Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reason More, Worry Less

This is the headline of a news article that has been spreading like wildfire among my friends.  Sad?  Horribly.  Tragic?  Definitely.  The cause of a lot of needless worrying?  Absolutely.

It is exceedingly rare for an infant to die while sleeping in his car seat.  You know how I know this? Because it is such a noteworthy event that it makes the news.  This particular case was featured on the news when it happened seven years ago, and yet, here it is, making the rounds on social media as we speak.

Why is that?  Why do we feel such a need to latch onto a singular instance of a very uncommon tragedy and let it change how we parent?  

Statistically speaking, a lot more babies die in their cribs than die while sleeping in car seats.  A lot.  According to the CDC, 4000 babies a year die in their beds in the United States alone.  But no one is suggesting we should stop putting our babies to sleep in cribs.  As for sleeping in car seats?  There aren't even any official statistics for deaths of babies who were sleeping in car seats because it is so extremely rare.  Do a little googling and you'll come up with a few isolated cases grouped in with the infants who were accidentally left in the car for hours on end or those who had underlying medical issues, but it is incredibly uncommon.

Life is not without risk, but as Lenore Skenazy likes to say, there is a difference between "risk" and "risky."  How much of our parenting life is built around "protecting" our children from teeny tiny risks that have a teeny tiny possibility of crossing their paths?  How much of our parenting is a knee-jerk reaction to an isolated tragic story?

Think about it.  How many of you tell your kids not to talk to strangers or not to walk to a friend's house on their own?  How many of you have ever spent time worrying your kids were going to be kidnapped (or, when they disappeared for a few minutes -- as kids are wont to do -- worrying that they were kidnapped?)  Why?

According to the last official statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice, which were taken during the study year of 1999, there were 262,100 child abductions that year.  Scary, right?  262,100 children is a lot!  But consider this:  203,900 were family abductions -- that is, abductions perpetrated by a relative -- 78% of them by a father or mother (for example, during a custody dispute).  In contrast, during the same study period there were 58,200 non-family abductions.  In the vast majority of these cases the kidnapper was someone the child or his family knew - neighbor, friend, caretaker, etc. and 99% of these children were returned to their parents alive, 90% of them within 24 hours. Of all non-family abductions, only 115 were considered "stereotypical" kidnappings; that is, the child was kidnapped by a stranger who had the intention to keep the child permanently, demand a ransom, or kill the child.

Now, be honest with yourself.  When you worry about kidnapping, you are not worrying that a neighbor or a daycare provider is going to run off with your child (after all, you know these people), you are worrying that the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is going to drive up with a lollipop and smoothtalk your kid into his Venus Fly Trap.  You are worrying about those 115 out of 58,200 non-family child abductions that are classified as "stereotypical" kidnappings.  .2% of kidnappings.  .2%.

Kids are much more likely to be harmed by someone they know than by a stranger.  And yet we spend infinitely more time drilling "stranger danger" into our kids' heads than we do telling them how to act if a friend or neighbor (or relative!) asks them to do something they don't feel good about doing.  Be reasonable! Think things through.  Don't fill their heads with worries about strangers and neglect to arm them against real dangers and real risks.

I'm not saying we need to start obsessing over our neighbors - we don't.  Most neighbors are good and decent.  Most neighbors would protect your child from harm.  But remember -- most strangers would protect your child from harm.  So teach your kids to talk to strangers.  Teach them that they can ask strangers for help if they need it.  Teach them to run away if a neighbor or friend (or stranger) does something that makes them uncomfortable.  Teach them that no matter what anyone tells them, they can always talk to you, because you will do everything in your power to protect them.

And as for the baby snoozing in her car seat?  "Never wake a sleeping baby" is my motto.  Because if you wake her up, well...

Talk about a risk.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I've just started reading your blog, since you're such a talented writer and it's so entertaining! Anyway, I totally agree! My sister has to escort all of her 5 children to and from their Primary classes at church because apparently some kids YEARS AGO was running down the hall and got impaled! Tragic? Yes! But a total freak accident! So for my poor sister, whose husband is the bishop and she's a primary teacher herself and she's got to get 5 kids pottied and to class and then to her own class in those awful crowded halls with her big mamma church bag, church is a nightmare! Yes, it does seem like someone has overreacted and worried way too much and reasoned way too less!