When you were a kid, did you ever fall for the I-can-see-your-epidermis prank?

I did and then used it on as many unsuspecting friends as possible. Once the word got around that epidermis meant skin, the trick fizzled out with no one left to fool!

“So what? I can see your epidermis, too!”

A child who is the focus of a harmless joke demonstrates an important socialization skill by laughing along, not crying home to mommy. Likewise, maintaining a healthy sense of humor through life makes each day more pleasant and fosters longevity by preventing hotheaded reactions that end badly!

Classic tricks like I can see your epidermis! follow a simple script:
• The instigator selects a target who will fall for a pretext that provokes a reaction meant to humor the instigator and witnesses.
• A public setting—e.g., a playground with a group of peers gathered around—yields maximum exposure for big laughs.
• A dramatic delivery—e.g., a singsong voice with animated pointing—creates a sense of urgency.
• With everyone watching, the targeted child exhibits embarrassment and worry with cheeks turning red and eyes searching down and around for the problem.
• Finding nothing amiss, the target pronounces, “No, you can’t!”
• If they are persistent and credible, the instigator and all supporting pranksters push the target into a second-guessing, damage-control mode: “What do you see? Show me! Did I fix it?”
• With proper timing and skill, the instigator has the final word: “Your epidermis is your skin!”
• The target’s mood shifts from embarrassment to relief and (hopefully) amusement.
• After being the target, that kid is eager to practice the prank on a fresh, uninformed victim—maybe a not-so-studious teenager!

I’m a huge fan of good-hearted humor. Public, verbal shaming is a different matter, especially when the premise is fabricated or twisted.

Interestingly, though, the mechanisms for childish pranking and staging a shame show to discredit an individual are similar:
• Starting with an element of truth
• Adopting a tone and narrative that exacerbate a condition or create the perception of one
• Ginning up an audience so they are compelled to chime in
• Maintaining a know-it-all stance while purposely withholding relevant information
• Getting away with the same game until everyone catches on and/or someone in the know calls out the instigator

Despite the shared characteristics of a fun-hearted prank and baseless, public shaming, even a four-year-old child, armed with an innate sense of fairness, can distinguish one from the other.

Because they are distracted and biased in their opinions, adults are often easy to fool, and they become unwitting participants in all kinds of meanspirited shame games.  

No excuses! If a child knows it’s wrong, grownups should know better and play nicely.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady
Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at https://WriteLady.com.