Really bad things happen out there in the big world, bad things that people bring about.
If you read even the oldest texts that humans have passed down, we know that bad things have happened as long as stories have been told. And if you look at the forensic evidence that archaeologists present, you know that bad things have been around as long as humanity.
I’m not referring to any of the natural or even unnatural disasters that no one person is in control of, but rather the bad choices that people make.
Recently in the news, there have been lots of bad things, including shootings at colleges. Recently in my local community there have been some very high-profile bad things, especially those involving children. These bad things have parents scared. Parents of younger kids are afraid to allow them the amount of independence that is healthy for them. Parents of teens worry as their teens go to college classrooms or live in dorms.
The media has decided that its job is stoking our fear. Let’s face it: the media’s real job is selling us stuff. And their advertisers have found that scared people buy more crap than happy, secure-feeling people. So they egg the media on to keep scaring us more and more.
The feedback loop
I believe the media frenzy for bad news creates a feedback loop in which people who were already vulnerable get pushed further:
- People who are vulnerable to acting out from fear get egged on to go do violent things.
- People who are vulnerable to feeling fearful are more likely to retreat from the world.
The first category is, frankly, a small sliver of humanity. Most of us don’t act violently out of fear. Most of us, when we’re fearful, retreat.
But in this case, retreat is also a form of defeat. Parents who keep their children from playing on their own outside are defeated in their parenting. Letting go and allowing our children to experience the world as individuals is one of our hardest and most necessary parenting jobs. (See Good People, Bad People, and the Rest of Us for my take on that.)
What the media doesn’t want us to remember, because this knowledge doesn’t lead people to go out and buy things, is that the biggest risks we take on a daily basis are ones that we don’t worry about: Statistically speaking, if you’re worried about your kids’ safety you should never drive a car, or for that matter, cross a road on foot. Of course, anyone who is worried about these things to the point where they won’t do them is assumed to be mentally ill.
We don’t give up driving our cars and crossing streets because that’s part of living the lives that we want to have.
Though you wouldn’t know it from all the scary stories, playing outside is not a major risk factor in children’s lives. And a college classroom is one of the safest places on earth to be.
As people who know and understand risk, we can’t retreat.
Being an example
What we have to do is stand up for what’s right, live our lives boldly, and know that our example inspires other people. A friend of mine posted an email on our local homeschooling list after a horrible local tragedy about how she let her kids go to the park across the street from her house alone the next day. I was really grateful for her to showing her vulnerability publicly like that, and reminding people that the most dangerous thing she allowed her children to do that day was to ride in the car with her.
We can’t let the relentless pursuit of advertising clicks rule our decision-making.
My teen goes to college classrooms, where one of the subjects being taught now is how to do a lockdown.
My almost-teen plays alone outside, rides busses alone, and is developing an admirable sense of self-confidence.
I feel confident that we are doing the right thing, though I am no less vulnerable to fear implanted by scare stories than anyone else. I hope more and more parents join me, my friend, and others who are fighting back against the hysteria that our relentless focus on people doing bad things has stoked.