Today’s parents1 are a fearful bunch in arguably the safest time we’ve ever seen. When did parents get so scared? investigates the sources of this fear and has a few interesting insights, starting with a pretty visceral picture of common fears:
Rather than abating with time, the checklist of parental worries has only lengthened as our children have aged, like pencil marks ticking up their growth chart: from SIDS to chemicals in sippy cups, arsenic in apple juice to hormone-laden milk, Lyme disease and meningitis and measles outbreaks, vaccinating, not vaccinating, concussions and trampolines, whole grapes and popcorn, school shootings and cancer-causing sunscreen, overheated cars and negligent nannies, boogeymen kidnappers and friendly neighborhood molesters, and always, above all, the judgment of our fellow parents for failing to be as hypervigilant as they are.
Although the article doesn’t explore this point, it’s that judgment from fellow parents that must be a significant driver of parental anxiety, even if it’s not a primary source. The media comes in for a good drubbing as a primary source:
[T]he crux of the problem is “frequency overestimation,” a phenomenon that throws off our sense of how common something is. “The media overplaying every child abduction makes people overestimate the probability,” [David Anderegg] says. “Because our culture is so visual, even if something is rare, the images are repeated so much, you start to think it’s not rare.”
How rare? Pretty rare:
According to polling, the fear of child abduction is the top reason parents say they don’t let their kids out alone, yet it is, in fact, extraordinarily rare. According to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there are only around a hundred cases of child abductions by strangers in a given year (many of those children started as runaways). Lenore Skenazy famously calculated that, statistically speaking, her son would have to stand alone on the street corner for 600,000 years before he would get snatched by a stranger.
The article explores a few other reasons and is a pretty good primer on the growing reaction against parental fear, but it ends pretty poorly, with the author seemingly willing to cling to her own confessed fears. Still, well worth a read. I’m sure I’ll be directing other parents who judge me towards it in the future.
- Everything that follows basically only applies to the (largely white) middle class. Poorer folks are generally working so hard to make ends meet that they don’t have the luxury of micromanaging their children’s lives. ↩