One of the great threads tying together generations of parents and kids is Scooby-Doo, which has been a mainstay of television from 1969 until today. Amazingly, the gang and their dog are still pumping out original shows, and the only animated series with more episodes is the Simpsons. My kids have now stumbled onto Scooby-Do0, and I find that the episodes I remember from the 1970s are just as watchable now as they were back in my youth. More predictable, perhaps, but just as enjoyable.

But there is a worrisome trend that’s creeping into Scooby-Doo: real ghosts and other monsters. Back in the day, Scooby-Doo lived in a perfectly rational world. There were no mummies or ghosts or werewolves, just bad guys with elaborate costumes and fiendish plans that usually involved scaring people off so they could steal a jewel or buy cheap real estate. But since I was a kid, supernatural beings have begun to make entrances into the Scooby-Doo world. A couple of the direct-to-DVD movies we’ve bought have cast monsters — not masked real-estate speculators — as villains, and the terrible live-action movies have also featured real ghosts.

I’m not sure I learned much from TV as a kid (growing up in a golden age where no one even thought that children’s shows should have any socially redeeming value at all), but Scooby-Doo had a message that stuck with me through the decades: when something seems scary or unexplainable, it’s only because you don’t have enough clues. If you have enough information, vampires eventually get exposed as common crooks. That’s the powerful lesson that the new Scooby-Doos ignore.

Introducing ghosts into Scooby-Do is an issue because we’re entering an era where more things than even seem scary and unexplainable, even for adults. People don’t know what to think about climate change or about international relations or about the effective delivery of health care. And rather than following the lead of Fred, Shaggy, Velma and Daphne and looking for “clues” that will help us make sense of the complex and the frightening, we’re increasingly content to blame “monsters” on one side or the other.

The last couple of Scooby-Doo animated flicks have returned to the old-fashioned crook-in-a-costume format, which gives me hope. Because if there’s one thing that kids (and adults) really need today, it’s the willingness to follow footprints, wherever they may lead.