Parenting brings a whole new level of anxiety to life. It’s hard enough to be an adult and take care of youself, and then you have a tiny human who’s determined to try to run in traffic and eat hazardous objects on a daily basis. You think about pesticides and nuclear war, child abductions and mass shootings.
You can be doing everything right to protect your child, and STILL have something bad happen to you. Some situations are out of our control. You can’t eliminate every bad thing from happening. But debates about gun control, tougher crime laws or other solutions on social media don’t actually effect your day-to-day safety. And being paranoid doesn’t help much either.
There are, however, ways to reduce the fear you have as a parent that don’t involve “I’m never leaving my home again.” Consider these three things:
Look at the probability of an event occuring.
Even if a mass shooting, bombing, or other terrorist event happened somewhere in America every day, while incredibly terrible, the odds are overwhelming that it wouldn’t happen to you or your child. The same goes for plane crashes (your current odds are 1 in 5 million or 11 million, depending on the source). You are more likely to get seriously hurt or die in a car accident (1 in 5,000) rather than in any of these other scenarios, yet we still drive and put our children in cars.
Ask yourself, are there really more occurances of violent/dangerous events, or just more media coverage of them?
I remember one summer as a teenager when it seemed like every week, there was a story of a child being abducted by a stranger. It is a terrible event, of course. But I started to think are these things really happening more, or are they just in the limelight more? In the study cited below, in one 4 year time span, typical “stranger” kidnappings were 0.04% of the kidnappings that occured, but they were much more likely to be covered in the media than abductions by family, which were more common (17-18).
Consider the following:
By reporting on the most frightening and unusual events that occur in society, the media is ultimately appealing to their consumer so that that their product will “sell” (Duwe, 2005; Pritchard & Hughes, 1997). Unfortunately, as a result of this sensationalization, the media has been known to be responsible for constructing social problems (Duwe, 2005; Griffin & Miller, 2008). Once a social problem has been created, a moral panic is known to ensue in which society is struck by fear of real or imagined criminal attacks based on an exaggerated perception of the pervasiveness or intensity of the threat actually posed (Griffin & Miller, 2008). — “An Examination of Media Accounts of Child Abductions in the United States”
I don’t think this is just limited to coverage of child abductions. Now that I recognize it, I see a general trend in news media of “_______ is a rising problem and we should all be scared!”, but not necessarily with data to support that.
This isn’t new:
The media has been known to sensationalize stories, particularly ones involving crime (Irsay, 2002; Krajicek, 1998; Pritchard, 1985; Pritchard & Hughes, 1997; Surette, 1992). Indeed, “research on the content of crime news has consistently shown that the news media present a distorted image of crime”(Duwe,2005,p.60). For example, Graber (1980) found that homicide is the crime most likely to be reported on, though statistically, it is one of the least frequently occurring criminal offenses. Cherbonneau and Copes (2003) discovered that carjackings in which the victim was either injured or killed were more likely to be reported on, though most carjackings are not physically violent. – “An Examination of Media Accounts…”
One reason for promoting and overemphasizing violent crime or fatal event news stories is that they get ratings, which means more money for the news networks. But this type of news reporting can cause people to live in fear unnecessarily.
I found this excerpt from a Forbes article fascinating:
In February of 2001, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released the results of a comprehensive review of air carrier safety. They noted, “Fatal accidents such as TWA flight 800, ValuJet flight 592, and EgyptAir 990 receive extensive media coverage. Nonfatal accidents, however, often receive little coverage. As a result, the public may perceive that most air carrier accidents are not survivable. In fact, the Board’s study shows that since 1983, more than 95% of the passengers survived. (That includes accident [sic] where, given the criteria above, the accident itself should have been considered “non-survivable.)”
95% of plane passengers survived plane crashes. Would you know that by watching the news?
Will a loved one die on their flight to Michigan? Will someone take your car at gunpoint? Is the man behind you in Target trying to abduct your child? The answer to all of these questions is most likely, statistically, no.
Realize that some stories of bad events exist to perpetuate fear and gain attention.
What parent hasn’t feared their child being abducted at one point or another? You’ve probably seen the “my kid was almost abducted by sex traffickers in IKEA” story or something similar to it on social media. At best, these stories are difficult to substantiate, and at worst, they are outright made up to cause hysteria and fear.
“Well I’m going to share it anyway, because better safe than sorry, right?”
No; because these stories help parents magnify an existing fear of taking their child to a store, they distract from the real forms of sex trafficking and the real concerns about abductions.
Stories like these conveniently leave out the fact that the large majority of abductions (~75%) are by people the child knows or are related to, and occur in open public places usually close to home, not stores with security cameras.
Most women/children are lured into sex trafficking for reasons such as they were promised a job, they were sold by a family member, or they were in debt (see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651545/) .
I just saw another version of the IKEA story again today. Could a similar sensational story on your Facebook feed be true? Possibly. But keep in mind that people do create these types of stories for attention, “likes”, and shares. And that many of your friends aren’t verifying that their link contains a legitimate story or is from a legitimate source before they share it. (This is a problem that goes far beyond the “IKEA” stories).
Think about what is REALLY harmful to your child and what you can do about it.
There’s far less news coverage and social media talk of things that can actually hurt your child.
Things like an improperly installed car seat or an unsafe sleeping space for a baby. Unanchored bookshelves, easily accessible medicines. Ungated stairs and unfenced swimming pools. Accidents are the #1 cause of death for kids over 1, but you CAN be proactive in reducing the opportunity for an accident. Don’t be so worried about the stranger at the store that you don’t think about anchoring your television.
The odds are that your children will not be abducted from Target. But you may need to create and enforce stricter boundaries with relatives who could cause them harm.
Your child will most likely NOT be killed in a terrorist event. But you may need to think about being aware of the tactics that bullies use now involving social media, how that could affect your child, and what you will do if it does. (Suicide is the #2-3 cause of death for children 10+).
We are bombarded by information from multiple sources every day. There are truly horrific things happening in the world. Sometimes our first reaction is an emotional one, or one based in fear. And that’s understandable. But stepping back to think about a situation and consider the facts can go a long way in reducing the fear that comes along with parenting. Considering what we can do leads to choices that do protect our children.
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