Parents are pranking their kids on social media. Here's why experts say it isn't harmless.

Experts weigh in on the #EggCrackChallenge and other pranks targeting kids. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)
(Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)

Pulling pranks on your kids may not be a new thing, but it’s certainly picked up steam thanks to social media and viral hashtags like #CheeseSliceChallenge and #EggCrackChallenge. But is taking part in a TikTok trend at a child’s expense — and then putting it online for the world to see — harmless or hurtful? Here’s what is happening online — and what parenting experts have to say about it.

What pranks are parents pulling?

The following pranks have made the social media rounds in recent years.

  • #GrinchPrank: During a family photo session, a "monster" makes a surprise appearance to scare the kids. This trend has an uptick during the holiday season when the Grinch sneaks up on children, and the photographer captures their petrified reactions in real time.

  • #GhostPrank: This involves shutting a child in the bathroom, sometimes in the dark, and waiting for the child to notice a ghost filter floating around. The children are typically terror-stricken and ferociously banging on the door, screaming to be let out of the room.

  • #CheeseSliceChallenge: Parents fling a slice of cheese onto an infant’s face, resulting in confusion and tears.

  • #EggCrackChallenge: Kids are tasked to help their parents (or in some cases, older siblings) in the kitchen. To their surprise, however, an egg gets cracked against their foreheads. While some kids laugh it off, most appear to get upset, wince in pain or call the prankster “mean.”

What has been the reaction to these viral pranks?

Viewers in the comment sections are a split jury. Some social media users find the pranks hilarious, and stitch or share their favorite videos or get inspired to do a prank challenge with their own kids. But the pranks — most recently the #EggCrackChallenge — have also received a lot of criticism, with viewers accusing parents of hurting their kids or subjecting them to emotional duress just to get social media likes.

What experts say

Dr. Niky, a pediatrician and mom who shares parenting tips on social media, warns that pulling pranks on kids can have repercussions.

“Pranks can lead to significant emotional distress in children,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Depending on the type of prank, it can elicit genuine fear and anxiety in kids, especially in younger kids who may not understand that it’s just a joke. Some of the pranks can also inadvertently cause physical harm.”

Before parents participate in a prank or any social media trend with their children, they should consider the kid’s age and maturity level to determine whether or not it is age-appropriate. Could this cause pain or physical damage? Will it induce fear, humiliation or emotional harm? If the answer is yes, parents should consider that prank harmful, not harmless.

But there are safer and more respectful ways to approach these social media trends. Dr. Niky has used her own TikTok platform to share her reframing of the #EggCrackChallenge. In her video, she involves her child in the prank by explaining what she wants to do, offering to let him crack the egg on her forehead first and discussing his decision to forego participation. Her older daughter, meanwhile, playfully but nervously takes her up on the offer to crack the egg against her mom's forehead. The video, Dr. Niky shares, illustrates how a challenge can become a fun family activity and bonding experience when everyone is in on the joke. Otherwise, parents risk becoming their “kid’s first bully.”

Amy Marschall, a clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Life that consent is important when it comes to safe pranking between parents and children.

“Generally, parents should know their child well and determine whether the child finds these pranks amusing or not,” she says. Marschall adds, “Make sure they know that they can refuse, and honor their 'no' when you hear it.”

She and Dr. Niky also agree that the most detrimental part of excessive or harmful pranks is that they can erode the trust between a child and their parent. When a child is constantly worried about being hurt, shamed or humiliated, it can be hard for them to see parents as a source of comfort and safety.

What parents should remember about online pranks

There’s another aspect to consider when it comes to taking part in viral pranks: The potential harm posting the footage. Even if a child is willing to do a prank, it doesn’t mean that they’re OK with it being shared on social media, or that they understand the ramifications of having a vulnerable moment made public.

Marschall likens it to hidden-camera prank shows. When the person’s face is blurred, it is because they did not consent. Children deserve the same respect and consideration, especially when the footage shows them visibly upset.

The internet lives forever, Dr. Niky adds. “Parents must remember that even if removed, online content can resurface and affect the child’s reputation during adolescence or adulthood,” she says. “It subjects a child to potential bullying and harassment that can have long-lasting emotional consequences.”