Ghosts, Ouija Boards And The Case For Telling Your Kids The Truth

Ghosts, Ouija Boards And The Case For Telling Your Kids The Truth May 10, 2018

Last week, my son built an Ouija board. He came tearing home from school on his bike, announced he was headed to a friend’s house and disappeared.

Prior to this, he’d never shown any interest in telling or hearing ghost stories and had no desire to watch scary movies or shows. Every once in a while, I’d invite him to join his sister and I for a marathon of terrible horror movies.

“Hey, Kiddo, wanna watch Gremlins?”

“Nah,” He’d say.

When he’d join his fellow Cubs for a campout and I’d pick him up the next day, after I’d get done blubbering about how much I missed him, I would always ask,

“Did you guys tell ghost stories?”

“Nah,” He would always reply.

To be honest, I found it strange. I’d never known a kid who wasn’t totally keen to sit criss-cross-apple-sauce and devour a good yarn about the unsettled dead. But my little boy did not. He’d listen to me retell, horribly, stories from history about assassinations and wars and revolutions, but as far as Casper was concerned, my little heathen didn’t wanna hear it.

So, when he ripped home from school to build a Ouija board, I thought, this is it! It’s finally here! The ghost story phase!

Before you snatch my skeptic card, let me explain.

There was indeed a time, my little devils, when I believed in ghosts.

*Gasp* But I thought you had always been atheist, GM?

It’s true, I’ve always been a godless heathen, but that didn’t stop me from believing that every creak of every floorboard was a sure sign Great Aunt Mary had unfinished business to tend to in the land of the living before she could rest in peace. I just didn’t think god had anything to do with it.

Yes, when I was but a tiny sinner, I absolutely loved telling ghost stories. I even had a few of my own unexplained experiences that I would blame on restless souls clawing their way out of purgatory. I would steal every moment I could to stow away in a dark corner with my friends and swap spectre stories until none of us would be able to sleep.

I don’t believe this stuff anymore, but I still love a good horror flick; I still love hearing a good phantom fiction. I couldn’t wait for the day I could sit down with my little boy like I did with my beautiful girl and wax Ebenezer until our skin crawled. You can imagine my disappointment when he showed no interest. That’s why, when he zoomed home to build a Quija board with his BFF, I got a little excited. The day I could huddle over a bowl of popcorn with my tiny man and watch Haley Joel Osment tell Bruce Willis he sees dead people was drawing ever nearer. Soon, we would both be cocking our pointer fingers and croaking, “redrum! redrum!”.

Things haven’t quite worked out that way, though. It would appear this skeptic’s low threshold for nonsense has gotten in her own way. The following day, my little dude played with his freshly built Ouija board at school. He and his little gang of buddies claim to have contacted a little girl who fell out of a window. My itty bitty mister came home and told me all about it.

“She died when she fell out of a window, mom.”

“How do you know?”

“She said on the board. She spelled it out.”

“How do you know she did that, and it wasn’t your friends?”

“They weren’t moving the marker, mom! They told me!”

“What if they were? Do you think your friends could stretch the truth?”

I couldn’t help but challenge his claims. Years of debating with theists about what’s true and how we know were being recalled. Like muscle memory, I couldn’t help myself.

Later, after we tucked him into his cozy Star Wars sheets and kissed him goodnight, my little boy called downstairs with Alexa,

“Mom, I’m scared.”

Right, I thought. There’s a downside to the ghost story phase.

Up the stairs I trudged, taking the entire 15-second journey to mull over how I was going to deal with this. When I got to his room, I sat down on his bed and asked him what he was scared of.

“The little girl who fell out of a window.”

“That’s what I thought.” I put my arms around him. “Hon, I’m gonna tell you why you don’t need to be afraid of that little girl. You have to trust Mommy, okay? Mommy’s been around a lot longer than you have and I’ve learned a lot of things, okay?”

“‘Kay.”

“Baby, there is no such thing as ghosts.”

“I know.” He always says this when I tell him something new.

“Ouija boards rely on the power of your brain and the brains of your friends. When you ask it questions, your brain subconsciously moves the pointer. When combined with the power of your friends’ brains, it can seem like there is another force at work, but honey, there isn’t. It’s simply not real.”

“‘Kay.”

That was it. As my husband likes to say, I didn’t have my eff-around pants on.

More often than not, I prefer to let him figure these things out on his own by exploring his own doubts. Every once in a while, though, I see no harm in giving him the answer, especially when the alternative is letting him stew in his own fear and lose sleep. Sure, telling him that none of it is real could reduce the possibilities of us bonding over scary movies and spooky stories, but it’s more important to me to be honest with him. There’s no need for him to believe he can speak with the dead. There’s no reason for me to let him sort that out on his own when I’m already fairly certain of the answer.

Not too long after our little chat, he fell into a sound sleep. It’s true that our date with the Mothman Prophecies may be further off than I thought, but that doesn’t matter near as much as my little guy’s ability to feel safe enough to rest his little blue eyes.

How would you have dealt with this situation? Let me know in the comments!

Image: Jonas Forth/Some rights reserved

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • More often than not, I prefer to let him figure these things out on his own by exploring his own doubts. Every once in a while, though, I see no harm in giving him the answer, especially when the alternative is letting him stew in his own fear and lose sleep.

    It’s a judgment call. I remember a parent telling me she ruined all the sinister appeal of the Ouija board for her kids by having them do it blindfolded while she wrote down the gibberish that resulted. The unlikely idea that the spirits need your eyes to be able to properly spell out their message was enough to persuade the kids that the messages were coming from somewhere a little closer than the great beyond.

  • We decided to just be honest with our kids whenever they asked a question. The younger the child, the less detail they want. For example, on a visit to the local zoo, my 3 year old saw 2 turtles mating. She asked what they were doing, and we answered that they were trying to make baby turtles. She said, oh, ok, and moved on to something else. If she had asked a follow up wuestiin, we would have answered it.

    It seems reasonable to me that you talked with your son in an honest manner.

  • Thomas Goodnow

    Keeping the world selectively enchanted is a daunting task for any parent (whether you’re an atheist or not). “Ouija boards are nonsense” is a disenchanting statement, as are ones like “ghosts aren’t real”, “no one really has superpowers” and “you can’t be an expert in everything”. Those have to be balanced by statements which are fundamentally “re-enchanting” the world, things which are not science or even culture exactly, but are necessary to be fully human. These would include statements like “people are valuable”, “make good decisions”, “if you work hard, you’re likely to succeed” and “animals shouldn’t be mistreated”. Few people would argue with these thoughts, yet they are not strictly supportable by science, and we presumably don’t want our kids shaped by culture without at least some reflection (and “think about what you’re thinking about” is, itself, one of those enchantment statements; if it’s all brain chemicals, self-reflection is just a neurohormonal trick). I don’t have a silver-bullet for all this; my own parents could never convince me as a 7-year old that a volcano wouldn’t erupt under my house but were left largely sputtering 10 years later when I wanted to know what the purpose of going on living is.

  • Lucy

    Actually, you can get gibberish even if you are doing it with your eyes – if you don’t cheat and stop wherever your finger stops. I think what Ouija readers do is ignore the times their fingers stop on a gibberish letter, and count only the times when their fingers stop on a letter that makes sense, sort of the way people who watch a cold reading ignore the many times the “psychic” guesses wrong.

  • Bravo Sierra

    Re: “How would you have dealt with this situation?”
    Take your favorite air freshener, and make your own “Ghost Away Ghost Repellent Spray” label.
    Also, I love the book “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz.

  • vaiyt

    Back when I was a kid, there was the compass game. It had the benefit of being cheap and using material that everyone had access to in school. The key element is that you could only quit the game if the “devil” gave permission, or bad things would happen. One time me and my friends got stuck playing for hours on end as the compass refused to land on the right spot.

  • Martin Penwald

    On the existence of ghosts, the French cartoonist Boulet wrote this a few years ago :
    http://english.bouletcorp.com/2011/03/17/paranormal-activity/
    I’m a little upset that I don’t remember having ever experienced that.

  • wolfypuppy

    Been there done that! My son loves gory battles and Creepy Pasta. He has a vivid imagination, though, and even now at age 12, when 9 o’clock comes–his witching hour–his rational brain shuts down, letting his imagination run wild. It’s much rarer now that he’s a middle schooler and is too embarrassed to admit it, but still, every now and then, he asks me to sit outside the bathroom door while he takes a shower, because Skinwalkers! Zombies! When he kills zombies in CoD, it’s fun to watch their blood spurt, but at 10 pm? His control has slipped. 🙂 [And answer me this, o commenters, why would the undead be full of bright red blood? Sure, it’s fun to see it squirt, but, hey, make it brown and rotten. ;-)]

  • wolfypuppy

    😀 I’m mean in a more sinister way. I just frame it all–including religion–as a (silly) choice. “Oh, Ouija board! I remember going through that phase! Have fun! Tell me what happens!” They can still enjoy the “fun” while eventually coming to realize that that’s all it is–a fun game. So, I’m not letting them entirely come to their own conclusions, just the conclusions I set up for them.

  • wolfypuppy

    Ah, but you can use reverse psychology once they reach the tween phase! I act all enthusiastic about it and ruin their fun that way. Mom likes it? Blech! I’m also a talker, and they know that, so once I get into anthropologist mode they start running the other way. Or, even worse: “This is a great educational research project! Why don’t you online and look up the origins of Ouija board myths!!” This technique is loads of fun for me, too!

  • Oh, that is fantastic. I’m going to remember that in case this comes up again. Thank you!

  • Thanks! Yeah, we are always truthful about factual things – it’s the things that fall into that “can’t prove it’s not true” realm that I prefer he come to his own conclusions about.

  • Beautifully said and I totally agree. “Enchanted” is such a perfect way to describe it. I also don’t want to rob my son of the chance to sort some of this out on his own and come to his own conclusions about things we cannot prove or disprove. Thank you so much for reading!

  • Great point.

  • Haha, ghost repellant! I remember when I was a child, I had nightmares about witches all the time after watching the Wizard of Oz. So, one night my mom came into my room and asked me if I remembered how they defeated the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. I answered that they threw water on her and she melted. My mom told me I was right and that’s all I ever have to remember the next time I have a nightmare about witches. Just throw water on her! I stopped having those nightmares after that. My mom is pretty awesome.

  • That sounds like it would have creeped me out as a kid!

  • Yes! I was thinking this very thing the other day when I was watching Fear the Walking Dead – why is their blood red? It makes no sense!

  • William Lewis Salyers

    I would probably have said “Oh, there IS something SO cool about this, but it’s not what most people think it is. Let’s find out more about it together!”
    Then, I would have introduced him to the concept of the ideomotor effect: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130729-what-makes-the-ouija-board-move.
    Like most scientific explanations, I think it’s even more fascinating than the supernatural one.

  • pennyroyal

    Great response. You give them permission to explore and experiment and reach their own conclusions. You tell them it’s a norma; phase and leave a message to get back to you as to what they find. Very skillful and light. No, ‘Thou Shalt Not’s.

  • pennyroyal

    I’m an old skeptic and atheist but still like books like Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and the usefulness of fairy tales to help youngsters deal with the scary stuff of unconscious fears and strong emotions that come up for them to deal with. Thomas Moore’s The ReEnchantment of Everyday life teaches us to fall in life with the natural world and the natural parts of our psyche, to take time to let the ‘mystery’ of our inner lives develop.
    I realize some here may think I’m spouting woo-woo, but my creative and imaginative self understands this. Nothing supernatural is required. We live in a disenchanted and dismally crass world. Our children have an ancient need for ‘magic’ (as in the best books and movies), as well as an enchantment world they can inhabit. I love that this article and these responses.

  • pennyroyal

    That’s how youngsters grow their skeptic ‘chops’–trying things out for themselves.

  • Bravo Sierra

    That’s probably the best part of being a bed wetter: not having to worry about being attacked by any of L. Frank Baum’s witches.

  • Illithid

    My wife gets aggrivated when I say stuff like that, but it bugs the crap out of me! Like their virus load… they all turn if they die, but introduce a little more by breaking skin and it’s Zombie Time! Why?

    Also, I cringe when skulls get stabbed with a kitchen knife. Cut hand, anyone?

  • Guthrum

    Those are very good points and thoughts.
    Overall it is best and wise for people to avoid using instruments and materials of the occult.

  • Guthrum

    The best course of action is to not use Ouija boards and other instruments of the occult. Children should be guided toward more wholesome and worthwhile activities.

  • Guthrum

    No, Ouija boards while seemingly harmless are certainly not something to be treated as some innocent board game. The best thing to do is dispose of it so no one can use it.

  • Voidhawk

    The viral load always bothered me. The conceit that “everyone is already infected and will turn when they die” was a really cool moment, but completely ruined the very idea of getting bitten to become a zombie.

  • Aloha

    why?
    So the demons dont get you?

  • lol!

  • I see nothing wrong with it, since they hold no power.

  • There’s nothing wrong with a little pretend.

  • Plus, why aren’t they sick? They get sick when the get bitten, so shouldn’t they be sick if they are already infected?

  • Anat

    Why on earth would they be anything but harmless? Unless you make one from hard material and use it to hit someone on the head, of course.

  • Anat

    A Ouija board can be a very helpful tool in the teaching of statistics, as well as psychology. What’s not to like?

  • Guthrum

    These things can be a definite danger, not in itself, but what it can lead to and open up.
    Read: https://www.thoughtco.com/is-the-ouija-board-dangerous-2593140
    While I don’t think that this would happen in every case, it definitely is not something for people to play with.

  • Guthrum

    In those activities, if strictly confined and monitored, okay. But there are too many accounts of unusual, disturbing accounts of these devices opening up communications and contacts with disturbed and dangerous entities.
    https://www.thoughtco.com/is-the-ouija-board-dangerous-2593140

  • Anat

    I read your link, and don’t see any reason to think playing with an Ouija board for fun would be risky at all. I don’t think the author of that link thinks so either.

  • wannabe

    I’m so happy you wrote this.

  • Life is simpler when you tell the truth to your kids. Maybe not ALL the truth, unless they are old enough to handle it, but no made up stuff. Except maybe about Santa. I have my limits, lol. I think not believing in Santa is a rite of passage for kids, and we should let them figure that one out in their own good time.

  • for pete’s sake it’s a wooden commercially made board with stuff painted on it. It’s a damn toy. Get over it. =)

    That’s like saying a talking barbie doll can be used for demonic possession and should be ritually burnt…

  • I am in full agreement!

  • McJakome

    I never believed in the Easter Bunny. My earliest Santa memory is trying to catch my mother and uncle eating the cookies and drinking the milk we left out. I think that I was between 5 and 10 yo. I still believed in ET’s and flying saucers, but in junior high I was given permission to move up to the library’s YA section because I was tired of the kid stuff. I read the Erich von Däniken book, Chariots of the Gods and found the theories and the evidence so irrational and phony, that I retained hope, but ceased to believe. Some kids are like this, but others are really credulous. Parents have to see that they acquire critical thinking skills as well as resistance to pressure, especially peer pressure.