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Parenting in the age of fear porn

Faced with clickbait articles about all the harm we can do to our children, it’s hard to know how to make decisions. Parents are facing very real distress at the onslaught of competing voices. I am not immune, of course, but I have made a choice.

I advocate rational decision-making based on using the information we have, then moving forward with our lives without regret.

Here’s why:

Rational decision-making is a process of watching accumulating data and making the best choices given the data we have.

There’s a great temptation to parents to try to figure out what to do based on our fears of the future. Will we regret making this choice?

But there’s no reason to regret your past choices if they were made based on the best data you had at the time. Rational decision-making allows you to let your future self off the hook.

Fear journalism is not there to inform us or help us in our decision-making.

Fear-based articles are not there to inform us. They are there to titillate us. People get off on reading scary stories about what other people “did to” their kids.

I remember what it was like when states started enacting seatbelt laws: I kept running into stories about how “my kid/mother/friend” was “thrown clear” in an accident and “would have died” if s/he’d been in a seatbelt.

Of course, the data on seatbelts is absolutely, unequivocally clear: they save lives. For every person who might have been “saved” by not being in a seatbelt, millions really are saved.

Make the right choice for now and don’t regret it later if more data proves that choice wrong.

It’s very common for parents now to agonize over choices they have to make for their children. Many of these choices are medical, and involve a new vaccine, therapy, or treatment. The best way forward in all of these cases is to check out the reasons for the treatment, what the current understanding is, and go forward with the treatment if there is no clear reason not to. In the future, accumulated data might suggest that the risk of that particular treatment outweighs the benefits in certain cases. Or maybe a commonly accepted treatment will be replaced by something better. But that won’t change the rightness or wrongness of an individual choice at this time.

The right choice is to do what current understanding says is the best choice, and not regret it later.

Decisions made based on fears of what might happen aren’t rational and don’t have good outcomes in general.

Just because sometimes they turn out to be “right” doesn’t make them rational. Most of the time decisions made out of fear have worse outcomes than rational decisions. But there’s very little money in publishing stories about bad things that didn’t happen: “My Kid Didn’t End Up in a Wheelchair Because of Polio” isn’t very enticing clickbait.

People seek out titillation.

We are living in an age of fear porn.

Parents are the most vulnerable victims of fear-based journalism. We are making choices for other humans that could change their entire lives.

One area where fear-based journalism has had a great effect is vaccines. We read and hear these fear stories daily. “My child got a vaccine and this horrible thing happened.”

But the data on vaccines is abundant and the scientific community continues to agree: The overall effect of vaccines on our population is a clear positive. If you like to get your journalism with a dose of humor and foul language, check out this piece by John Oliver. If you like a point-by-point refutation, this is a good one from Australia. If you want links to the data, start at the CDC.

With vaccines, the only rational decision to make is to go with the data we have on hand and move forward. Fear of what might happen leads us to make irrational decisions. Understanding the data lets us make the right choice for now and move on.

How we live and parent is our choice.

You don’t have to go with the crowd and live a life based on clickbait-generated fear. You get to make the decision about how to live your life.

The rational way to get through this life of too many competing voices is to make the best decision based on the information we have on hand and move on. But this is hard to do when we are facing the onslaught of fear journalism.

Reject fear porn.

Avoid clickbait, let your future self off the hook, and stick with the science.

Also, listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Posted in Culture, Health, Parenting.

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