Why It Feels Like Kids are Being Kidnapped All the Time

Hi Folks! So many people I talk to (especially for my upcoming show) are convinced that children area being kidnapped all the time, everywhere, that they cannot let their children go outside on their own. Here’s a succinct look at why parents feel this way, as presented in a comment by the reader whose screen name is “Socalledauthor.” – L.

Socalledauthor writes: Child abductions are not more frequent now than they were, however, they ARE more publicized.  In my town (a semi-rural area), there was a child abducted in 1928.  It got about two paragraphs in the local paper about how she was walking home from school and didn’t make it… when she was found, there was another small article.

Also in my town, in the last year, there was a child who went “missing.”  For four days there were articles on him and what was known about his last whereabouts and how to keep children safe.  FOUR DAYS of articles… and then, a short blurb (maybe four paragraphs) when it was revealed that he’d spent the time at a friend’s house because he was mad at his parents.

The point here is the difference in media coverage.  Day after day, the front page of our local paper was about this missing boy.  It makes it seem like the problem is bigger than it is.  Conversely, my local paper gives only a paragraph every day or so to those hurt or killed in a car accident — because it happens so often that it has become common!

Fear does not equal fact.  Just because you feel something is true does not make it so.

By the way, if you turn off the TV, you’ll find the world a less fearful place!

Jaycee Dugard’s Take on Overprotective Parents

Hi Folks! I am inspired by what a reader named Allison sent me on Facebook. You may be, too. — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m reading Jaycee Dugard’s book “A Stolen Life.” and in it, she says:

It still scares me, the fact that I can’t protect my daughters from everything. What mother wouldn’t want to protect their child from the dangers of the world? But I have to choose to believe they will both be okay and realize that sometimes when we shelter our children too much, we are really protecting ourselves.

I don’t think anyone would ever question Jaycee for being overprotective of her children, given what she went through for 18 years, so this paragraph just really states so eloquently what many of us feel every day. — Allison

I am also struck by the fact that she frames it as a choice: She could appease her own fear by seriously constricting her daughters’ childhood, or she can live with that uneasy feeling  for the sake of letting those girls enjoy what she never got to. Kudos to a brave and generous mom.  — L.

And Now We Bring You The Apocalypse!

Hey Folks — Look at this illuminating list of what constitutes “news,” at least according to the Minnesota Associated Press guidelines for reporters, as posted on the blog Business Insider and first reported by Libby Reinish on savethenews.org.

Note that train wrecks, airplane crashes and drownings are news, as are car crashes if there are “multiple victims or unusual circumstances.”

Fatal fires, exceptionally violent robberies, ice storms and damaging floods are also all “news,” while plain vanilla deaths are not.

That’s why it always seems like the world is coming to an end: Only the worst, creepiest, goriest stuff, as you well know,  makes it to the airwaves (with an occasional saved kitten thrown in). What’s interesting is that this “news” isn’t new at all. It is Kabuki — an elaborate ritual. Far from new and surprising, it MUST conform to a template and here it is! Laid out for us by the Associated Press folks in Minnesota! As we can see, the job of a “news” story is to constantly re-confirm the media’s contention that the world is a terrible, mean, scary place (except, again, for the kittens). It’s like Groundhog Day, without the feel-good ending.

So here’s an idea: Let’s stop calling it news and start calling it what it is: Same Old Apocalypse. “What’s on TV?” ” SOA.” “Turn it off.”   — Lenore

Kids on TV: Adventurous or In Danger? (Depends on What You Watch)

Hi Readers! This little note just got me thinking. Read it and I’ll give you my thoughts. It’s from a guy named Barry Jacobs in Brooklyn and here’s his blog. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I hate the media. Watch shows aimed at kids on Nickelodeon or Disney– they show kids with amazing imaginations, doing things with unbelievable freedom, having exciting adventures and almost always being smarter than the adults. When parents are shown, they are usually genial characters with vague, but obeyed, authority.

Compare that to the network news aimed at adults: Kids are stupid and need to be watched 24/7 or they will stick all ten fingers in electrical sockets.

No wonder society is so screwed up! We tell the kids one thing and the parents something else. — Barry

Lenore here. I think there’s even another angle: Sure, Disney and Nickelodeon  SHOW kids having adventures. But the networks really exist to keep kids SITTING ON THE COUCH.  So their aim, in the end, is the same as the news shows’: Keep everyone inside, watching the screen.

And in the end, much as I hate the “if it bleed, it leads” mandate of the news shows, it irks me even more that Disney and Nickelodeon and even PBS purport to celebrate an active and  imagination-filled childhood while actually working to undermine it, by feeding kids a constant diet of crack. Er…kiddie shows. (And let’s not even get into the fact that almost all of those shows have product tie-ins — Disney supposedly sells 40,000 different princess items. So they are basically out to capture our kids’ imagination, money and childhood. ) But otherwise, they’re great. — Lenore

have adventures! “] have great adventures!”] have great adventures!”]

Why Is This National News?

Hi Readers: It’s not like I advocate, “Take our 2-year-olds to the park and leave them there.” But why is this story national news? A day care center took its kids to a park that is a 10 minute walk away. On the way back the workers realized they’d left a 2-year-old behind. They went and got him.  Meantime, neighbors heard the boy crying and came and took care of him, which is exactly what you’d hope would happen — and a lot more normal than neighbors coming and killing him for the heck of it.

So why is this non-event news? It’s not presented as a happy story, or even a, “Stuff happens,” story. It’s presented as an, “Oh my God!” story. In other words: It is only newsworthy if we imagine that in just a few minutes, “anything” could have happened to the kid, instead of what DID happen: A dumb but non-fatal mistake was quickly rectified, and community was kind to a kid.

Not to flog a dead horse, but it also plays into the idea that any mistake of any kind when it comes to caring for kids is absolutely unheard of, and that we must expect utter PERFECTION on the part of anyone looking after children, be it day care workers, teachers or parents. One slip and we are shocked.

Yes, it IS pretty shocking to forget a kid at the park. But can we please get back to not obsessing about every little adverse thing that ever happens in the course of childrearing? It’s driving us nuts. — Lenore

Fantastic (Under-reported) News: Child Abuse WAY DOWN!

Hi Readers — Yes, it’s true! According to this story by the Associated Press, a “massive” federal study finds that child abuse has declined a whopping 26% from 1993 to 2006. What’s more, child sexual abuse is down even more dramatically: 38%!

The reasons seem to be a combination of higher awareness of the crime, less tolerance of it, less shame in reporting it, and more professionals (cops, teachers, social workers, therapists) focused on its prevention and detection. On the perp side, more arrests for the crime seems to have helped, as have therapeutic drugs that tamp down criminal urges. (I always like to say when the criminally insane feel less insane, they become less criminal. But I’m not sure that’s PC.)

According to David Finkelhor, a guy I quote a lot in my book who is head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, “We’ve seen substantial declines over a long period and that’s tremendously encouraging.” In other words: This is not a fluke. Child abuse has been going down for a while.

What’s less encouraging is the fact that this study was not the lead story in every American news outlet. (Yoo hoo! Nancy Grace!)  If child abuse was UP 26%, I doubt it would have been buried. And certainly the story of a single, horrific case can make headlines for days, or weeks. But, as this AP article points out, it’s possible the multi-million dollar report was issued without much fanfare — not even a press release —  because dollars do not flow to problems that are decreasing. You can’t write a grant saying, “Now that there are fewer kids in danger we need more money.”

Cynically I must add that good news about kids and safety does not sell newspapers, or TV air time or parenting magazines or…anything. In fact, it is such an odd story, it violates the whole “Is you child in peril?! Stay tuned!” news template.

So let’s not minimize the problem that still exists — a 26% drop is not a 100% drop, after all. But let us celebrate some good news, even if no one else will. — Lenore

What’s So Strange About This Article?

To me — everything. Here it is. It’s about a 12-year-old, new to the neighborhood on his first day of school, who missed the bus home. He and his friend started walking, apparently got lost (the reference to Fred Myer is a local grocery), and pretty soon the entire town — police, Boys & Girls Club, everyone — was on high alert for the missing boys.

I love the idea of community invovlement, but I’ve got all these questions, starting with: The kid had a cell phone. Why didn’t he call? If it was a new phone and he was unfamiliar with it, why didn’t he ask someone to help him use it? Why didn’t the school, where he went after he missed his bus, call his parents or help him get home? And why is a 12-year-old who is temporarily AWOL a news story? Are we so convinced abductions are happening all the time that when a child is NOT abducted, that’s considered news? 

Anyway, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something very strange about this story. If you can figure it out, clue me in. Meantime, a thank you to Free-Range Kids reader Nancy, who sent it in, with the comment: “It blows me away that there would be this level of worry over a 12 year old missing his bus in a safe residential neighborhood (without even any busy streets!) When I was 12 I had already held down a summer job for 3 years.”

Hmmm. — Lenore