Jokes, pranks aren't always funny

Group aims to strengthen parent-student connections

Posted: Monday, October 25, 2004

Halloween is a time to dress in garb you don't normally wear, eat more candy in a day than you would normally eat in month and partake in childish pranks. However, pranks, such as those that cause harm or damage, can be taking fun a little too far.

That's the point the Soldotna High School Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) in conjunction with the Soldotna Police Department tried to make during their first in a series of five presentations titled "Parents For Safe Communities" at the school Thursday evening.

Presented in an informal setting with an opportunity for questions and answers with the police, the forum for the first discussion was "Practical Jokes and Pranks, Where's The Line?"

"We thought this would be a good subject to start out with, since Halloween is coming up," said Sgt. Tod McGillivray with the Soldotna Police Department.

"That's typically a night when we see more than enough pranks and practical jokes, and we get involved when it crosses the line and becomes criminal mischief," he said.

McGillivray explained that throwing eggs, shooting paint balls and toilet papering houses are all routine pranks perpetrated on All Hallows' Eve, and as long as aesthetics are the only thing damaged there's not much the police can do. But, once property damage or injury occurs, that's when a prank becomes a crime.

"If it makes a dent, chips paint, breaks a window, then it's criminal mischief. Egging people can also cause injuries and lead to assault charges," McGillivray said.

He explained that not all pranks are born with malicious intent in mind. Many pranks start out as honest-to-goodness fun and just end up going too far, becoming a criminal matter.

"A kid may not set out to intentionally hurt someone by throwing an egg, but if they were to hit someone in the eye and injure that person, then that prank just became a felony," McGillivray said.

Al Howard, assistant principal at SoHi, expanded further on the concept.

"The victim's perception is important. Clean-spirited pranks among friends are different than ones against a stranger with the intent to be mean," Howard said.

He added that this isn't always easy to determine, but that he has a method that's tried and true.

"If both parties the victim and the person or persons who do something can both laugh when it's all said and done, then it's a prank. But when one party is hurt, then that's not a prank and it's not OK. It's criminal," Howard said.

McGillivray said he believes the presentations are a useful tool.

"I think it's a good way to stay in touch with the community, and a way for parents to be more in touch and identify problems, not just relying on school administrators," he said.

PTSA vice president Elizabeth Dimick said that's the goal of the presentations.

"We want to bring law enforcement, teachers and parents together to help kids. We're all on the same team, and this is a great way to communicate and work together for a common goal," she said.

Dimick added that she found the presentations informative.

"They're just invaluable. Our kids' world is a different place than it was when we were kids," she said.

As such, last year's presentation and the first one this year have done a lot to keep her as a parent in the loop of the teenager's world.

"We learn vocabulary that kids are learning that we may not be exposed to as adults."

"Also, because parents are so busy or because kids may not always tell them things because they think they won't understand, parents may not be informed with what's going on with kids, and these meeting can better inform us," Dimick said.

"Parents may also not be aware of the consequences of things their kids may do, but here they can ask straight-forward questions of officers that may ordinarily be intimidating to approach outside of here," she said.

At least four more presentations are tentatively scheduled, according to Dimick.

"We try to inform about current trends, so the subject matter will always be changing to keep up with the changes in our community," she said.

The next presentation is scheduled for Nov. 4 and will focus on drugs and alcohol. Future presentations will cover conflict resolution; gangs, bullying and harassment; and runaways.

All PTSA presentations are open to the general public and not just limited to SoHi students and their parents and teachers. Other high school, as well as middle school students, parents and teachers are invited.

For more information on upcoming presentations, call 262-5095 or 262-1487.

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