In a culture shaped and shamed by terrifying clickbait, Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned write-from-home parent committed to debunking all the bad parenting advice on the internet. (It's a big job.) At snackdinner she helps people to become better researchers and calmer parents. She writes:
Any parent who uses social media knows the zoom and crop: it’s how you share each milestone without also sharing the breakfast dishes, mountains of unfolded laundry, or the next round of succulents you’ve managed to kill.
Writers of child safety stories often perform the news equivalent of photographing the one clean corner of your house. The reporting may be completely accurate--this child died, that one had a close call, this mom will never do X again--but it is also deceptively narrow.
Take, for example, various news reports about an article in Pediatrics about the top 5 nursery dangers. Every hour a child is injured by a high chair! And during that hour, another child will be harmed by a crib!
By zooming in on a single baby item, these stories make the nursery look suddenly sinister. The Pediatrics study found that 90 out of 100 high-chair related injuries are falls, a statistic that has been used to argue for more watchful parenting and tighter safety regulations.
If readers zoomed out, the scene would look different. A high chair’s function is right there in the name: it lifts a child off the ground. We should expect most high chair injuries to be falls.
The same zoom out strategy works for the rest of the dangers in the Pediatrics study, reminding us that a source of injury is not proof of danger. Baby carriers (19% of all nursery injuries), cribs and mattresses (18.6%), and strollers (16.5%) all look like death traps when attached to a percentage of childhood injuries.
When we consider where babies spend most of their time, those percentages look thoroughly underwhelming. We should expect to see babies getting injured while in cribs, carriers, strollers, and high chairs because that’s where babies are. If we learned that 25% of pediatric emergency room visits came from zoo trains, then we might have cause to avoid visiting the giraffes at the back of the property.
If we zoom even farther out, to the hospitals where these injured children were treated, we’d notice another under-reported percentage from the Pediatrics study. Almost 95% of the 1.4 million injured children in this study were treated and released from the ER. That suggests that 95 times out of 100, the injuries weren’t sufficiently life-threatening to warrant admission to a hospital. The study could very well have been titled “Most babies injured in their nurseries will be fine.”
We know not to equate a flawless Instagram feed with a perfect life, because we know that the images are zoomed and cropped and filtered. We should apply the same critical thinking to the metaphorical images created by scary child safety stories, always looking for the bigger, messier picture.