Today’s parents are bombarded with more information, advice, and “cautionary tale” news stories than ever before. From viral Facebook posts to breaking news, it seems like there’s always something new to worry about. To help you sort out the truth from fear-mongering, we’re myth-busting some of the most common questions parents have with fact-based answers.
Health & Safety Myths
Is the world more dangerous for kids than it used to be?
The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people and has generally been declining ever since. While the crime rate spiked sharply in 2020 and rose again, but more slowly, in 2021, today’s murder rate is about half of what it was in the early ’90s, reports the Council on Criminal Justice. Anyone who was a kid in the ’80s or ’90s was playing outside and walking to school in times that were more dangerous than today. Learn more: Let Grow Common Sense Crime Stats
Does playing with toy guns make kids violent?
While it’s important to emphasize that real guns are most certainly not toys and need to be handled with respect, playing with squirt guns or other toy weapons doesn’t make kids more violent. In fact, research shows that aggressive play is healthy. Acting out “good vs. evil” helps kids develop logic, empathy, and morality. It can also help kids master their fears. Parents should help kids set boundaries on what’s okay and what isn’t, but don’t be too quick to tell kids to stop rough-housing. They’re actually learning a lot! Learn more: Scholastic: Is War Play Bad For Kids?
Is it dangerous to leave your child alone in a parked car for just a few minutes?
Many states have laws prohibiting you from leaving your child unattended in a car, even for a few minutes, so it’s definitely smart to know the local laws. That said, kids are actually more likely to die being run over by vehicles in parking lots and driveways than by waiting a short time in the car. Waiting in the car is safer than being taken out. Of the 30 to 40 children who do tragically die in cars each year, KidsAndCars.org reports, the overwhelming majority were forgotten there or climbed into a car unbeknownst to the parents and couldn’t get out. They were not just waiting out a brief errand. While many people think even a short car wait is dangerous, the kids who died in cars were there an average of 4.6 hours, not 4.6 minutes. And whether cars become dangerously hot depends on many factors. While we don’t recommend leaving kids in cars in direct sunlight when the temperature is over 75 degrees for more than 5-10 minutes, we don’t believe a blanket prohibition on kids being left in cars makes any sense based on science or statistical probabilities of harm. The National Safety Council recommends putting your phone, wallet, or even one of your shoes in the backseat along with your child, so you’ll always be forced to take one last look before you leave the car. Learn more: Let Grow State Policy Maps
Do people really give out poisoned candy on Halloween?
This Halloween myth has been around for ages, and it’s been busted again and again. There are only a couple of cases on file, and the only death was from a father who poisoned his own son’s candy. Put simply: no one is poisoning your kids’ Halloween candy. The real danger on Halloween (aside from kids not sharing their booty with you) is kids getting hit by cars when crossing the street. Teach your kid street smarts and leave the Kit Kats alone. Learn more: History: How Americans Became Convinced Their Halloween Candy was Poisoned
Kidnapping & Abuse Myths
How likely is my child to be kidnapped by a stranger?
Kidnapping is one of the greatest fears of many parents, but the odds of a child being randomly abducted by a stranger are extremely small. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, non-family abductions are the rarest type of case and made up only 0.3% of the 2019 missing children cases reported to NCMEC. Most missing children reports (over 90%) are for runaways. If for some reason you WANTED your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, you would need to keep them outside, unattended, for 750,000 years for that crime to be statistically likely to happen. Learn more: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: Missing Children Statistics
Are those viral Facebook posts about kids being kidnapped and sex trafficked from Target, Walmart, and other stores true?
We asked David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, “Have you heard of any case where a child was taken from a parent in public and forced into the sex trade?” His answer was an unequivocal NO. That crime is not happening. Actual traffickers build relationships with the young people they go on to exploit, usually troubled or runaway teens. That is horrible in its own right, but no one is spiriting away toddlers from Target.
Learn more: Ask Lenore: Do Human Traffickers Kidnap Children?
Are kids safe in public restrooms on their own?
Parents often wonder when their kids are old enough to be safe in public restrooms on their own. Horror stories on the news make us feel like sexual predators and kidnappers are lurking in every stall. They’re not, of course. In fact, most sexual abuse is committed by people kids already know, not random strangers in a public restroom. If you want your kids to be safe in public restrooms and beyond, educate them on the Three Rs: Recognize that no one can touch you where your bathing suit covers, Resist anyone who tries to hurt you, and Report incidents to parents or other trusted adults. Tell your kids that you will not be mad at them or blame them if they tell you something upsetting. This removes a predator’s greatest assets: secrecy and shame.
Learn more: RAINN: How Can I Protect My Child From Sexual Assault?
Should I use the sex offender registry to plan my child’s Halloween trick-or-treat route?
Halloween safety myths abound, and this is one of them. Studies show that kids are no more likely to be molested on or around Halloween than at any other time. Additionally, only about 5% of sex crimes are committed by someone already on a registry. If you want kids to be safe, make sure they know how to cross the street. Kids are four times more likely to be killed by a car on Halloween than any other day.
Learn more: Psychology Today: Halloween Sex Offender Laws
Should I teach my child about Stranger Danger?
When today’s parents were growing up, Stranger Danger was all the rage. Turns out, though, we were doing kids a real disservice. Telling children that every stranger was dangerous kept them from seeking out help when they needed it. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which pioneered the idea of Stranger Danger originally, is asking parents not to teach it anymore. This is a good myth-busting item to share with others. Teach your kids they can talk to anyone, but they cannot go off with anyone.
Learn more: Kid Smartz: Rethinking Stranger Danger
Should I be worried about white vans?
This is the latest viral Facebook post that has no evidence, even though news outlets keep picking it up. The claim: White vans are frequently used for kidnapping and sexual assault. (The mayor of Baltimore even issued a white van warning!) Multiple fact-checking sites have confirmed this is an urban myth, but somehow it keeps spreading. Remember, most abductions are perpetrated by people who already know their victims, and white vans are… just white vans.
Learn more: Let Grow: In Defense of White Vans
Online Safety Myths
How can I protect my child from internet predators?
Today’s parents have something new to worry about: internet predators. And there certainly are some out there. So it’s important to teach kids internet safety right from the start. From a young age, use the internet alongside your child and talk about how to stay safe online. As kids get older, lightly monitor their use, but not by spying on them. Instead, remind them of safety rules. Keeping the family computer in the living room is a good way to keep an eye on things. By the time they’re teens, though, it’s time to give kids some internet independence and let them apply the skills you’ve taught them. Just make sure they know they can always come to you if they’re worried about their online interactions.
Learn more: National CyberSecurity Alliance: Online Learning Tips for Kids & Parents
Should I avoid posting photos of my child on the internet?
It’s a common warning: “Don’t post pictures of your kids online! That’s how sexual predators find them!” And it’s true that the internet can be a frighteningly anonymous place. That doesn’t mean you should never post photos online, though. Simply be cautious about your privacy settings, and don’t automatically accept friend requests from everyone who sends them. Another consideration? Maybe your child doesn’t want their photo posted online. As we all know by now, stuff that makes it onto the internet can live there forever. Ask your school-age kids for permission before you post any photos of them online.
Learn more: NPR: Do Parents Invade Children’s Privacy When They Post Photos Online?
Is too much screen time really bad for kids?
Parents are frequently shamed over the amount of screen time they give their kids, and there are certainly some valid risks. But resist the urge to feel bad every time your kid picks up the iPad or scrolls through TikTok. There are so many ways that using screens can actually help us (you’re using one right now, aren’t you?), and we can help kids discover those. It’s less about the amount of time they spend online, and more about what they’re doing when they’re online. Encourage your kids to develop a variety of interests, both online and offline, but don’t fret so much over how many minutes they’re online each day.
Learn more: Here’s Why I Don’t Limit Screen Time or Monitor My Child’s Phone
Should I let my child or teen use social media?
As soon as kids have their own phone, they’re going to want the latest social media apps. Before they set up their own accounts, though, teach them how to use social media safely and responsibly by letting them spend some time with you on your social media accounts. Once you do let them set up their own accounts (and most sites require them to be 13), remember that social media stress is a real concern for both teens and adults. Talk to them frequently about what they’re doing online, and remind them they can always come to you with questions or concerns. The children most at risk for increased anxiety and depression due to social media use seem to be tween girls. Learn more: Better Social Media.
Should I monitor my child’s social media and texts?
Monitoring your kids texts and social media accounts is like following them everywhere they go. By the time they’re teens, you’ve got to give them some freedom, including online. The key is to teach them responsible and safe online behavior, and reinforce that regularly. As with all parts of their life, you want kids to feel comfortable coming to you if they need help or have questions. Violating their privacy in the name of safety is likely to cause them to shut down and try to shut you out of their lives entirely. Some schools HAVE instituted “Wait Until 8th” — a school-wide effort to not give kids cell phones till 8th grade, an idea that seems worthwhile.
Learn more: Psychology Today: Why Teens Need Privacy Online
Topics: Policy and Legislation