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):
2. School snipers
4. Dangerous strangers
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)
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?