I have always enjoyed a good prank, particularly one with an element of revenge. Maybe it’s just the “good old day” syndrome, but it seems like kids’ pranks these days lack creativity. As I drive my 6-year-old to his T-Ball game each Saturday morning, we count the number of houses between mine and the field that were tp’ed or “rolled” (as my son likes to say), sometime after I went to bed. The number is usually 2 or 3, but on a good weekend it can be as high as 5. While I’m sure the little miscreants had fun doing it (and while I’m also sure some dad is going to be just a little peeved that he has to devote a Saturday morning to plucking sheets of toilet paper out of a 50 foot Live Oak), as a prank, tp’ing ranks really low on the creativity scale.
Back when I was 9, kids put thought into their pranks. I spent one summer at a camp in New England. One of the counselors, Keith, was particularly unpleasant. For him being at camp was tantamount to a prison sentence. His parents must have landed the job for him, because he clearly didn’t work his way through any interview process. I guess he thought that if he was in prison for 6 weeks, he might as well be the warden – and a strict one. We called him the “Warden,” a moniker he seemed to like. Extra laps, no desserts, early lights out, you get the idea. It wasn’t fair, summer camp was supposed to be fun. This guy was a jerk and something had to be done.
(Now before I proceed, and just so the record is clear, I didn’t participate in this prank, but I did watch it with a certain amount of glee and admiration.) One night, around 10:30, while the Warden was out probably trying to get one of the female counselors to go skinny-dipping, a determined group of 9-year-olds gathered up every fire extinguisher in the dorm and proceeded to empty the contents of each of those red canisters in his room. His bed, his clothes, everything. As each of us lay in our beds, pretending to sleep, we waited for the yelling to come. And it did. The Warden was furious, not because he had undoubtedly struck out with the female counselor, but because everything in his room had been thoroughly drenched with a chalky, white liquid. Needless to say, it didn’t take him long to wake us up and try to extract a confession. He brought us outside and the inquisition began. The Warden started by saying that he would “get to the !@#$%^ bottom of this” and that “your parents will pay for the damage.” And after making us sit on our hands, outside, in our underwear, under a yellow halogen light for about 2 hours (we were prohibited from swatting or otherwise defending ourselves from the swarming insects), the guilty parties tearfully fessed up. Camp ended about 2 days later, and I always wondered whether their parents really did have to pay for the damage to the Warden’s belongings.
Most states have adopted laws that make parents vicariously liable for the action of their children. In Texas, a parent is liable for any property damage caused by the (1) negligent conduct of the child if the conduct is reasonably attributable to the failure of the parent to exercise their duty of control and reasonable discipline; or (2) willful and malicious conduct of a child who is between 10 and 18 years old. Based on this statute, it appears as though the young freedom fighters were too young to make their parents vicariously liable for their wrong doing. In the mind of a 9-year-old, that certainly seems fair.
See Texas Family Code § 41.001.