How to talk with your kids about the creepy clowns
Posted October 13, 2016
I’ve worked in news for 20 years, and certain headlines come around the story carousel again and again. Every couple of years, newsrooms inevitably get emails wondering about the iPhone getting a hologram, or Facebook charging users.
Creepy clown sightings are among these merry-go-round — often untrue — stories. This may be the first time you’re hearing about random clowns frightening people, but it is far from my first time at the circus.
The beginning of the clown scares was back in the 1980’s, and since then, people have freaked out over the Northampton clown of 2013 and a nationwide rash of creepy clown sightings in 2014. And last year, there was the campus clown scare and the cemetery clown scare.
This year’s supposed clown sightings started in August in Wisconsin, when people saw — and photos appeared online of — a clown holding black balloons. It turned out to be a marketing stunt for a film, but things got out of hand soon after in South Carolina. Adults — who wouldn’t give their names to police — called in about scary behavior from people in clown makeup. Some kids claimed a clown tried to lure them into the woods. Sheriff’s deputies never found any evidence, but that didn’t stop some residents from reportedly firing weapons in the direction of the woods, just in case.
Since then, social media has embraced the frenzy and people have reported seeing creepy clowns around the world. And worse, people are creating social media profiles with pictures of clowns and threatening schools and others. Police have arrested at least 12 people across the nation, mostly for things like filing false reports, harassment and making threats.
I didn’t think much of these news stories until my 10-year-old came home from school with a story of a clown breaking into one of his friend’s houses. He told me it was “on the news” and that he thought the whole thing was so freaky. I told him it was all a hoax and almost had him convinced until his 15-year-old sister walked in, telling us that clowns are walking around our small town and that someone she knew had seen them. That night, she and her friends proceeded to freak each other out talking out possible clown sighting scenarios, with ear-piercing screams coming frequently from the basement.
While my school district and police report zero validity to my kids' far-fetched claims, this is actually no laughing matter. In Georgia, Facebook messages popped up saying clowns would commit violent acts at three schools; and in Alabama, Facebook accounts with clown profile pictures made threats to high school students.
Nearly every creepy clown story so far has been a hoax, but the problem is police and schools have to take each report seriously, which drains significant resources. Moms and dads must talk with their kids about the consequences of spreading such rumors.
Parents and children alike should take a pause before sharing anything on social media. Do a little research before mindlessly spreading a possibly fake story to all your friends and followers, and teach your kids to do the same. Many of these stories started as a single social media post — initially innocuous — but people sharing it created the nationwide panic. We could all benefit from thinking a bit more before we post about most things, including comments about our employer, politics, our friends or even clowns.
Children need to understand there will be consequences for their actions, even and especially on social media. Making a threat against others or a school is never OK, even if a student claims they are just kidding. This is a good lesson for young people, whether it’s regarding bullying on Instagram or joking about a bomb in an airport security line.
Police are encouraging parents to use the clown scare as an opportunity to talk about stranger danger. Kids need to know we treat strangers the same, no matter what they look like. A suspicious man hiding in the bushes should be reported whether he is wearing a business suit or a clown nose and oversized shoes. The National Crime Prevention Council says in a perceived dangerous situation, a child should run away, yell and tell a trusted adult what happened. Teach children to trust their instincts and be assertive. They need to know it’s OK to say no, sometimes even to an adult.
Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson