Stranger Danger? Not unless he’s a Saber Tooth Tiger

I read an interesting NYT article the other day about the dangers children actually face and the dangers parents fear for their children (find it here). It all started with all the information we’ve been getting about the damage playing contact sports, like football, can have on your brain. Brain scans of professional football players resemble brain scans of elderly people with Alzheimer. The constant blows to the head a football player receives can result in serious neurological disorders, depression, and even homicide and/or suicide. But does that prevent parents from enrolling their children in pewee football? On the contrary. Apparently, even with information readily available, parents see different risks than are actually the most dangerous as most detrimental to their child’s safety.

Creepy stranger with a mustache? Not an immediate threat

According to the CDC the things most likely to cause injury to children are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide, and drowning. BUT according to a survey by the Mayo Clinic, the things that parents are most afraid of happening to their children are: Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers, and drugs.

“Parents,” the article states, “are just bad at risk assessment”. Rare dangers are overestimated, while common dangers are overlooked. Why is that? The article explains that evolutionarily we are programmed to confront immediate dangers, but are less well equipped to process abstract or long term risks. As in: was that a saber tooth tiger I just heard? HELP! The problem is that we are constantly berated  with the few cases of kidnapping victims by strangers (like Jaycee Duggar), terrorist attacks and school shootings- so it seems that there are immediate threats, when in reality the likelihood of your child being abducted by a stranger is minuscule compared to your child getting and injury from you driving them to school in the morning. Driving your child somewhere is actually the least safe thing you can do- but I am pretty sure that doesn’t prevent any parent from transporting their child from point A to point B in their mini van. Fears are so skewed that parents would rather drive their children two blocks due to the fear of kidnapping if they walked the two blocks alone. In a country were child obesity is ramped, I don’t think this is the best plan.

Saber Tooth Tiger? Immediate Threat

“It is very hard for us to dismiss a worst-nightmare tragedy that has happened to some poor child even when the statistics tell us only one case happened like that all year, one child out of over 80 million children,” says Christie Barnes, author of the Paranoid Parents Guide. Just because one child gets abducted by some cult leader with a mustache in Utah, doesn’t mean your child will.

I don’t want to say that dangers are everywhere and that driving your child to football practice will cause imminent death. What I am saying though is that there are many researchers and public health professionals that study this kind of stuff. Incidence, prevalence and risk is kind of our thing.  For example, almost 1/3 of football players from 12-17 have had at least one concussion- that’s a lot of kids who face the potential consequences of brain damage. Also, according to the CDC the annualized crude rate for a someone aged 0-24 dying because of a car accident is 13.6 for every 100,000, while dying because of a terrorist attack for the same age group is .02 out of 100,000.

So maybe if the media explained that your child would have to stand on a street corner alone for over 750,000 hours (that’s like 31250 days, and something like 85 years) to get kidnapped by a stranger, people would understand how minimal that risk is.


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