Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reflecting on Risk: Part 3

This week I'm reflecting on Hanna Rosin's article, "The Overprotected Kid," from The Atlantic. You can read my previous posts here and here


Our natural stance as parents is a protective one. We want to keep our kids safe. We all do.

Many parents spend most of their waking hours thinking about how to keep their children safe, anticipating potential dangers and attempting to eliminate those from their children's lives.

Hanna Rosin’s article brings to light many statistics about child safety that might seem a bit counter to our strong parental intuition. She mentions, for instance, that playground accidents today are actually occurring at about the same rate as they were in the early '80s, even with so-called safety guidelines in place, and that rubber matting might actually be causing more broken bones because children have placed in them a false sense of security. 

Rosin also cites a researcher into children's fears who states that, "'our [parents'] fear of children being harmed,' mostly in minor ways, 'may result in more fearful children.'"

I know that's not what we're after as parents.

And what about child abduction, because isn't this one of our greatest fears? Interestingly, Rosen, citing an extensive study that shows that children are no more at risk of abduction today than we were in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

So why the alarm about child safety? Two reasons, I think: the media and the state of the family.

I don’t really want to get into an argument about the media. Let’s just all agree that that group can tend to be a bit . . . alarmist . . . at times. And they’ve got the bullhorn, so the word gets out that horrible people are lurking at every corner, trying to get to our kids.

I found Rosin’s commentary on the state of the family even more compelling. She points out that, according to one study on childhood risk, even though crimes against children have declined since the ‘90s, one type of crime has increased: family abduction. You know the scenario—Parent A has custody, but Parent B wants the kid so s/he takes the kid anyway.

Sadly, Rosin sums up the situation this way: “If a mother is afraid her child might be abducted, her ironclad rule should not be Don’t talk to strangers. It should be Don’t talk to your father.”

I’m shuddering at that thought.

So what's the takeaway? What can we learn from Rosin's use of statistics? 

One thing I think we could learn is that our own fears for our children might be holding them back. We have to fight our own fears so that our kids can feel free to take some risks that actually might help them build confidence as they grow up. 

And then there's the stranger-danger issue. While I think it's important to be wary of strangers, we need to realize that not every person is out to harm our children. In fact, I think our kids need to know that there are some very kind people in the world, and, should a problem arise, it might very well be a stranger who helps them out.

So tell me, what do you think about fear and raising confident kids? What are some fears you have for your children?


  1. I enjoyed reading through your series tonight, Shelly. Some good thoughts. You are such a wonderful writer!

  2. Yes. Media = sensationalism. So frustrating! When I was pregnant with my son, my MIL emailed me an article about a pregnant woman being murdered and her from her belly by the killers. Um, thanks? I mean, what was I to do with that? Stop having babies or wear a knife-proof vest? Crazy things happen, but so do good things--the more we talk and share and build community, we can focus on those things and help each other learn to take healthy, calculated risks.