Why Are Parents So Scared? Ask Barry “Culture of Fear” Glassner

Hi Folks! Just read a wonderful, cogent Q&A with Barry Glassner, the author of The Culture of Fear and now the prez of Lewis & Clark University. He’s been tracking our escalating worries for over a decade and come to the same conclusions as me (he came to them first!!)  about where the fear is coming from and perhaps how to fight it. My favorite part of the interview:

Why are so many people afraid of such extreme possibilities? 

We need to be careful to distinguish how people respond to fear mongering and who is spreading the fears. If we ask why so many of us are losing sleep over dangers that are very small or unlikely, it’s almost always because someone or some group is profiting or trying to profit by either selling us a product, scaring us into voting for them or against their opponent or enticing us to watch their TV program.

But to understand why we have so many fears, we need to focus on who is promoting the fears.

What’s your advice for someone faced with “fear-filled” news? 

If I can point to one thing, it’s this: Ask yourself if an isolated incident is being treated as a trend. Ask if something that has happened once or twice is “out of control” or “an epidemic.” Just asking yourself that question can be very calming. The second (suggestion) is, think about the person who is trying to convey the scary message. How are they trying to benefit, what do they want you to buy, who do they want you to vote for? That (question) can help a lot.

It sure can. That’s why I try to ask it a lot: Are they doing this to get ratings? Are they over-scaring us about some unlikely or minor problem so they can sell us something to assuage the fear they  just created?

The problem, of course, fear also becomes an echo chamber: If TV keeps showing us abductions to garner ratings, those scary stories resonate for the average person who is NOT trying to sell anything, but has been shaken to his shoes. Now he truly believes he’s being helpful warning us, “Don’t let your kids play on the front lawn, they could be snatched!” or, “Don’t let go of your child’s hand at the store, EVER.”

How to leech the fear infection out of those folks is in part what Free-Range is always trying to figure out. Suggestions welcome! — L.

The REAL Miracle on 34th Street

Hi Folks! Just got this note about what happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. As a kid, I even had the novelization of it! (The movie was so popular, someone wrote it up as a book.) Who knows? Maybe watching it made me Free-Range! Anyway, this little analysis comes to us from Elizabeth, a 29-year-old social worker in Boston. Enjoy! L.

A mom and two potential pervs?

Dear Free-Range Kids: This Thanksgiving, I watched Miracle on 34th St. with my family, which is a tradition for us.  I had never noticed how different the attitudes towards men being around children were in this movie compared to today.
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At the beginning of the movie, the mother meets her later love interest after finding out that this stranger has been babysitting her daughter Susan, age 6,  for the day.  Instead of being horrified and calling the cops and a child psychologist to evaluate her for abuse, the mother is very thankful to the kind man for watching her child.  The only thing that bothers her is that he took Susan to see Santa Claus.
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Later in the movie, Kris Kringle stays at the mother’s apartment and puts the little girl to bed.  It’s a heartwarming scene where she tells him what she really wants for Christmas is a house.  Again, there is no question about why this old man is in a little girl’s room.  The audience doesn’t question it either, after all, he’s Santa Claus!  I should point out that at this point in the movie, the mother is still questioning whether Kris Kringle is clinically insane.
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Now, I’m not saying that we should all behave like we’re in a 1940s movie.  But I was saddened to think how a movie like this would be perceived today.  I’m sure the mother would be reviled for being irresponsible, or it would be considered unrealistic that the little girl was never abducted or molested.  And what about a old guy who dandles moppets on his lap all day? Don’t ask! – E.F.

Occupy Halloween! Hand Out HOMEMADE Treats This Year!

Hi Readers — It occurs to me that maybe the best way to fight Halloween paranoia is with cookies.

Start with the fact that there has NEVER been a case of children poisoned by a stranger’s candy on Halloween. That’s according to University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best, who has studied the urban myth since 1985. Nonetheless, the advice we ALWAYS hear is to “check your child’s candy for tampering,” and treat homemade goodies like radioactive waste. All of which is based on the belief that we are quite likely surrounded by psychopathic child killers  (who hold it in till Oct. 31st).

But that idea isn’t just wrong,  it’s corrosive. Start thinking of your nice neighbors as potential killers ONE day a year and how are you supposed to trust them the REST of the year? It begins to seem just plain prudent to treat everyone as evil, especially where our kids are concerned.

Result? A society where we don’t let our kids roam the neighborhood, interact with adults or do much of anything on their own. It just seems “too dangerous.” All adults are creeps and killers until proven otherwise.

So this year: Let’s prove otherwise.

Let’s be like “The Fudge Lady” my friend Kelley remembers from her childhood Halloweens. Along with her fabulous fudge wrapped in Saran Wrap, the lady included her phone number. Anyone worried could call  her, thus taking the terror out of the treat.

Do the same and anyone who is worried can call us. We can chat with them, explaining that we want  to spread community (and cookies). And we can remind them that even though it seems strange to get a homemade treat, we are part of the the 100% of people who have never poisoned a child on Halloween. — L.

By the way: Witches aren't a real threat, either.

Guest Posts: Why I Didn’t Help A Lost Girl (And Troubled Boy)

Hi Readers — I got both these letters today and felt that together they make the point: We must start letting men know we TRUST them around kids. Thinking the “worst first” of all males is not only insulting, it is damaging the fabric of our society, pulling men away from their age-old jobs of  protecting and mentoring. (Yes, women fulfill those roles, too.  But the more the merrier!)

“You like kids? You must be a creep!” is a weird, paranoid, Nancy Grace-induced attitude. No one’s saying we should be naive about child abuse. But to have child abuse top-of-mind every time any man has anything to do with a kid is, well, perverted! Talk about ironic! — L.

Why I Didn’t Help a Lost Little Girl by Alan, in Utah

Our city had a carnival today.  While my 3 youngest boys were off at the dunk tank. (*Gasp* — by themselves!  With money even!) I was sitting at a table with all of the boys’ stuff (shoes, socks, stuff from the parade) when I noticed a little girl separated from her mom.  It must have just happened because she looking around bewildered at first, but within just a few moments she was crying pretty hard.

My first instinct was to go and see if she point out her mom, but Iwas worried about someone accusing me of something and being arrested and my boys coming back to an empty table.  So I sat and watched uncomfortably while this poor little girl became more and more agitated and crying more and more loudly.

Now, the part that bothers me the most about this is that there was a group of three women standing not 5 feet from this little girl.  They ignored her completely.  I finally decided to get up and do something and had gotten just a few feet from this little girl when one of the women butted ahead of me and asked her if she’d lost her mother.  As she escorted the child past she hissed, “Pervert!” at me.

I kept thinking of that poor man in England who saw the little girl walking who ended up drowning and was too afraid to stop and help her. I remember thinking when I heard that that there was no way I’d just drive off and leave her … but I know better now.  I’m much less likely to help a distressed child because I’m too afraid of what might
happen to my own kids.  And that’s just sad. — Alan

And here’s the other note

Why I Didn’t Help A Lost-seeming Boy, by “Philosodad”

“Stranger Danger” does cut both ways. Over the fall and winter I used to take my son to a playground closer to my daughter’s daycare. The kids there would ask me to play quarterback in the pickup football game (and let my three-year-old play, which was awesome). This was a lot of fun for everybody and gave the kids an unbiased referee (me), a quarterback who could throw deep passes (me), and a kid with a *brand new football* (my son), which is more or less pickup football nirvana.

One of the kids, who didn’t have a dad at home, got very attached to me… told me all his stories, wanted to stand close to me, wanted approval, Dad stuff, I guess. And because of this whole “stranger danger” mentality, I could just sense this sort of wary disapproval from the few other parents at the playground (none of whom were playing with any kids, not even their own) who just sort of watched. Watchfully.

I felt weird about the situation, so I just stopped going to that playground. Which was probably the wrong thing to do. It’s sad that even though I knew that I wasn’t a creepy stranger, I was so worried about being seen as a creepy stranger that I gave up a perfectly good opportunity to mentor a troubled kid for a few hours a week. — Philosodad

Oh no! A grown male near a child!

A Repulsive Ad About “Child Safety”

This ad isn’t new, but I just have to say: It is repulsive. Repulsive in that it reinforces the belief that if you do so much as to turn around for a sec to get something out of the stroller, your child could be abducted.

Repulsive in that, in order to sell batteries, Duracell is happy to subscribe to the notion that children are in peril every second of every day, even when they are at the park with their moms.

And repulsive that BrickHouse Security is only too happy to scare the wits out of parents to peddle a device that presupposes a man in a van is always just up the road, ever ready (so to speak!)  to snatch our kids. The ad even SHOWS the van.

Why would anybody buy a white van anymore? Or this product? And (off topic but): isn’t that kid too big for the stroller? — Lenore