Family Matters

Halloween Humor: Did Jimmy Kimmel Go Too Far Encouraging Parents to Deceive their Kids?

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Late-night shows are, by definition, irreverent, but Jimmy Kimmel may have taken it a bit far last week when he challenged parents to record themselves telling their kids that they’d binged on all their Halloween candy.

Last Monday, I took issue on Healthland with the mean parents who scheme to deny their kids of their Halloween loot: they collaborate with neighbors to hand out only healthy snacks, they let them trick-or-treat only to force them to hand out their stash to kids who ring their doorbell later in the evening; they whisk it away and leave books and toys in its place.

But Kimmel elevated the “trick” to a whole new level, instructing parents to title their kids’ reaction, “Hey, Jimmy Kimmel, I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy!” and upload the protests to YouTube.

As a third-party viewer, the footage was hilarious — the dire parental declaration predictably followed by tears and wails. My fave: the toddler at the end who chastises his mother (who reveals her good taste in candy by saying how much she enjoyed the peanut-butter cups): “You sneaky mom!” he cries out. Babble delighted in the dad who upped the reality quotient by strewing candy wrappers all over the dining room table. And TIME’s Newsfeed warmed to the “adorable pair of brothers at the end who turned the tables and lectured their parents for the faux-transgression.”

I think I have a pretty good sense of humor, but I found the vigor with which parents delighted in deceiving their kids a little jarring. Cruel might be another word for it. It’s kind of hard to imagine intentionally trying to make your kids cry — even for a few minutes of late-night glory. As a Huffington Post reader noted, “breaking your kids’ trust for your amusement at their reaction and hurt feelings…is not cool.” Others dubbed it “emotional bullying” and “sadism masquerading as humor.”

What the parents didn’t film was their rapprochement with their kids, post-lie. What must that have been like? I asked my kids if they would have forgiven me had I answered Kimmel’s call. It wouldn’t have come to that, they assured me. Said my 8-year-old: “We never would have believed you.”

Guess the joke’s on me.

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.