Graham Linehan column

Never own up to an adult, kids. They'll soon forget about it
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You'll forgive me if I ask the adults to retire from the room and leave me with the little ones for a moment or two (I haven't finished that drink ... don't take it ... don't ... doh!). I have some sage advice to hand out, and as I reach the midday of my life, it seems important that I have their utmost attention. If I suddenly stood up and left the room by the window, for example, I would like it to be the subject of confused muttering noises for at least a little while.

Right, kids! Now that the adults have stopped reading - it doesn't usually take that long, actually - I can tell you a few things I wish I knew when I was your age. A few mental Rolodex cards for you to flip to in times of crisis. If someone had passed these on to me earlier, I might not have received the deep mental scars that led me to seek continual affirmation through the writing of a weekly column.

First, might I suggest that the next time an adult says, "I'm not leaving here until whoever did it owns up", you pause for a moment before putting your hand up and leaving the room ear-first. Listen to what the foolish, foolish adult says next. He says: "Don't worry, I can wait here as long as you can."

There we have him! He can wait here as long as you can? No, he can't! He's an adult! He has things to do, people to see, a little nap to have. You could sit there for a whole year, and your life would be not much different to how it is now. He, on the other hand, would lose his job, his house and all his friends. Instead of putting your hand up, take out a stopwatch and see if he can beat the 45-second mark, a record currently held by my father, who only took so long because there was something wrong with the door handle, and it took him a couple of goes before he could get out.

Once, a group of classmates and I were being forced to sing some hymns (this obsession with singing our teachers had! I sometimes thought they were hoping to take us on the road), one of which had the fairly innocuous line "The brightest star, the smallest flower, Hall-el-ujah!"

A slightly smaller group of us, displaying the wit for which I would later be known and hated for, started singing, very quietly, "The brightest star, the smallest flower, the goodness of a Milky Bar". I see by the appreciative glint in your eye that an 11-year-old's sense of humour hasn't changed much since I was a lad. (Oh, I see, you want my wallet. Take it, just don't hurt me.)

The adults presently copped on, and we got the "I can wait as long as you can" line. There was the tinniest of contemplative pauses, and then the hands started going up. I couldn't believe it. Looking back on it now, I can only suppose that my classmates were taken over by much the same compulsion that prompted the mass confessions among Stalin's Cabinet after the war.

Sometimes they'll try a little fear. "Don't worry, I will find out who did this, it might take me a while, but I will find out." No, they won't! What, are they going to dust for prints? I'll say it again; adults are generally busy people. They really don't have time to engage in a battle of wits with the Moriarties of the under-12 set.

If you did something really bad, like steal a car and drive it to EuroDisney, you should own up. That's not normal, impulsive, childish naughtiness. That kind of thing takes planning and a knowledge of alarm systems. What's wrong with you? Are you unhappy?

But if you just, say, spread peanut butter into the carpet because, well, because it seemed like a good idea somehow, then keep it to yourself. Don't tell your father. You can't explain why you did it, and any attempt to do so degrades you both. Better that he goes mad for a moment, then falls asleep in front of the TV, the incident already a part of the distant past.

You have already made the mental note "Do not spread peanut butter on carpet again", so what good could come of a confession? And careful! Don't start suddenly helping round the house afterwards! They can smell guilt!

A lot of needless suffering could be avoided if adults could get on with walking around purposefully and such while leaving children to the business of behaving in an impish way.

Let's bow out of this undignified behavioural loop. A battle of wills that ends with a 10-year-old standing up and admitting to throwing the cat up a tree is not a thing that can be savoured afterwards, or re-enacted for men with huge white moustaches in gentlemen's clubs.

And you young 'uns can go away with the mental note that cats, unlike those ones you saw in that documentary, can not glide safely from tree to tree (and are you sure those were even cats?). Everyone's happy, except the cat. And who cares about the cat?