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When my little brother rubbed poison ivy leaves on a toilet seat and got kicked out of summer camp at 8 years old, my first thought was: “What a dumb prank.”

I did not think this because the prank was unfunny or cruel (on the con­trary, I con­grat­u­lated him on the concept). Rather, it was because he wore socks on his hands while han­dling the poison ivy.

Socks are made of holes. Poison ivy’s toxic com­pounds ooze in the form of an oil called urushiol. This oil moves easily through socks.

The concept? Great. The exe­cution? Poor.

Anyway, once my brother emerged from the hos­pital, with steroids in his veins and a sheepish expression on his face, our parents had to drive four hours to pick him up and bring him back home. He was expelled from camp.

And you know what? Good for him. Pranking is a dying art, and it needs pranksters. It also needs a defense.

It’s become a plat­itude to say that children today are no longer allowed to be children, but it’s true. Boys espe­cially are no longer allowed to be boys. There are many pos­sible expla­na­tions for this, but the most obvious one might be that adults cul­tivate an atmos­phere of spe­cious fear, in which children cannot be them­selves.

Allow me to recall an anecdote from fifth grade: Four or five boys all wore blue col­lared shirts to school, and their teacher promptly sent them to the principal’s office for “exclusion.” The prin­cipal accused them of bul­lying and sent them home to change. Later, he (the prin­cipal) called an emer­gency assembly to lecture the fifth graders on this form of bul­lying.

In such a sen­ten­tious atmos­phere, adults col­lapse children’s behavior into two cat­e­gories: “bul­lying” and “not bul­lying.” As long as little boys’ behavior is demure and pre­dictable, they are “not bul­lying.” As soon as tussles break out, or someone pulls a prank, or (God forbid) their shirts match, they are sud­denly “bul­lying.”

This dichotomy not only loses all nuance, it fails to rec­ognize a key truth: Pranks and similar mis­chief serve an important social role by bringing the putative victim into a group. A New York Times article, “The Purpose of Pranks,” sum­ma­rizes psy­cho­logical findings showing that (good) pranks become a form of ritual inclusion.

The prankster and the victim are in on the same joke, and pulling pranks helps define bound­aries of acceptable behavior beneath the com­fortable penumbra of this implicit joke. Pun­ishing pranks unduly, in other words, stunts the social and emo­tional growth of young people.

Writing a defense of pranks is still tough, though: The priggish attitude I’m trying to push against only becomes visible with oblique glances. This is because, in the internet’s imag­i­nation, pranks are fine when they remain abstract. An article on Vice titled “Pranks Are Bad” begins by admitting that its titular sen­tence is “an unpopular opinion.”

However, when pranks become real life, outrage follows. Pranks should allow both prankster and victim to learn self-gov­ernment without the sen­ten­tious inter­vention of authority.

There is a dif­ference between a good and a bad prank. The fact that I need to draw this dis­tinction sug­gests the bank­ruptcy of moral dis­course sur­rounding this issue. A defense of pranking is not the same as a defense of hazing. Good pranks involve emo­tional intu­ition, and probably don’t leave you with a rash.

The camp that kicked my brother out, TCDC (Ten­nessee Camp for Dia­betic Children) has a robust tra­dition of pranking. It wel­comed my brother back the fol­lowing summer, where he promptly filled the showers with folding chairs.

So go forth, commit mis­chief. Psy­chology sup­ports your behavior. But please, if you get any ideas from this article, don’t wear socks on your hands.