Danger is lurking everywhere. Predators are prowling around, looking for any and every opportunity to do horrible things to your kids. That’s why so many people keep calling to report seeing children by themselves these days. The world is so bloody dangerous, right?
Well, yeah, but not in the way those well-meaning busybodies think.
The researchers suspected that the overestimating of risk reflects moral convictions about proper parenting.
To separate the two instincts, they created a series of surveys asking participants to rate the danger to children left alone in five specific circumstances: a 2 ½-year-old at home for 20 minutes eating a snack and watching Frozen, for instance, or a 6-year-old in a park about a mile from her house for 25 minutes. The reasons for the parent’s absence were varied randomly. It could be unintentional, for work, to volunteer for charity, to relax or to meet an illicit lover.
Because the child’s situation was exactly the same in all the intentional cases, the risks should also be identical.
Asked what the dangers might be, participants listed the same ones in all circumstances, with a stranger harming the child the most common, followed by an accident.
The unintentional case might be slightly more dangerous, because parents wouldn’t have a chance to make provisions for their absence such as giving the child a phone and emergency instructions or parking the car in the shade.
But survey respondents didn’t see things this way at all.
“A mother’s unintentional absence was seen as safer for the child than a mother’s intentional absence for any reason, and a mother’s work-related absence was seen as more dangerous than an unintentional absence, but less dangerous than if the mother left to pursue an illicit sexual affair,” they write.
In other words, people are so freaking paranoid about parents who leave their child alone on purpose that statistics don’t actually matter.
As noted in the article, you’re actually putting your children more at risk by buckling them into a car and going for a drive than you are letting them walk to the park alone.
Part of this is because of the media. Stories about the dangers facing your child are always a big hit. People say sex sells, but when it comes to news, fear sells at least as well. You tell a scary story about what happened to a kid, throw a few numbers to show it’s not just a one-off kind of thing, and you’ve got a story that will go all over social media and have gums flapping around water coolers throughout the nation.
But most people don’t understand one thing about the news media. They don’t report on the mundane, but the exotic. After all, if a dog bites a man, so what? But a man bites a dog? Now that becomes newsworthy.
All those horrible stories about children being harmed that float through the airwaves and have for years don’t represent the norm, but the exceptions. If some harm befalls one child on one day, it’s a tragedy…but the fact that no harm befell millions of other children is irrelevant to most folks. They focus on the exception, not the rule.
Yet, people base their worldviews on what the news media tells them. They’re told it’s dangerous to leave your child alone for anything, so they structure their views around the idea that anyone who does so is negligent.
As a result, laws are structured around that. Police responses are determined based on that perception — often despite the police also knowing just how rare these situations actually are.
So now kids who walk to the park, even if it’s a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, is grounds for child protective services to be called and parents to be hauled into court.
The biggest threat to your kid isn’t predators, it’s good intentions.