FAQ for Parents of Freaks

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Having a child who’s getting into freaky activities can be sort of exasperating. Sometimes, it’s even scary — how do you know your child will be safe doing these weird things? Since kids don’t generally get freaky until their teen years, there’s often no point in asking your kids to fill you in; they’ll just roll their eyes and give some typically noncommittal, uncommunicative-teen response.

Hopefully this FAQ will answer the questions that are chief in your mind. If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to send them to the webmaster.

My son/daughter wants to go to a sci-fi convention/Renaissance Faire/goth club/etc. Will he or she be safe there? What goes on at those places, anyway?

Your child will be at least as safe at this event as s/he would in any other unsupervised venue. Of course, you as a parent already know that no place is 100% safe, and it’s not the rest of the world’s job to ensure your child’s safety. You also know your own child better than anyone else, and have an idea of what he or she can handle. That said...

Freaks are a little bit more into the concept of “personal responsibility” and “living out your ethics every day” than most other people. So if they see someone about to take advantage of an unsupervised child, they’re a teensy bit more likely than any other random stranger to step in and make sure nothing bad happens.

Should you rely on this? Of course not, no more than you’d rely on the kindness of strangers for your child’s safety in any other situation. But you should at least realize that the people at these events are not some kinds of monsters who are just waiting to corrupt the young. Nor are they saints; like in any other crowd, there are the good and the bad.

As for “what goes on at those places, anyway?”... there are a lot of different types of events that freaks frequent. For full details on the sorts of things that happen at each different type of event, see our guide to “What Happens at Freak Events”.

My child is getting interested in playing D&D. Will s/he commit suicide?

Almost certainly not. Though certain groups have tried to claim a link between playing Dungeons & Dragons and teenage suicide, in actual fact nothing could be farther from the truth. A writer for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine has researched the phenomenon, and states in his article, The Attacks on Role-Playing Games, that the number of suspected or even alleged suicides among role-playing gamers across the period studied is far below the average rate for suicides among the 15-24 age group overall. According to statistics, a teen or young adult who plays RPGs is roughly nine times less likely to commit suicide than one who does not.

One of the groups that started the trend of denouncing D&D was “Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons” (BADD). Its founder, one Patricia Pulling, claims great expertise in the fields of “Dungeons & Dragons, gaming, Satanic activity and cult crimes”. However, according to Michael Stackpole’s thoroughly researched Pulling Report, her credentials, authority, and honesty are in serious doubt.

The site ReligiousTolerance.org has a series of articles explaining what RPGs are and how conservatives have attacked them, and debunking claims that RPGs lead to criminal, Satanic, and/or occult activity.

Does Dungeons & Dragons, or any other role-playing game, teach magic or devil worship?

Absolutely not. Role-playing games (abbreviated as RPGs) make a strong distinction between the players (your son or daughter and his/her friends) and their characters (whose vital statistics are written down on sheets of paper). A player doesn’t need to have any of the skills or abilities that his or her character does. Someone’s character could be a mighty, heroic fighter, able to cleave monsters in two with a single swing of a broadsword, while the player might be completely unable to even lift or swing such a sword. In comic-book superhero games, characters might be able to fly, or have x-ray vision — but nobody ever claims that people who play these games are learning to fly or see through walls.

Similarly, a character can be a mighty wizard... and all that means is that the character sheet has a bunch of spell names written on it, representing the spells that the character (not the player) can cast. The character sheet might have listed: “Sleep; magic missile; make light; heal major wound” and so forth. To cast one of these spells, the player simply claims that his or her character is doing so (and usually rolls a die to see if it succeeds). If you were listening in on your child’s gaming session, a spell-casting would sound like this:

Game Master: “You enter the room, and you see five orcs guarding the treasure. They’ve been waiting for you; they have their swords and axes drawn. What do you do?”

Your Child: “I cast a fireball at them.”

Game Master: “Okay, roll to hit.”

Your Child: (sound of die rolling) “I got a 17.”

Game Master: “Good roll. Okay, you wave your hands, say a couple of magic words, and the fireball flies straight into the monsters’ faces.” (Game Master rolls a few dice to see just how much damage is done to each monster.) “They’re completely surprised. Four of them are down on the floor; a couple of those are moaning, a couple of them aren’t making any noise. One is a little staggered, but still on his feet.”

Note that nobody at the gaming table even says so much as “Alakazam!” — the players don’t need to know anything at all about magic. The magic in these games is make-believe, just as much as the swords, armor, monsters, and even the characters themselves, are.

My child has been wearing a lot of black lately. Is s/he likely to do something violent at school?

There are a lot of different types of black clothing a child can wear, and a lot of reasons why they might do so. Very few of them are a sign of impending violence — and there have been quite a few school shootings in which the assailants didn’t wear a single stitch of black clothing.

As you might guess, females are much less likely to engage in violence than males. And attackers are overwhelmingly white. But aside from these broad generalizations, the unfortunate truth is that there’s no simple way to identify shooters before they strike. The U.S. Secret Service and the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) have done extensive analyses of school shooting incidents, and both the Secret Service’s report and the NCAVC’s report have concluded that profiling is impossible: the Secret Service states: “there is no ‘profile’ of a school shooter; instead, the students who carried out the attacks differed from one another in numerous ways”, while the FBI’s report concludes that “at this time, there is no research that has identified traits and characteristics that can reliably distinguish school shooters from other students.”

However, one corollary of this is that wearing black is not an indicator of violence (either for or against). Yes, the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre wore black. But millions of other teens wear black every day, and do nothing violent at all. And the attackers in dozens of other school-shooting incidents wore very normal clothing — some were honors students and outwardly quite unassuming.

In the end, the only way to know if your child is likely to do something rash is to know your child. Nobody else can know your child as well as you do; even if you feel like he or she has become a whole different person since puberty, and is now shutting you out, you still know your teen better than anyone else.

My child is wearing lots of black clothing. Does this mean s/he is worshipping Satan?

Probably not. Black clothing is worn by large numbers of teens, for a wide variety of reasons: to look cool or “gangsta”-ish; to look like a sensitive, artistic rebel (or even a famous executive from Apple Corporation or a well known country music legend); for its oft-touted slimming effect; or just because they’re in the goth scene. Also, note that very few goths are Satan-worshippers; for the vast majority of goths, the attraction is primarily to a musical genre and a fashion style. Nothing more. (Those of use who do espouse any recognizable gothic philosophies often despair of the clothes-and-music-only types, but we can assure you, they’re not worshipping Satan.)

Goat of Mendes
Goat of Mendes: a pentacle, one point downward, with a goat’s head superimposed inside it.

Note also that many teens like to dress in “scary” or dark fashion as a reaction to having recently been children. Just a few years ago, your teen was literally a child: innocent, naïve, pure and harmless. Now he or she wants to get away from that state, to assert adulthood. Sometimes, teens go a little overboard in trying to make a break from their childish past, and opt for dark, cynical, naughty and scary in their fashion.

But unless your teen is wearing a Goat of Mendes medallion (see image, right) or reading The Satanic Bible, there’s really no cause to even suspect Satanism. (Note that a pentacle with one point upward is a common symbol of Wicca; if your child’s wearing that, see questions below.)

My child is studying Wicca. What should I do? What sorts of things will this teach him/her?

This is a somewhat complex question, made more so by the varying reasons that might motivate a child to study Wicca. Some might do it simply to shock you — in which case, letting it slide off your back and not making a big deal is the best thing you could do.

A complete description of Wiccan beliefs is beyond the scope of this article (and some are fairly philosophical), but the major lessons it teaches for daily life are: not harming others; respect for nature and the environment; respect for women; and respect for differing viewpoints.

Obviously, it’s your decision as a parent whether you want your child studying another religion. But most modern people would agree the teachings listed above aren’t that scary. Indeed, many of them are attitudes that many parents actively try to promote in their children; respect for different viewpoints, for example, is a major component of a mature, adult worldview.

Balanced against that, of course, are your natural worries about your son or daughter getting involved in another religion, possibly exploring mysticism... you may even be worried for his or her soul. These are bigger topics than one FAQ can possibly tackle. All we can say is that there are pros and cons, both spiritual, psychological and cultural, associated with involvement in any religion. Nobody knows for sure what happens to the soul after death — heck, nobody can even prove that souls exist at all.

Naturally, Neopagans don’t believe that our souls are in any danger, and we feel that Wicca and Paganism are healthy, positive paths. But the final determination of what’s right for your child will have to be yours. (At least, until he or she reaches eighteen...)

One word of advice, however: If you think your child might be investigating Wicca just to annoy or disturb you, the best thing you can do is not take that bait. If your child’s primary motivation is to get a reaction out of you, then failing to get one will be the best way to get him/her to stop. And we don’t really want someone whose motivation is that transitory in our religion, either; we’d just as soon have sincere worshippers.

If you want to know more about Wiccan theology and practice, from some fairly neutral and unbiased sources, you might try About.Com or a substantial essay about Wiccan beliefs and practices on ReligiousTolerance.org. For a more “inside” perspective on how many modern Pagan and Wiccan groups approach ethics, the Sisters of the Red Branch’s Ethics and Morality Resources has a lot of links to Neopagan ethical and philosophical writings. The Covenant of the Goddess, one of the largest Wiccan organizations in the US, also has some useful introductory information.

I don’t mind that my child is studying Wicca or Paganism, but how do I know if the “teacher” s/he has found is really legitimate?

First piece of advice: if your son or daughter is under 18, and someone is willing to teach him/her without first having gotten your explicit approval, that’s a bad sign. Very few reputable or trustworthy teachers will take on a minor as a student without at least meeting the prospective student’s parent/guardian face-to-face and getting verbal approval; most require a signed permission slip or waiver of some sort. (And even then, the smart ones will make sure never to be alone with the minor anywhere.)

But supposing the prospective teacher passes that very simple hurdle... then what? There isn’t any sort of “formal licensing bureau” for spiritual teachers (of any religion). And just because someone claims to be a teacher, and a Pagan (or Wiccan), that doesn’t make it so. It’s unfortunately easy for an unscrupulous person who’s read one or two books on Wicca or Paganism to claim to be an “expert teacher” and take advantage of those who genuinely want to learn.

If you live in the UK and the teacher is Wiccan, then chances are s/he’s either Gardnerian, Alexandrian, or some closely related branch. These people are supposed to be able to trace their “lineage” (who their teacher was, and who their teacher’s teacher was, and so on...) back at least a few steps. So ask them. Ask for their lineage, and for contact information for those in the lineage. Really reputable teachers will not balk at providing this, and may even be able to give references from former students. Talk to those people, and find out what they have to say about the prospective teacher.

In North America and other non-UK countries, lineage is not so much an issue. In fact, many of the more respected members of the US Pagan and Wiccan communities entered the religion on their own initiative; they literally don’t have any lineage. But if they have any experience as a teacher, they should still have a few former students who could provide references. They should also be able to provide a good outline of what their training involves, and what the core of their teaching and theology are.

Our best advice is to trust your gut instinct, even if you can’t find a “rational” reason for it. If someone makes you uncomfortable, despite seeming to be a solid and upstanding citizen, then gently steer your child away from contact with that person. On the other hand, a person who is trustworthy will often inspire trust in others; when you meet someone who puts you at ease and can answer all your questions, you’ll have found someone who’s safe to teach your child.