In The New York Times on Saturday, Lisa Belkin put us in our place a little, pointing out just how bad parents are at measuring risk, keeping kids safe from real dangers, and letting go of unrealistic fears.
The top concerns that parents have about their kids’ safety — the things that keep them awake at night — are kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers, and drugs, according to the Mayo Clinic. But when you look at the probabilities, none of these make the cut for dangers truly likely to befall our kids.
It’s because we’re not really good at sizing up risks and looking at things rationally. As humans we’re pretty emotional decision makers, programmed to react to things that push our innate fear buttons. So a news story about a child being kidnapped trips an emotional wire with us. But is it really likely to happen to our kid? No. As Belkin mentions in her story, statistically speaking, you would have to leave your child alone outside for 750,000 hours to make it likely for a him to be snatched.
What are the things we should actually worry about?
According to Paula Bernstein, who wrote about the this recently, the real top dangers are car accidents, homicide, maltreatment or abuse, suicide (teen boys), drowning (young boys), fire (young boys), suffocation, bicycle accidents (boys), unintentional poisoning. Football injuries have been discussed a lot lately — for example, we know that the sport accounts for 22 percent of concussions in kids 8 to 19. But the jury is still out on the long term consequences.
Let’s see. Last night, after watching When the Levees Broke, the Spike Lee documentary about Hurricane Katrina, I lay awake for awhile having panic-inducing visions of my two-year-old having to float to safety on a raft made of a refrigerator door, eventually being raised up on one of those helicopter rescue baskets.
Statistically speaking, he’s not likely to be a hurricane refugee — we were more likely to get in an accident on the way to preschool this morning. But that’s not what kept me up at night. It’s because the movie struck an emotional cord, and my brain listens to that more closely than it listens to facts and probabilities.
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