Megan McArdle has a brave piece in yesterday's Washington Post about raising kids in a fog of fear. She even takes on the biggie: Whether being on high alert for school shootings is doing more harm than good.
School shootings, for example, are among the world’s most horrifying crimes, but they’re also among the rarest. According to criminologists James Alan Fox and Emma Fridel, there are about 55 million schoolchildren in the United States, and about 10 of them are killed annually by gunfire at school, a rate that hasn’t increased since the 1990s. That number includes all shooting incidents, not just mass shootings at schools, which average about one a year, in a country with about 130,000 K-12 schools.
That doesn’t mean that, as a society, we shouldn’t try to prevent such shootings. But in our everyday lives, we shouldn’t give the risk of them much thought. American children are at less risk of dying than at any point in human history, and if they do, it’s likely to be in a car crash, not a school shooting. Yet how many of them (or us) spend a lot of time behind the wheel visualizing what to do if the guy in the next lane suddenly swerves?
As a society -- as humans -- we are gripped by stories of unlikely, horrific events, like airplane crashes. And as McArdle notes, the media not only plays into that, it almost tutors us in hysteria, by seizing on the most shocking, saddening stories it can find and hewing to a script: This could happen to you.
Maybe one reason childhood anxiety is on the rise, McArdle says, is because of this relentless din. So she begs the media to focus less on the anomalous horrors that can and do happen from time to time. (Good luck!) And she begs the rest of us -- parents, teachers, schools -- to do the same:
But the rest of us also have to accept some responsibility. We scrubbed their playgrounds of anything even mildly risky (read: fun) and told children they could never go anywhere alone because a stranger might kidnap them — even though stranger abductions ran about 65 a year in the latest data, or roughly 1 for every 1 million kids in the United States. We’re also, of course, the ones who put them through mass-shooter drills.
In other words, we’ve not only made them excessively fearful but also given them the wrong fears. School shootings rather than traffic accidents; abductions instead of swimming pools.
It's hard to turn off all the media, but it's pretty easy to turn off or stop reading the 219th story about a shooting or other horror. This is not being in the dark about reality, or disrespectful to the victims. It is saving our sanity -- and our kids' -- from the pull of pessimism on steroids.
Put on some music, take a walk, do something that helps you appreciate the world, which has never been perfectly safe and never will be, but is (contrary to popular belief) safer now than when most of us were growing up. - L
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by ZiggyFan23.