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The Pitfalls of Parental Worry

The Pitfalls of Parental Worry

If you are a parent (odds are at least half of you reading this are) then you inevitably find yourself worrying about your children. Sometimes it is about the things you can’t change, like: is my child growing fast enough? Is he/she growing too fast? Does my child have a learning disability? Is he/she pulling away? Etc. And sometimes you worry about the things you think, or feel, like you can control or impact. Is my child exposed to too much media? Are those vegetables organic? Is my child too smart for this school program? Does he/she need more or less direction from us parents? How can I keep my child safe from predators and child abduction? The last one I mentioned is an interesting one, because according to British writer Warwick Cairns, author of “How to Live Dangerously,” your child would have to stand outside alone for about 750,000 hours in order to provide a guarantee that they would be kidnapped (and even then, they would probably succumb to the elements before anyone put a hand on them). Still children are abducted every year (according to the Department of Justice, 797,500 children are reported missing each year, but the majority of these are not abductions) and parents do worry about these things, but, statistically, is it for good reason, and are we worrying about the right things?

In the latest rebuke to the legions of worried parents, Christine Barnes, author of The Paranoid Parents Guide, says, “Parents are just bad at risk assessment.” In her estimation, we are obsessed with the worst-case scenario and, “We are constantly overestimating rare dangers while underestimating common ones.” This is likely due to the deluge of panic that floods into our homes (and brains) in the form of cautionary media reports, internet rumors, and urban myths. While a percentage of these reports may be factual, the emphasis placed upon them tend to distort the risk – making the probability of a tree limb crushing your toddler seem far more probable than it really is.

According to Barnes, and based on surveys published in her book, the following are the top five worries of parents concerning their children (in order):
1. Kidnapping
2. School snipers
3. Terrorists
4. Dangerous strangers
5. Drugs

But in reality, statistically speaking, these are the things you need to truly worry about concerning your child:
1. Car accidents
2. Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
3. Abuse
4. Suicide
5. Drowning

Still, we as parents worry, as it seems to be an indisputable part of the responsibility of parenting. But is it at all necessary, or even productive? And by actively worrying, or being overprotective and fearful, are we teaching our children to live in fear of the world around them? Is there a way to balance the responsibility of parenting, as well as the concerns that comes along with it, with an approach that holds more confidence, trust, and serenity? Or is the world just too scary to let down your guard, even for a second?

Read more: Babies, Children, Family, Health, Mental Wellness, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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2:25PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

Thank you for posting. I agree that parents worry too much about the things that are least likely to happen. But maybe that gives parents a feeling of control? I think more education needs to be done for parents to teach them what the true dangers are and how they can help keep their children safe... including teaching their children to make good choices.

9:28PM PDT on Sep 29, 2010

I've consciously tried to avoid imposing or even showing such fears to my daughter. I've seen children who're growing up to be copies of "Adrian Monk" - full of the fears and phobias that their parents have handed down to them, and it's something I don't want for my child.

Being too protective has some very obvious disadvantages, including not allowing the child to grow up and become an independent thinking individual.

8:50AM PDT on Sep 27, 2010

Taylor - i totally felt the same way you did... until i had kids. It's impossible to explain how much you love them and how you know that the Worst Thing that could happen would be for something bad to befall them. It's like your heart no longer lives in your chest, but is out there, forever vulnerable. And, for the record, i worry about everything on the list. Not to the point of being debilitated (or being a bad parent, hopefully), but heaven help me if those thoughts strike in the small hours of the night...

1:48AM PDT on Sep 27, 2010

I was surprised at the list of parental anxieties - I used to be afraid of child snatching, but soon realized it was irrational. The others wouldn't have crossed my mind (yet). And of the second list, only the accident and drowning are forefront matters (and drowning only when she's near water, which isn't often right now).

I think that modern society is trying to frighten the wits out of people - and for one simple reason: profit. Fear works wonders on emptying the bank account. Insure against this, buy to prevent that ... It's crazy.

None of these things (insurances, special soaps, chemicals, etc.) existed half a century ago - why should they suddenly be so totally important now? Heck, we all survived to adulthood, why shouldn't our children survive, even if we don't by special germ killing products to sanitize every square nanometer of our lives?

People these days worry too much about unnecessary things and lose track of the golf balls of life: happiness, nature, family, community, life ...

But that's just my opinion.

12:32PM PDT on Sep 26, 2010

I have 3 kids. It is definitely hard not to worry, But I totally have to agree with Kay L. In that worry without action is useless. Whether the worry is from the commonly worried about list or the statistic list, there are things that can be done to help with all of these issues.

8:09AM PDT on Sep 25, 2010

Worry about the real stuff and not the sensationalized media garb.

11:15AM PDT on Sep 24, 2010

Every parent knows that over whelming panic that can over come us when we begin to obsess and worry about our children and their safety/well being. Whenever I feel that fear grip my mind, body and soul - I just keep repeating this mantra "My daughter/son is surrounded by white light, God is, God is, God is! I also try to recall that FEAR and WORRY are merely a lack of FAITH in the all good!

10:01AM PDT on Sep 24, 2010

Heartbreaking. But reality (the second set of points) is gaining alarming ground.

2:59AM PDT on Sep 24, 2010

many good comments here!

1:49AM PDT on Sep 24, 2010

just noticed some unfortunate typeo's

As parents/people we do the best we can with what we know... My parents didn't aim to assist in messing me up, they did the best they could with what they knew..

In a way all the bad things i went through served me well because now i'm trying to learn more everyday in order to not mess up my kids, for them to trust me and feel they can tell me anything (this mitigates many risks such as abuse and bullying) that they feel they don't need to rebell or hide things from me and that when they grow into adults they can value life and all its beauty while also be prepared for coping with pitfalls

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