A Couple of Thoughts on Parental Fear (and Tempering It)

To Anyone New Just Joining Us Here: Hello! Welcome! Glad you’re here! The Free-Range Movement is dedicated to the idea that our kids are safer and smarter than our society tells us they are, so we don’t have to worry quite as much as we do. That’s why I’m often asked:

Haven’t parents always worried about their kids?

Of course they have! I’m one of the worriers! Parents have always worried, because our job is to try to get our children all the way to adulthood, safe, reasonably happy, and ready for the real world. There are giant potholes brimming with worry on that road.

But what has really changed over the past generation or so is the new idea that our kids are in CONSTANT danger, from almost everything and everyone. Nowadays, many of us believe we can never take our eyes off our kids, because supposedly they can’t do anything safely or successfully on their own. And the reason we’ve come to believe this is because we have been “trained” to think about all childhood activities in terms of what terrible thing COULD happen.

No matter how unlikely.


This is what I call “worst-first thinking” – thinking up the WORST case scenario FIRST and proceeding as if it is likely to happen. It’s the reason why upstate New York pre-schools no long allow liquid soap in the bathrooms. Kids MIGHT drink it.

Sure, it’s unlikely. It’s even a WEIRD thing to worry about. But thinking about the WORST case you can dream up is now considered prudent. (It’s the same reason another pre-k got rid of pencils. Kids COULD stab each other. And the same reason an advice columnist recently told parents to hire a babysitter for their 14-year-old: Just in CASE there was an emergency, the sitter could drive her to the hospital. Really, you can dream up a disaster for almost any occasion.)

But, on a more serious note, that’s what parents are now expected to do. So if you say, for instance, “I’m going to start letting Ava wait at the bus stop by herself,” it’s likely that someone else (perhaps even a spouse) will respond, “But what about Jaycee Dugard? Wasn’t SHE on her way to the bus stop when she was abducted?”

Regaining Perspective 

That she was. Horrible story. But in the 20 or so years since that fateful day, millions upon millions of kids have gotten to and from school without any incident whatsoever. Maybe they even got some exercise. Made friends. Brought home a stray dog. Those are all stories you will never hear. Jaycee’s story was so outrageously rare WE ALL KNOW HER NAME. So to use it as a parenting  benchmark is to seriously distort the odds.

A commenter to this blog came up with a great way to get some perspective on the fact we are living in very safe times. Safer, even, than when we were kids. (Here are the stats on that. And here’s a piece about how it’s not because  kids are cooped up that they’re safer. Adults are safer now, too, and they’re not cooped up. Crime is just down.) Anyway:

To live with the fear of your child being abducted – a fear that a majority of Americans share – deal with it “the same way you deal with the fear of him falling in the bathtub, or being struck by lightning: You admit that it’s something that could possibly happen. But it’s not likely and you’re not going to have much of a life if you spend all your time trying to prevent any situation where anything like that could occur.”

Do try to make your children safe. Do not aim for a 100% risk-free life, lest you somehow actually give it to them.

And take away everything else.  - L


Kids can entertain themselves some of the time.

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