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Arachnophobia Through Time: Removing Fear From Experience

September 16, 2015 Derek Hall 2,509 Comments

I have vague recollections of a fear of spiders from my childhood. This likely began at a young age when I was told by a babysitter that when you see a bubble of paint on a wall or a ceiling that these were actually spider egg nests, and that at any given time they could burst open with thousands of baby spiders. This was obviously a fabrication, but it is one of those traumatic pieces of information that sticks with you.  Although I would dislike a spider unexpectedly crawling across my skin, I am no longer afraid of spiders. It is interesting to me how through repeated experiences we begin to develop a tolerance for things we may have been deathly afraid of in our youth. Spiders, and insects in general, are a part of life; they co-exist in the environment and are an important part of the food chain. In our lifetimes we may not ever grow fond of these critters, but on some scale we begin to acknowledge their place in our world.

The past year I have been attempting to assist my son in overcoming his fear of spiders, a fear that is a reflection of my similar fears as a child. When retracing my past I was able to pinpoint the Order of daddy longlegs (also known as harvestmen and opilionids) as the first spider that I was comfortable with. They had a silly name, they somewhat stumbled along clumsily, and they were a bit more obvious to spot due to their long legs and awkward movements. I still did not want one crawling across my skin, but I was ok with observing them from close range, as opposed to screaming hysterically and running for my life.

atticus_kindergartenThis summer I was heading to the garage at the back of my house with my son when I spotted a daddy longlegs in the grass. A light bulb turned on and I decided to point it out to him. My son was curious what a “daddy longlegs” was, he giggled at the name and wanted to see what I was referencing. After a minute of watching the creature sloppily navigate the blades of grass, I let him know that this was a breed of spider. My son was surprised but not afraid. Here is where his journey into overcoming his fear begins! Fast forward a few weeks and Regina was hit with a particularly nasty mosquito population boom. If there is one thing my son dislikes more than spiders I would say that it would be mosquitoes. For several days we would open the back door and sprint to the garage in an attempt to avoid the dense swarms of bloodsuckers. On one such mad dash we realized that when nearing the garage door the mosquitoes were nearly non-existent. I scanned the area and found a few spider webs in a nearby plant and also in the corner of the garage door. I explained that spiders were having a free-for-all buffet, and because of this the mosquitoes were less populated by the garage. The validity of my statement was irrelevant, as the end result is the important part of this story. Clearly pondering this development inquisitively, my son stated with certainty that it was in our best interest to leave these webs and the spiders inhabiting them precisely where they were! A huge breakthrough! My son was now officially processing not only that spiders have a role in our food chain, but that in many ways this can benefit us. Students are “taught that they are a part of or apart from the natural world” (Orr, 2004), and I hope that I am doing my part in giving my son the tools to realize that he is indeed a part of the natural world.

We are far from the end goal, but it is a really great experience for me to witness these developments from another perspective. As a parent watching him tackle these challenges I can only do my best in guiding him towards overcoming these fears and accepting all aspects of nature as a part of our shared experience on Earth. It is through repeated exposure of our surrounding environment we all grow to accept, or at the very least tolerate even the creepy crawlies in which we cohabitate this planet with. I hope that in my efforts I am able to pass on the ability for my son to understand that he is not just a “cog in an ecological mechanism” (Leopold, 1966), and I hope that through my teachings that his “mental wealth and his material wealth can expand indefinitely” (Leopold, 1966).

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