What If We Feared EVERYTHING The Way We Fear Predators?

Hey Readers — Here’s a comment that came in the other day in response to a woman who is very wary of stranger danger. I liked its logic:

Dear Amy (the woman who was consumed with predator fear): I can sort of see where you’re coming from, but take a logical approach. There’s a chance for something bad to happen in cars and buses, which people use on a daily basis. And there’s also something dangerous that could happen with almost everything you do in life. Some we just don’t think about. Others, people are VERY aware of. Like kidnappings.

I’m gonna be honest here. I HATE HATE HATE it when there’s a child who gets kidnapped and murdered. It’s just an awful, awful thing. When most people hear about a murdered child, they are emotionally affected by it and then start to see the world as a dark, dangerous place. That is what fear is: It’s when you think about something constantly, to the point where it rules your brain and you start to see the world differently.

Trust me, I’ve been there. But you know what? You just can’t think like that. If you look at everything in life the way people look at the possibility of encountering sex offenders, then basically everything would be dangerous. When you turn on the stove or microwave, do you ever think about it exploding? Not really. But it can happen. So what would you do then, live on sandwiches? Do you let your kids play video games? Are you aware of the fact that there is a chance they can get seizures or blackouts?

All I’m trying to say is: when you let fear control your life, everything suddenly seems dangerous. How many people do you know who got rid of their cars or microwaves out of fear of an accident? Probably not many. But how many people do you know who keep their kids inside 24/7 for fear that they might get abducted?

A lot, right? Accidents happen. But people can obtain the knowledge to know how to deal with or avoid them. That’s why there’s warnings on things, and that’s why kids learn about fire safety at a young age. You don’t see very many people telling you not to buy electrical appliances because you never know when they’ll catch on fire, do you? But everyone’s going crazy about sex offenders, and parents are being told never to let a kid outdoors alone because you never know when a sex offender is around. Most parents are more afraid of pedophiles than car accidents. But there’s a MUCH higher chance of being killed in a car.

Hi! Lenore again, here. This topic is something I keep studying: How does one fear become a societal obsession, while others don’t? I’m reading a book now, “False Alarm,” by Dr. Marc Siegel, that I hope will give me the answer. So far, the book is explaining that once a particular fear “infects” us, it remains there like a low-grade fever. It’s very hard to get rid of, even when treated with thoughtful comments and blogs trying to help restore some perspective. — L

51 Responses

  1. I was thinking about this the other day. There have been two high-profile cases that I can think of that involve baby stealing by a desperate woman in the last couple of years. One where the mother was killed for the baby. You don’t see pregnant women cautioned never to talk to another women with interest in her pregnancy because that woman might just be trying to figure out when her due date is so she can kill her and take the baby….

  2. This is my mother-in-law. While I believe she is crazy for many reasons, she is completely irrational in her fears. We are at the beach this week with my family….the warnings were non-stop. What is the biggest peril at the beach? Sunburn. No warning about that, but sharks, jellyfish, pick pockets and all of the improbables (molesters are everywhere, but they look for little girls on beaches!) were mentioned. Her life is TV, so that is all she knows. She rarely leaves the 50-mile long strip of highway that goes from her home to her mother’s. Headline News, Internet rumors (three forwarded this week!) and Southern Indiana are her only views of the world.

    When she begged us to move where she lives because it was “safe,” I plied her with statistics, some from Lenore’s book. The response I got was “All I know is what I see.” My favorite warning was that if “someone got those kids, they would never get over it.” Unlikely, and no kidding. I told her I could not live like that. She said something about not living long if we do it my way.

    Keep preachin’ it, Lenore!


  3. The book “Fear Less” by Gavin De Becker is another excellent read along these lines.

  4. I’ve heard on average 100 people die every year from choking on ball point pens. I have to verify this figure. Maybe one small piece of it is a sense of what you can have some control over and what you can’t. I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re not scared of cars because they feel in control (which is of course ludicrous, b/c of the 44,000 people killed in America from cars each year, many were struck by other drivers or caught in pileups and could not have swerved out of the way or done anything to stop it).

  5. Bruce Schneier is a computer security guy but does tons of writing about how we perceive threats and security in general. I highly recommend his book “Beyond Fear” and his monthly newsletter.
    Here’s a recent headline: “Worst Case Thinking Makes Us Nuts, Not Safer” http://www.schneier.com/essay-316.html

  6. Also, partly stranger danger persists because of the horrifying and fascinating theme of evil. It’s a story. Humans love stories. Especially horror stories. How, why, who could possibly do that? Beautiful innocent victim, seemingly “normal” predator, dark basement, creepy backyard…

  7. I’m a free-ranger all the way….but my worst nightmare is for my child to suffer and me not be there to help him. In every scenario described above–fire, car wreck, even jellyfish (!?), I could help somehow (even if I had to bury him, I’d get some comfort from knowing he wasn’t being hurt). But if he were taken from me by someone intent on hurting him, and I couldn’t do anything about it, well, that’s the worst thing I can imagine. All the statistics and experts in the world can’t conquer a mother’s fear of helplessness.

  8. Well the whole dying in a fire thing must have captured the social imagination at some point: isn’t that why kids’ pjs have to be treated with toxic chemicals to make them “flame retardant?”

  9. Totally agree with Rachel about the horror story thing. It’s a fascination we have.
    I think part of the problem is a lot of people’s inability to differentiate between the real world and fiction. For example, I love Law and Order. It’s been mentioned on here several times as paranoia-inducing, but it’s one of a handful of shows that I will actually sit down and watch (not a big TV person in general). But when I took my son to visit NYC for the first time (his and mine) I got this warning “be careful. You like Law and Order, you know what NYC is like!” Excuse me? I like Harry Potter too, but I have a sneaking suspicious that not all English kids are sent off to study magic at 11. It’s more realistic fiction, but fiction nonetheless.
    And Meaghan: I’ve wondered that too about flame retardant PJs. I’ve also heard it’s dangerous to let them wear loose-fitting PJs because they catch on things more easily. Christ, is your toddler juggling candles? Are they working in an Industrial Revolution-era factory?

  10. Here is a couple more books for you.

    Folk Devils and Moral Panics:

    The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things:

    To name a few.

  11. If we feared carbon monoxide in statistical proportion to the way we fear child abduction, no one would heat their homes. Ever.


  12. I do think it is the lack of control that scares people most the illusion of control of these other situations makes people fear them less. The way they jump on the parent shows that they think if they do everything right nothing bad will happen to there kid which is just not true.

  13. I catch myself wishing that this kind of fear- that actually alters behavior- could affect more people when looking at the global warning issue. That might actually contribute to change that’s positive on a collective level.

  14. I believe these fears become an OCD. It’s a disease. These individuals live in the WHAT IF world, and forget how to live in the present. They dwell so much on what if something happens, I need to prevent that. But trying to prevent something that HASN’T happened, and may never happen, is like trying to catch air in a mesh net. They forget how to live in the now. The now where they can enjoy the life of parenthood. The joy of teaching their children and watching grow up. Although their fear is for their children, they actually forget about THEM. Their obsession of fear, over powers all reason and logic. This can be as dangerous as any possible stranger danger situation, because it’s the parent(s) themselves that is the cause.

    We’ve said many times before, only the parent can make the change, no one else. The best thing they can do to protect their children, is to teach them how to CORRECTLY deal with situations. With confidence, with calmness, and with intelligence.

    Eg. Don’t fear strangers, not all strangers are bad. BUT, if you notice someone trying to get you to go with them, or if you feel something that’s not right with that person compared to other strangers they’ve met, or if they offer candy or toy to them while trying to keep it from adults that are around, you don’t acknowledge them. NO MATTER WHAT. Run to and adult you know, and point out the person.

    A lot of parents underestimate their children. Just because they are kids, doesn’t mean they are completely clueless. Actually, this is the time where they absorb copious amounts of information, which means they are the most impressionable at early stages of their lives. Teach them fear, and fear is all they will no to be normal. Teach them assertiveness and confidence in making calculated decisions, they will learn to look at life as half full.

    Many fearful parents may read these comments and never process the logic and reason of what is said, but if anything, they should remember this. Raising your child through fear will only harm them in the end, whether it be physcial, mental or emotional. Believe it or not, it’s fact. And only the parent(s) can change that. Do you want to hurt your child (by your fears), or do you want to overcome this obsession and live your life how child and parent really should, happy and with little worries. We have, you can too.

  15. That should have been Global “warming” non “warning”

  16. I think this is why people are defending the Sex Offender registries so tenaciously even though it is becoming more and more clear that they are deeply flawed. They give an illusion of control: There are bad guys out there, but we can find out who they are and where they live so we can avoid them. Same with product recall madness–another illusion of control: We can identify every dangerous product out there and get them out of our houses!

  17. I think that a lot of it has to do with how prevalent the particular danger is. If we were afraid of actual high-risk activities (such as electronics starting a fire, car accidents, or backyard pools), we would be absolutely paralysed. We simply would not be able to function in our day-to-day lives.

    The huge irony is that the far rarer dangers, like stranger kidnappings, generate a very high level of fear _because_ they are so rare. We don’t get the chance to become desensitized to the rare dangers.

    The human brain is so messed up!

  18. I think it might also have something to do with the fact that a sex offender can be sneaky but an exploding stove can’t. Plus, there’s no guilt and secrecy involved if your appliances blow up—you’ll definitely tell people what happened, seek help, etc.

  19. Carbon monoxide is sneakier than any sex offender, though. Silent, colorless, and odorless, and you won’t even notice that you’re starting to feel funny if you’re asleep when it happens. However, I think the person who said that the illusion of control makes a difference might have the best answer. We can put in CO detectors and sleep well, believing that we’re totally protected (even though they’re not 100% infallible) and we can tell ourselves we’re safe drivers (even though we can’t control the other drivers, the deer, the weather conditions) but we can’t pretend that we can control what another human being might willfully do, especially if it’s something that already is known to defy all criminal and social norms. Anyone THAT crazy, we figure (not consciously or rationally) is near invincibly dangerous.

  20. The other thing is that we justify our own desires. We WANT to be able to go everywhere freely in vehicles, so we simply refuse to face (or maybe more properly, exaggerate) the risks of being in a vehicle. But we’re free to exaggerate the risks of sex offenders and strangers because we don’t perceive any downside to being paranoid. That’s why I firmly believe that while pointing out relative risk is a good and useful piece of the argument, it’s even more essential to try to persuade people of the downside risk to our kids of social paranoia. It’s almost not even a risk, but a guarantee, that their social development will be inhibited if we’re excessively protective.

  21. Fear has taken precedence over common sense in our society. I have been coming here if only to further come to terms with any residual fears I may have (usually after being exposed to too many fear-oriented parents) about whether or not I should be allowing my child to do things I consider appropriate for her age/skillset. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only sane person in a seemingly crazy world…

    For instance, I have been gradually allowing her to use public restrooms without my going in — there’s a difference, however, between letting her (my DD is 6 1/2) use the local diner restroom vs. going to the restrooms at the multiplex. Yet some parents feel their children should be anchored to them for life — I was on another parenting board and only one parent (among several who posted) had a free range mindset in response to the question of “how old should your child be to go to the restroom on his/her own” — see link:


    Then there’s my mother: a bit overprotective of me, I thank God I didn’t grow up in these times. Every little thing worries her to distraction with my daughter. For instance, on the first day my daughter went to day camp (on a bus), she seemed surprised that my husband and I (who had the day off) opted to go off on a jaunt to the city. To which she said: “You weren’t worried about DD’s first day off at camp?” Like I could really do anything 25 miles away…

    I must also be a bad mom because I don’t rigorously inspect my child for ticks — my cousin’s son contracted Lyme disease due to a tick bite. This from someone who will not allow his children to play on their lawn without shoes, and is now not even letting them go out due to not only deer, but potential coyote/foxes reported in the area. So of course, my mother has to stress the fact that I MUST rigorously inspect my child for ticks daily. (I guess the fact that we also have insect repellent isn’t good enough — or am I being too cavalier? I do check for other things besides ticks.)

    I’ve also noticed certain children’s books seem to gently poke fun at the fear syndrome: anyone here ever read the “Scaredy Squirrel” series (by Melanie Watt) or “Wallace’s Lists” (by Barbara Bottner and Gerald Kruglik). Even when children’s books show that sometimes stepping out of one’s comfort zone can be fine or when things don’t go even with all the necessary (or unnecessary) precautions, you know we live in a fear-obsessed society!

  22. But an exploding stove IS sneaky. You don’t know that the stove is going to explode before it happens any more than you know that some random stanger is going to grab your child before it happens. Further, while there may be secrecy involved in some in-family child molestations (those thing that nobody fears), if your child is abducted by a stranger (the thing that everyone fears), you are going to be screaming it from the rooftops. You are going to call the cops, news and anyone else that you can possibly think of who may help get your child back.

    The lack of control argument only carries the discussion so far. There are many things in the world that we can’t control. You may be the best driver in the world but you can’t control the other millions of drivers on the road. We fly in planes although we have no control (or even the skills to fly a plane). We can’t control drive-by shootings, armed robberies, exploding stoves or cars going onto the sidewalk and running us over. But people truly fear none of those things (well maybe the drive-bys if you happen to live in the hood). You don’t hear people say “I can’t let Jr. go out to play in the yard because he might get hit by a stray bullet” (again, excepting those who live in some neighborhoods). If pressed for a litany of reasons why Jr. can’t go outside to play, someone might throw that in there but it is not truly WHY Jr. is being kept in. He is being kept in so that he can’t be abducted, although he probably has a greater chance of that stray bullet since there are more guns in this country than child abductors.

    So what is it the lack of control involved with a child abduction that makes it such a stronger fear than anything else?

  23. @Babs: That was a funny article. If the parent taught their child well enough, it shouldn’t even be an issue. At least not for the son. The only thing I would be concerned about is if he remembered to wash his hands. lol

    Well you know what they say, next to LOVE, FEAR is the most motivating emotion in all of us. Despite what people may think, we CAN control our emotions and urges. But with any bad habit, you need conviction, will and the absolute desire to take control over it.

  24. I tend to take a practical approach. This may sound cold, but I think it is realistic. These people are out there. There are actually a lot of them. They are not constantly hunting vulnerable children, but they do get tempted sometimes and they will try to do stuff and sometimes they will succeed.

    Most of the time, the child who is victimized will have a lot of bad feelings about it, but will eventually live a reasonably normal life.

    What can we do about it? One – don’t think you can 100% prevent this, because you can’t. If nobody tries to bother your child, it’s because she didn’t happen to cross the path of anyone in that mindset. In fact, if you “think” nothing ever happened, don’t be so sure.

    Two – help your kids to understand that when something is done to them, it is because the do-er has a problem that has nothing to do with your child. Whether it’s physical violence, bullying, or taking too much interest in their body, this is a simple truth that should be part of every child’s understanding.

    Three – teach your kids to acknowledge and trust their instincts about people, and to seek advice or help if someone seems strange or starts going down a path that seems wrong. (Like the old guy who tried to get me to drink alcohol when I was 12 – I felt it was wrong, and didn’t drink any, but I didn’t tell anyone, either, and eventually was victimized.)

    Four – listen to your own intuition, too. I think the most heartbreaking stories are those where the child asked for help but nobody believed her. Children may not come right out and say “I think Mr. __ might be a pervert.” But they might voice some specific things that struck them as odd. “I wonder why Mr. __ seems irritated when my siblings join us.” “Isn’t it surprising that Mr. __ didn’t know how to wrap a present and needed my help?” Having gone through some (relatively mild) stuff myself, I hope I keep my ears open for my kids’ potential issues.

    Because you can’t just keep them inside until they are 18 – unless you want them to be completely clueless when they move to the college dorm.

  25. Someone should do a report about the shocking dangers inherent in forcing your kid to stay indoors or shackled to your hip all the time. You know, with all the hysterical “OMG OMG OMG I never knew I was exposing my kid to this danger” kind of tone.

  26. Someone on the ice-cream truck post mentioned that adults might have a hard time seeing the loss of ice cream trucks as a sad thing because they are aimed primarily at kids. That might be going on here as well. So what if the kids can’t play out of mommy’s sight? That’s not a big deal (but of course closer examination reveals that yes, that freedom is important.)

    I think it ties in to lifestyle as well. We have the luxury to drive our kids everywhere, to pay for babysitters at all times, and so on, whereas we don’t often have the luxury to give up our cars. That might sound funny because cars can be more luxurious than busses or walking or whatever, but my point is that even if people wanted to, a lot of people could not reliably get to work using public transportation and live too far away to walk or (unless they get in good shape) cycle. So we *can’t* worry about the danger of cars even if we wanted to, but we *can* worry about the dangers of kidnappers because we (think) we can do something to prevent them. I guess that ties into control, too.

  27. Yes I do agree that living in fear is useless and wrong. I made a similar parallel that living in fear and under the rule of Political Correctness is like being a student (at hogwarts) taking a test in movie 5 with Delores Umbridge. That is more frightful living in fear and under PC rather than living life the best way possible.

  28. The media hyper sensationalizes child abductions and sex crimes. Then the politicians use the opportunity to scare the public into passing laws meant to punish all sex offenders. Many of these laws don’t work or are unconstitutional. However, the politicians don’t care, they just keep pleasing their voters and in so wasting millions and millions of dollars on ineffective laws. The Garrido case in California is a perfect example. If California had narrowed their focus to the violent and/or repeat offender, Garrido might have been stopped years ago.

    Education is the key for a child to be empowered and not be fearful. I have seen cases where a local station will stage a child in the mall looking lost and alone and almost no one would stop to help. It’s a sad time that we live in, but I know that if I ever saw a child that needed assistance I would do what I can to help.

    Let’s hope that one day common sense kicks in and we as a society can make intelligent decisions based on facts rather than emotion.

  29. I agree with @spacefall.

    I think parents don’t really understand what they’re taking away from their kids. They don’t think it’s a big deal that their kids don’t get to go out in the world and have their own experiences. They figure they have everything they need at home. And the kids don’t really know what they’re missing, either, having never experienced freedom, autonomy, or responsibility. So the kids don’t advocate for themselves.

    It’s easy to take away something you don’t value if you believe that it will make your children safer.

  30. “How does one fear become a societal obsession, while others don’t?”

    I’ve read a bit about this. Usually it is framed in terms of why people are more afraid of airplanes than cars, when cars are in fact vastly more dangerous. I think the following are all recognized as part of the problem.

    1. People are more worried about one big catastrophic accident than a bunch of little ones.

    2. People are less worried when they have a sense (no matter how illusory) of control.

    3. People are less worried about dangers they perceive as unavoidable.

    Car accidents tend to be small, there in an illusory sense that you can keep yourself safe by driving safely, and in any case, people generally assume that they can’t possibly live without driving.

    There’s been a lot of research on those three and many other factors, if you want to get into it.

  31. Donna, my point is that there is a perceived (if irrational) sense of control over some things. Not airplanes, to be sure — but then, some people ARE deathly afraid of flying. But there’s a perceived sense of control over driving — “I’m a good driver.” There’s a perceived sense of control over stray bullets — “I live in a good neighborhood.” All of these have some truth and some falsity to them, but if you get the picture in your mind of a guy who will stop at nothing to harm your child, there’s no sense of control there at all. And I think there ARE other things that people have a perceived lack of control over that they are also protective about — not letting their kids ride with unapproved drivers, not letting them do sleepovers, and so forth.

    So I don’t think it’s about control vs. non-control, it’s about perception of control.

  32. That would also explain why these purported molesters are said to be so diabolically clever — they can look at a backpack for a split second and use a child’s name to lure them with a fake story, they hang out in groups in men’s rooms so that there’s no safety in numbers, they can pluck screaming kids from the middle of crowds and get away with them, they can unfasten kids from strollers with nobody noticing, etc., etc., etc. Because of the perceived lack of control over what another human being might do, the fear gets magnified to the point where every dangerous person is a supervillian, and every person is potentially a dangerous one.

  33. @ Pentamom – I do think that the illusion of control plays a part but that can’t explain the irrational fear completely. Take for example a bank robbery which is random, completely out of your control, and can happen in any neighborhood. If there is a report on your local news about a local bank getting robbed at gunpoint and a customer shot, most will think “how horrible” and move on with their day. People don’t pull their money out of banks. People don’t stop going to banks for fear that theirs will be robbed while they are there. However, if there is a report about a child abducted in your town, half the town will freak out and refuse to let their kids out of their sight for months. Bank robberies are far more common than stranger child abductions but we don’t fear them.

    I think you were very on point with your other point – we HAVE to go to banks, although that necessity is getting less. We can’t really put all our money in the mattress. Since occasionally entering the bank is a necessary evil, we don’t over exaggerate the distant, remote possibility that a bank will be robbed during the 5 minutes that we are there. However, in many parents minds, kid’s don’t need to go to the playground by themselves. Kids get the same benefits from parents standing off to the side but still watching was the constant refrain I read during Lenore’s “Take your kids to the park … and leave them there” campaign. Therefore, there is no reason to risk the even more distant and remote possibility that the child will be abducted. And since fear breeds more fear, it becomes this constant litany of “the world is just too dangerous” when really it’s not.

    I also think the increased value that modern society puts on children plays a part. Parents have always loved their children, but until recent history, it was sort of anticipated that you would loose some – through disease, accident, etc. – before adulthood. Today we have only one or two children and fully expect them all to outlive us. The emotional investment parents used to put into 10 kids is now focused on a couple to be protected at all costs. The biological imperative to procreate makes that so.

    Also increased wealth plays a part. Extended childhoods have always been the purview of the rich, while the poor kids went to work as soon as they were able. There is status in being able to extend your children’s childhood. In essence, we don’t want our children to mature quickly and do things for themselves because that is a sign of low status.

  34. But when I took my son to visit NYC for the first time (his and mine) I got this warning “be careful. You like Law and Order, you know what NYC is like!”

    Well, gosh, as a kid I used to watch Murder, She Wrote. This is how I know that small towns are incredibly unsafe – every week, another person got killed! I don’t know ANYbody who has been murdered.

  35. Well Uly, if it makes you feel better, my friend from Chicago came to visit us in WV and people told him “haven’t you seen ‘Deliverance’?” (Which is Georgia, people, get your hillbillies straight).
    By the way, I liked New York. The people weren’t the friendliest, but we had a good time and didn’t so much as get mugged.
    And on yahoo answers right now, there’s a question about free range parenting. The asker doesn’t have the best attitude towards it, but all the answers so far are pretty encouraging. In my experience, the parents on there tend to lean towards over-protective, so good deal, you know?

  36. Donna, I think we agree. I was trying to say that it was a combination of the two — we justify those things we think we HAVE to do, and other more “optional” things bring the illusion of control into play. If you have neither a high degree of need to do an activity, nor the ability to tell yourself that you have some control over what could happen, the irrational fears spin out of control.

    And you’re right — the luxury of being able to worry about this stuff is a HUGE factor. That’s also true on a community-wide basis — no town or city with a high low-income, non-driving population is going to suddenly decide that kids can’t possibly be allowed to walk to school, or play alone in the park, or whatever. But when everyone does have a car, and a standard of living that provides ample spare time to escort kids, and so forth, suddenly that level of protection becomes an inarguable “need” that is only neglected at the peril of our children’s lives.

  37. I mean, the irrational fears CAN spin out of control — you have the “luxury” of letting them, in the case of optional activities. People with a more rational outlook don’t allow that to happen.

  38. The problem is not fear, but Ignorance.

  39. “The problem is not fear, but Ignorance.”

    I “fear” that assumes that people act rationally on sufficient and accurate information. Forty-four years experience tells me different.

  40. Try this book: Culture of Fear- Why Americans Are Afraid Of The Wrong Things, by Barry Glassner

    I wonder how many people know, that as far as advertising is concerned, the only thing that sells more than sex, is fear?

    Has everyone forgotten that the media (television especially) is looking for ratings, and so anything sensational is played up and “if it bleeds, it leads”?

  41. Some people are naturally fearful. My in-laws are. No matter what you do they always point out what can go wrong, whereas I point to the upswing and the positives if one would succeed. I also point out that usually the positive chances are bigger and the result of knowing everything. Too much information about things going wrong.
    Yet somehow they fear, they see the dark side of things. Thankfully they have enough sense to still live life, but pretty much only that threat is know and can be understood by them. Somehow that fact makes the thread more real.
    Sometimes it makes me wonder how they managed to raise my husband. All he suffers from is being a little hypochondriac, which I manage to kerb.

    My eldest nephew is a fearful little boy and my dad is simply not having it. He is pushing the boy through his fears and then makes him feel very very proud of himself for conquering it. At 12 now it seems to be working, He’ll never be a fearless person, but he’ll have to skills to cope with it and to learn when to let go.

  42. The people weren’t the friendliest, but we had a good time and didn’t so much as get mugged.

    Now, the few times I’ve been out of the city as an adult (trips to Belgium as a kid don’t count) I’ve been left with the feeling that other people aren’t as friendly as New Yorkers! They certainly aren’t as helpful. Maybe we mutually don’t speak the right language?

  43. “I wonder how many people know, that as far as advertising is concerned, the only thing that sells more than sex, is fear?”

    Which brings up the chicken and egg question – did the media cause the unrealistic fear or did the unrealistic fear cause the media blitz? I actually think the later.

    Clearly, the fear and the media are very intertwined now. But there are things we like because the media tells us we should like them and there are things that we get more of because we liked them the first time. Take the reality tv craze. If Survivor’s ratings had sucked, we wouldn’t have all the other reality tv programs that we have today (and TV might actually be watchable again). Likewise, if the stories of kidnapped children, Dateline’s Catch a Predator, etc. hadn’t gotten good ratings, such stories wouldn’t be big news now.

  44. Uly – very possible. It could just be that you’re more comfortable in urban environments and I’m more comfortable in rural environments, and it shows for both of us. Or it could be that we’re measuring friendliness in different terms – for example, I’m used to walking around and having strangers/people I don’t know well smile and say hi. Not the case in cities for obvious reasons. So it has nothing to do with how nice they are privately – I guess “gregarious” might have been a better word to use? Or it depends where you’re going – are you talking about visiting in LA, or in some small town?
    We took a walk through Central Park and there was nary a murdered hooker in the bushes, so I am well aware that Law and Order is exaggerating.

  45. “You don’t see pregnant women cautioned never to talk to another women with interest in her pregnancy because that woman might just be trying to figure out when her due date is so she can kill her and take the baby….”

    Funny, I was never warned about that. I was, however, warned not to eat shellfish, not to clean out the cat box, and not to color my hair. I didn’t heed two of those warnings, but I did make my husband clean out the cat box…ha ha…

    On the subject of the article, I agree completely. My chances of getting killed in a car accident are comparably high next to getting kidnapped. Does that mean I should stop driving my car? My son could fall off the play gym at the part and get severely injured. Should I not let him play on it? And statistically the chances of him being hurt by someone he knows versus a stranger are through the roof. Should I ban his grandmothers from watching him?

    The simple fact of life is that there are inherent dangers in everything we do. Even a simple 10-minute trip to the local grocery store is fraught with potential danger. But I can’t live my life based on “what if.” If I did, I’d never leave the house (and even there I’m not 100% safe). Yes, I read the same stories as everyone else, and yes, they scare the crap out of me. I don’t want to die. Nor do I want my child to. But I also don’t want to live in continual fear….because that’s no way **to** live.

    Yes, bad things happen, and yes, sometimes they’re done by bad people. However, I also believe that most people are good. While there are certainly stories that show bad people exist, I think there are plenty more that show the opposite.

  46. @DMT
    I’m currently pregnant, and the litterbox thing is one I get a whole lot. I’ve also been told not to pet my cats and to wash my hands thoroughly after any accidental contact with them. I’ve even had a very well-meaning person offer to take my cats so that I lower my risk of accidentally showing them any affection by not having them in my household!

    This was something my husband and I went over when we first moved in together. We were trying to decide whether to get cats or not, knowing that they can live up to 14-20 years and we weren’t willing to wait quite that long to start having kids. We considered getting a different animal, or not getting an animal at all until after a baby was on the scene, just to be safe.

    But then I actually looked into what all the fuss was about – toxoplasmosis. Yes, if you get it while you are pregnant, the consequences can be absolutely horrifying. However, it’s a one-time-only parasite. If you or your cat has come into contact with it in the past, you will never get it again. Cats catch it by eating raw meat (such as when they hunt mice).

    Well, I’ve had cats my entire life – outdoor cats. Chances are that I’ve been exposed at least once in those ~20 years, so I am likely to be immune. Next, we live in an apartment and our two current “furry babies” are exclusively indoor. They wouldn’t know what to do with a mouse if they ever found one, and will actively refuse to eat any meat (offered, for example, as a scrap from the table) unless it comes in kibble-form. They just have no idea what to make of it!

    So am I likely to catch toxoplasmosis? No. In fact, I am incredibly unlikely.

    But the scary thing is that none of the pregnancy books I’ve read have talked about the differences between having an indoor cat or an outdoor cat, or that you can only catch it once. They just say that I shouldn’t clean the litterboxes and that I should make sure to wash my hands immediately if I come into contact with my cats. They make it into a Big Scary Danger That Will Kill Your Baby, and then just leave it at that. No wonder people are so concerned when I thank them for the offer, but I’m not all that worried sharing my household with my family – my _entire_ family.

    On the whole, I have found that being pregnant means that the entire world is out to get you. I can’t eat a sandwich because “there’s listeria in lunch meat!!!” I can’t switch to tuna because “MERCURY!!!!” When I’m exhausted from the First Trimester Fatigue, I can’t just give in one night and have a cheeseburger because I have to “make every bite count, or else your baby will be born stupid and deformed and dead!” The more people who know I’m pregnant (thankfully, I haven’t started showing quite yet), the worse it gets. I’m being watched all the time and everything I do or want to do comes with the threat that I “wouldn’t do that if I really loved my baby.” Right now, I feel that if this kid so much as sneezes post-birth, I’ll have a line up of people standing by, ready to tell me exactly what I did wrong during pregnancy that compromised his immune system and led to this sneeze.

    Aaand, consider my steam blown off 😉

  47. @ DMT – And pregnancy is just the beginning. There are constantly people waiting to judge you and give you advice about everything you are doing wrong as a parent. I just don’t think that this is what they meant by “it takes a village.”

    As for the cats, I was a single pregnant person with two cats. if I didn’t change the litter box nobody was going to! As a cat owner my whole life, I thought the odds of me catching toxoplasmosis from 2 100% indoor cats during that crucial 40 week time period were pretty much nil. I changed the cat box and not surprising my child does not have two heads. I also ate lunch meat and cheeseburgers at will.

    I loved the fish rules though. I hate fish and lived in an area where fish was very popular. I liked being able to say “sorry, we can’t go to the Fish Market for dinner because I can’t eat fish” when going out to eat with friends, rather than grinning and bearing the icky chicken at the fish restaurant and the looks from everyone else when I didn’t order fish. Hey, we need to get whatever benefit we can from this crazy paranoia because it isn’t going away.

  48. @ Arduinnae, I was lucky to have an OB-GYN who was very much an “everything in moderation” doctor. She didn’t hassle about me about what I was eating or how much weight I gained (and I gained a lot!). She told me it was preferable I didn’t clean the litterbox, but that my chances of catching toxoplasmosis from either of my cats was fairly low. I didn’t tell my husband that though. 😉

    I didn’t have anyone offer to take my cats (I would’ve given them a resounding “NO”), but my MIL “strongly suggested” while I was in the hospital post-birth that I should consider getting rid of my cats. After all, “you never know what can happen with animals and children.” Whatever.

    Funny….I mostly ate healthy but still ate my fair share of crap, and my son didn’t give out deformed or stupid….just the opposite. I colored my hair, ate shrimp now and then, and even went for long walks. The boy came out just fine. Hell, I didn’t even breastfeed (I tried, believe me), and he seems to have survived that too.

    Unfortunately Donna is right in that the judging and “advice” doesn’t end when you give birth. It’s only the beginning.

  49. Great antidote to fear is a book called “RISK: THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF FEAR”, by Dan Gardner. It answers your question “why do some fears become society’s obsession”. Short answer: media, scary stuff sells. You’ll also find statistics on how likely each of the scary scenarios is.

  50. Re Siegel’s book:

    In addition you should read up on the Hazard-Outrage Theory by Sandman. It’s a behavioral science theory used for risk communication but also relates here. The formula is Risk = Hazard + Outrage & helps explain why certain fears (kidnapping) capture people’s minds more than others (microwave exploding). (If you Google hazard outrage theory behavioral, you’ll turn up lots of good info on it.) It’s fascinating stuff!

    Keep up the great work with the website!

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