Sorting our rational from irrational fears

“What do you think of this?” a friend asked the other day, directing me to an online article. As soon as I clicked over I knew she didn’t even have to ask.

fearThe headline screamed: Why I Will Never Let My Daughter Ride Her Bike Alone

The author, Estelle Sobel Erasmus, went on to rant about how very dangerous our world is and how “we live in a scary world, which is getting more frightening by the minute.”

What I want to know is this: What planet is this woman walking on?

According to the New York Times, the five things most likely to cause injury to children are:

  1. Car accidents
  2. Homicide (generally by someone they know)
  3. Child abuse
  4. Suicide
  5. Drowning

And yet the five things parents worry about the most are:

  1. Kidnapping
  2. School snipers
  3. Terrorists
  4. Dangerous strangers
  5. Drugs

Notice how there is no overlap in those two lists?

In fact, many parents specifically ban their children from walking or biking to school and, instead, they drive them in their car. Even though car accidents are the #1 cause of injury to children. Explain that one to me, please.

The NYT goes on to say, “Parents are just bad at risk assessment. We are constantly overestimating rare dangers while underestimating common ones. With worst-case scenarios being thrown our way hourly on TV and the Internet, our sense of proportion and ratio becomes muddled.”

newsI think that’s the key right there. With 24-hour news coverage, there is a tremendous need for “news.” Such a need, in fact, that they are willing to blow things out of proportion and spread hype to fill the time. One child out of millions is abducted and they make it sound like the predator is outside your door awaiting the moment you turn your back. We’ve lost the ability to sort rational and irrational fears.

And the sad part is that millions of parents fall for it. They hover over their children, “protecting” them, keeping them “safe.” Because the worst thing in the world would be for MY child to go missing.

Estelle went on to say, “Although they say stranger abduction is statistically very rare (accounting for only 18 percent of reported cases) the fact can’t be denied that if it happens to your family the statistic is 100. I repeat. 100.”

She’s absolutely right, but that goes for everything, right?

If you happen to be the one in 8,987,657 who is struck by lightning, it’s 100% for you too.

There were 75 shark bites last year, but if you were one of the 75, your chance was 100.

And here’s another interesting statistic – you’re more likely to get injured by your toilet than be bitten by a shark. There were more than 40,000 toilet related injuries last year. I wonder if she worries every time her child heads to the loo?

If our worry did nothing to harm our children, I wouldn’t worry about the worry at all. Go ahead and worry your fool head off! Bite your nails down to the quick. Wear the carpet out with your pacing. If worrying did nothing, it wouldn’t bother me at all.

But here’s the deal: being overprotective of our children denies them the opportunity to learn and grow. It takes away critical moments of life-changing learning that can, very likely, protect their lives in the future.

It seems to me that too many parents are sacrificing long-term healthiness and happiness for short-term safety. They’re willing to compromise the learning of life lessons that their children will need as adults in order to reduce the risk of injury when they’re children.

Does that make any sense to anybody?

I want my children to live long, happy, healthy lives. I want them to head into adulthood competent and confident. I want them to know what they need to know and have plenty of life experiences to give them wisdom. I don’t want them to be coddled and babied and ignorant.

Estelle concludes, “I hate feeling like this, but until we live in Utopia, it’s the only way I know to keep her safe.”

I can only wish her well.

long term vision

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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10 Responses to Sorting our rational from irrational fears

  1. Lynda M O December 8, 2012 at 2:23 am #

    Fits right into the “afraid of what we can see” mode of fear and not the rational models we wish we could feel right about.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel December 8, 2012 at 2:33 am #

      @Lynda M O, That fear of the unknown is paralyzing. It’s hard to remain calm and look at the unknown things as they really are.

  2. Lois December 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Preach it Nancy! Seriously, the best parents (and consequently the best kids) I know follow a philosophy of holding tight when they are tiny, and gradually letting go. Parenthood is about working yourself out of a job.

    The other thing that I found interesting about that article with the woman who wouldn’t let her child bike alone was that she sent her off to preschool. Pardon me, but where is the disconnect here? You claim that you would NEVER let her bike anywhere alone, yet you send her off with strangers for how many hours a day?

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel December 10, 2012 at 2:27 am #

      @Lois, So very true. We need to slowly cut those strings and give them wings. That doesn’t happen if we hold them tight.

  3. Meagan December 9, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Eventually our kids leave home. How do we prepare them for the real world unless we teach them how to get along without us?

    Lois is absolutely right that we work ourselves out of a job. If 18 is old enough to do something, how about 16? Or 14? At some point you have to trust your child – and it won’t be the same for every child or parent. But we need to loosen those apron strings.

  4. Cila December 10, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    Balancing fear and rationality is an issue for all of us – not just parents. It is easy to get swept up in the flood of bad news and dire warnings. We have to stop and remember that newspapers are there to sell things, including ideas, and by selling us the idea that we should be afraid of the world, and our fellow human beings, it keeps us isolated and unambitious. We have to have to choose to ignore the klaxons of doom and follow our own judgement towards our dreams.

    Nancy & John are superb examples. I was also moved by this story about the parents of solo sailor Abby Sunderland

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel December 10, 2012 at 2:29 am #

      @Cila, Thanks for that story – LOVE that! There are a lot of parents out there who are encouraging their kids to reach for the stars; I just wish there were more.

  5. Thomas Arbs December 14, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    I just read Estelle’s article which is the source for yours. Apparently she got harassed when riding her bike home one day. She managed to escape, so we’ll never know if she was in serious danger (but let’s for her sake assume she was assessing the situation correctly and was threatened), but developed a fear of this particular situation. She made her mother drive her to high school until she graduated. Unsurprisingly, she now transfers this particular fear, which for her in particular isn’t even irrational, on her daughter.

    But in doing so, she now puts her in double jeopardy: not only does she deny her the means to develop independently, but by focusing on this particular threat she blanks out other, more real threats. And in publishing an article of her isolated phobia she imposes her narrowed view on others.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel December 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      @Thomas Arbs, One of the hardest things we can do as parents is to overcome our own fears in order to allow our kids to live. Too many simply can’t figure out how to do that.

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