Sara Beth Times

Sara Beth Wald

Dangerous for
everyone involved

My husband and I shared a smile when our ten-year-old son came home from school talking about scary clowns.
We grew up hearing similar stories on our respective playgrounds.
My dad loved Stephen King movies. I watched “It” – the ultimate scary clown story – when I was still just a kid.
It wasn’t until our local newspaper ran a story about the scourge of scary clown stories circulating that I realized this was bigger than the playground antics of a few kids.
I Googled “scary clowns” and realized that in some cities there were people being arrested for dressing up like clowns and scaring the bejesus out of people.
According to the story in our local paper, this hasn’t happened in our small town. But enough local people were riled up about it that the newspaper covered the story.
We had to tell our older son to stop talking about scary clowns around his four-year-old brother because he was waking in the night with bad dreams.
And still I kind of blew it off. Until last Sunday evening when I saw three people standing on Main Street wearing matching Halloween masks. They were just standing by the curb, watching cars pass.
And you know what? It was unsettling. I hurriedly distracted my boys’ attention away from the window.
I didn’t lose any sleep over the masked voyeurs. But my kids most certainly would have.
To all those who think it’s funny to scare people, let me give you a few facts:
Children do not have the cognitive ability to distinguish reality from fiction until they are six or seven years old.
This means if a child younger than seven sees a person in a scary mask, he or she actually believes it’s a terrifying monster.
On Halloween we prime our kids for scares. We talk about how it isn’t real, and they understand because they are also wearing costumes.
But when the scary masks start appearing on the street in day-to-day life, the sense of fun dissolves and suddenly it feels dangerous.
Even older kids become frightened when they hear about masked pranksters on the news.
Kids start becoming afraid to ride their bikes to school or play outside in the yard.
At my son’s school, some children detailed harrowing tales in which they had to defend themselves against scary clown attacks. These imaginary stories can give children a sense of control over the unknown.
These stories fuel the rumors, and suddenly everyone on the playground is terrified.
This fear may be entertaining to teenagers and some adults, but there is nothing funny about a child being afraid to participate in regular life.
Some of the stories nationally involve pranksters creeping around people’s homes in the dark, peering into windows.
Several of the “scary clowns” who have been arrested nationally were carrying butcher knives. It can be assumed they were intended more as props than for use as a weapon.
The police did not find these “props” particularly funny, and the pranksters were punished accordingly.
If someone is lurking around your house it’s always best to call the police and let them handle it.
But consider this… over 61 percent of Montana homeowners own at least one gun. The state has more guns than the war-torn nation of Libya.
It only takes one gun owner to decide to take matters into his own hands to turn a prank into a tragedy.
It’s fun to dress up and allow ourselves to be scared on Halloween, one night of the year.
But when the fear filters into everyday life, it isn’t funny anymore. It’s just mean. And dangerous for everyone involved.

Sara Wald lives and writes in Lewistown, Montana.


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