To the many cautionary discussions parents must have with their children these days, add another — the clown talk. It’s a subset of the social media talk and can be used to reinforce the rules on proper behavior online.
Warning kids against trying to scare people with clown references or even threats is needed now that the nationwide creepy clown fad has spread through South Jersey.
Boys and girls too young to have reliably good judgment on their own have been charged in clown-related incidents in Hamilton, Lower, Middle and Washington townships, and southern Ocean County. The charges against the 11- to 14-year-olds have included cyber-harassment and making terroristic threats and false alarms.
The kids have smart phones, they act on impulse probably after joking with their friends, the possible threat is received and reported, and next thing they know the police come knocking.
Sure, in nearly every case the kids meant no actual harm. But since humorously intended threats can’t readily be distinguished from potentially harmful ones, all threats must be taken seriously and immediately addressed.
This at a minimum wastes police time and resources, so law enforcement will need to take whatever steps needed to bring it to an end.
We hope all that’s required is a handful of cases with charges, mercifully dealt with by prosecutors and courts, and parents and already informed peers having that talk about scary clown humor not being acceptable.
We understand that kids might enjoy making fun of the excessive sensitivities and concerns of adults. However, in a familiar social-media-driven pattern now being repeated nationwide, it goes too far.
A 16-year-old in a Philadelphia suburb, for example, has been charged with threatening violence at schools in her district out of hope that school officials would cancel classes. A 15-year-old in Minnesota trying to scare an 11-year-old and others decided his clown costume would be more effective if he brandished a large butcher knife. Police in Reading, Pennsylvania, say a dispute over a clown mask contributed to the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old.
The fad seems to be nearing its end. It already has provoked the required reaction in the genuine clown industry, with Ronald McDonald adjusting his appearances and professional clowns protesting discrimination.
Halloween, of course, seems sure to bring some additional incidents.
The holiday has turned into a play day (and night) for children and adults, but retains a bit of its prior status as the day it’s acceptable to scare and be scared. (The original sense as the last day for demons to cavort before All Saints Day is nearly a trivia answer.)
We hope it marks the end of the clown fad. Until then, we urge parents and caregivers to have the talk with kids, and everyone to try not to overreact.