, being scared to death over a prank, etc.? There’s a REASON that ‘Funniest Home Videos’ is considered one of the highest rated TV shows!
    5. If it hadn’t been Kimmel “Issuing a Challenge”, you would still see countless videos JUST like these on YouTube with hundreds of thousands, or MILLIONS of hit and ‘likes’. It’s what SOME people find hilarious, and as long as they keep getting that many hits, more people will want to post them.

  18. It’s older manipulating the younger for the older’s enjoyment. It’s the older mocking the younger for the older’s enjoyment. It’s the older taking advantage of the trust and feeling of value the younger have for the older’s enjoyment. Not really funny.

  19. Some people say that playing “harmless pranks” on people is not a big deal and people should quit being so “sensitive” and “get over it”. How many of you are well liked by your co-workers or family members when you do obnoxious things or are people constantly having to make excuses for YOUR crude behavior? MOST of school shootings site bullying as the spark that fueled the gunman’s rage. You need to quit defending your source for your YUKS and think of better, more constructive ways to entertain yourselves. I do not think that it is coddling children to give them a place and people that they can TRUST will not lie to them,trick them, and take advantage of them like the “REAL WORLD”. Maybe the real world would be a better place if we were softer, less crass, were more honest, forthright, and concerned for the well-being of ALL OTHER starting with our own children and family members.

  20. We’re all for raising our children to respect others, even those different from us; right? So, we have to be an example of respect in our words and actions. Even though the author writes against bullying, her judgmental attitude toward others who are different, and in her mind inferior to her, comes out in her article, “18 Reasons Why Doctors and Lawyers Homeschool”. She derogatorily calls others, “kooks”, “religious extremists” and nerds in an effort to separate herself from those she is highly embarrassed to be associated with. She appears blind to her hypocrisy, or considers conservative families fair game for bullying. Our words and actions will line up when we have a heart change, for; ” Out of the mouth the heart speaks.”

Comments are closed.