Fads are fun when they’re Beanie Babies, flash mobs or the Ice Bucket Challenge—less so when they’re super creepy and could seriously freak out your kids.
This one might sound somewhat ridiculous, but creepy clown sightings have been reported in more than two-dozen US states and several Canadian provinces since August. It began with reports that scary-looking clowns were spotted trying to lure kids into the woods in Alabama, and has since exploded into every scenario you can think of: creepy clowns on subways, lurking around schools, making threats on social media and more. Some of the incidents turned out to be hoaxes, while others have resulted in criminal charges. The pranksters underneath the costumes are reportedly mostly teenagers and young people, and some schools have had to send letters home to parents.
A White House spokesperson even addressed the issue recently, saying that the situation was one that local law enforcement “should carefully and thoroughly review.”
So, should you talk to your kids about this strange phenomenon before they potentially get pranked by a creepy clown? Toronto parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet says absolutely not. “Personally, I wouldn’t say anything,” she says. “The chances are slim it will happen to them, and it will just freak them out. It would just give them something new to be afraid of.”
But some kids—especially older ones, who scan the news online or overhear news broadcasts—may have already heard about the trend. If they’re concerned, Rosensweet says the first thing to do is acknowledge their fears. “You don’t have to agree that it’s something to be afraid of,” she says, “but you should demonstrate that you’re hearing them.” So you could say something like, “I get that you’re feeling worried and anxious.”
If your kid is younger, go on to add, “I want you to know we’ll always keep you safe.” That’s all little kids need to hear, says Rosensweet. For older kids, you can analyze the situation a little. Tell them that statistically, encountering a clown prankster is very rare, so let’s break this down and see how realistic a fear this actually is.
With teens, Rosensweet says it’s not a bad idea to discuss the clown fad and who’s participating (and why). “Tell them you know they would never do that—even if you think there’s a chance they would—because you know they would never want to scare little children.” That way, you’re reminding them of why they shouldn’t take part in this prank without making any actual accusations. Rosensweet also suggests bringing up the bystander effect, which they may have heard about in the context of bullying or sexual assault. This means that if they hear about anyone participating in the clown trend, but they do nothing about it, that makes them a part of the problem, too.