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2012 In The News

Mayan End of World Hype is Causing Real Fear Among Children

By Rebekah Sager, Fox News Latino

Scientist David Morrison has for many years made it his personal quest to debunk doomsday rumors. Lately, it’s the Mayan calendar that’s on his radar.

On his “Ask an Astrobiologist” web page, Morrison, a doctor of astrobiology and astrology from Harvard University and a senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the Ames Research Center, receives at least five emails a day from people (mostly kids) who are terrified the world is coming to an end.

Even worse, Morrison says, he recently met a middle-school teacher from Stockton, Calif., who told him that two parents had come to her and said they were planning to kill themselves and their children on or before December, because they believed the end was near.

“I’m afraid of what people will do on that day (12/21/2012). They may do crazy things. There is no scientific evidence backing up what these doomsday people believe,” Morrison says. And he fervently states, “If something horrible was going to happen, I would tell people.”

Humans are in constant fear of the sky falling—probably from the beginning of time when they couldn’t explain lightning, sunset, disease, or death. The latest doomsday fears are being fomented by the believers in the Mayan calendar—using it to predict the worlds end on 12/21/2011 at 11:11 GMT—suspecting a demise by a rogue planet or star colliding with Earth, an earthquake of some magnitude, a solar blast from the Sun causing catastrophic fires, alignment of planets, or axis/gravity shifts.

The Mayan doomsday prediction has been widely debunked by scientists, and most people laugh at it or are mildly intrigued by it. Mayan sites have even launched tourism campaigns around it. But all of it is causing a very high and serious level of fear, particularly in children.

“Given what’s out there on TV or online, depending on their environments and their ages, children are easily susceptible to irrational beliefs. If you share this doomsday information with them, you’re going to scare them. And if they see the end of the world as a villain, they could hurt themselves in order to ‘outsmart the villain’,” says Donna Kashani, M.D. Board certified adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist and faculty member at UCSD School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry.

In May, a 16-year-old UK girl by the name of Isabel Taylor hanged herself after she’d done extensive research on the Internet about Doomsday predictions, and convinced herself the world would end in 2012. According to her friend, Taylor had become obsessed with the world ending—constantly making comments to friends and family about a nuclear disaster caused by sunspots resulting in a reaction so big as to end the world.

According to the 200 inhabitants of a small town in France called Pic de Bugarach, 20,000 people have descended on their hamlet to wait out and possibly save themselves from the impending doom. At 1,230 meters (or 4,035 feet), it’s the highest peak in the Corbieres mountain range, and many believe that like Mount Sinai, it possesses mystical energies and magnetic waves. Many of the pilgrims or “New Agers” believe that on December 21st, aliens will come to the mountain and rescue them, taking them to the place of the “new age or era”. The French government is concerned that if nothing happens on the day, there could be mass suicides.

John Kehne, web developer of the site December212012, a doomsday clearinghouse of sorts, says the site he created in 2005 wasn’t meant to scare people but be a place for all opinions. Although Kehne is an admitted “prepper” —someone who is prepared for a disaster with food, water, and gas masks located in a bunker under his house— he doesn’t believe the world will end on 12/21.

“Whether we can witness it or not, something will happen on that day. No one can know for sure what will happen. I tell my kids there will be a Christmas this year. I feel positive that we’re headed for a more enlightened way of living on the planet,” Kehne says.

“When children are afraid or anxious by this doomsday stuff, it’s because they lack adult figures in their lives who aren’t reassuring them they’re safe,” said Dr. Saurabh Gupta, a researcher in the department of Psychiatry at UCSD. “Emotional safety is created by adults for children, kids can’t be held responsible for making themselves feel worry free—it’s not their job.”

Rebekah Sager is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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