I’ve always had quite the mischievous side. You can trace my antics back to grade school, when I regularly pulled pranks on my classmates. In third grade, I had my father bend a nail so it would fit around my finger, and then I wrapped my finger up in a bandage smeared with red nail polish so it would look like I actually had a nail stuck all the way through my finger. The whole class gasped as I came in the room pretending to be in pain, and I gleefully enjoyed the fact that I had pulled the wool over their eyes.

Fast-forward to high school and college–those years were filled with all sorts of goofy and memorable antics. Whether it was wrapping my friends’ cars in plastic wrap in the middle of winter or helping to cover an entire dorm room in tinfoil or filling a car with balloons, I can proudly say that I was the mastermind behind a whole lot of creative pranks.

Even now, in the church office I work in, I’ve never lost that mischievous streak. I’ve switched my coworkers’ entire workstations with each other, hidden their cell phones in the ceiling, and covered their offices in post-it notes and plastic cups full of water.

So believe me when I say that I’ve learned a fearful lesson about pranking the hard way:

Never give your secrets away to middle school youth.

Those little squirts will actually take your biggest fears–and best ideas–and use them against you.

Trust me, these sweet angels who seem so genuinely interested in your stories are actually just plotting to take revenge on you for all the times you’ve told them to put their cell phones away during a lesson, or made them repeat Bible verses against their will.

Let me back up and explain the sad story of how my middle school students have taken revenge on me–it’s a woeful tale.

Firstly, I have to start by admitting some strange quirks I have. I really, really hate cilantro, clowns, Band-aids that are stuck to the ground, and public pools. Sure–these might be irrational fears–but they are fears nonetheless. But more than anything, I hate the thought of people touching their eyes–it makes my stomach somersault. I can’t even watch a close-up of an eye on television, it’s so disgusting to me.

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve mentioned these aversions to my various students.

I didn’t even realize that all I was doing was equipping several classes of kids to know my greatest fears, so they could use them against me as a personal form of torture.

Now, I operate in a job where kids regularly strike back at me with all my fears. As I walk through the church lobby on Sunday mornings, I often spot some of my students standing in a corner, purposely touching their eyeballs and grinning at me. They talk loudly about eye-related problems so all I can do is plug my ears and hum to try to block out the revolting stories. They come to my youth events and wait till I let my guard down, and I turn around to see a whole row of them flipping their eyelids inside out.

I’ll sit down at my desk on Monday morning, only to find myself besieged with crudely drawn clown pictures all over my desk. They’ll change the background on my computer desktop to a terrifying clown mug shot if I leave them alone in my office for even a second. They’ve posted clown pictures all over my Facebook page. One student even found my personal blog and commented on it as “Buttons the Clown”, and for a week, I believed that a whole army of clowns was reading my blog–which was wildly frightening.

An army of clowns?! What a nightmare!

Those little darlings who stand up and pray so sweetly at my youth events have no problem excitedly pointing out every disgusting, filthy Band-aid stuck to the ground they can find. The same kids laugh their heads off about my hatred of cilantro and pools, and regularly tease me about those strange dislikes.

The scary part?

These are kids who can’t even drive yet.

This is only the beginning of a very long and arduous battle with kids who know my Kryptonite.

Fellow youth leaders, be warned. Middle schoolers have excellent memories. They latch on to the smallest comments and hints that you make–especially about you. They’ll watch you like a hawk and learn which foods you dislike, what frustrations are your biggest headache, which duty in your job you hate the most, and all those strange habits that you can’t stand. And they’ll file it all away in their steel-trap minds, where this important information about your every weakness will quietly sit and wait for just the right moment for them to retrieve it and put it to good use against you.

For instance, one of my fellow youth leaders hates black pens. None of us really know why–but we all know that she hates them with a passion.

Guess who is regularly tricked by the kids into writing with a “blue pen” that’s actually a disguised black pen?

All those times that you tell your kids, “No, you can’t climb the roof and launch a softball from there,” and “Please stop hitting him in the head with that wiffle ball bat,” and “If I see you texting while I’m talking again, I’m taking your phone away,” are remembered by those rascals.

And as much as they love you, they love revenge, too.

I’d like to think that Jesus Himself was thinking of my kids when He said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). I’m thinking that I might have to hammer that particular verse home the next time these kiddos show up at a youth event.

My only hope is that time slowly erases their sharp little memories of my weaknesses. Maybe someday when I’m old and gray, I’ll actually have peace–and won’t have to live in a world where deadly clowns and eyeballs lurk around every corner.