A Question for Psychologists (And Anyone Else) About Kidnapping Fear

Readers — I was just responding to a woman who bravely lets her kids play outside even though she is almost consumed by horrible thoughts of the Cleveland kidnappings. For her, it’s personal: She used to live near there. But others feel it, too. So what I’m wondering about, that maybe some psychologists can explain, is this: Is this utter despair and empathy with victims new?

I mean, I know we have always felt sympathy for crime victims. And certainly my mom must have heard about kidnappings and child crimes. But I don’t think parents of her era felt as personally burdened by them as folks do today.

Of course the media play a role in keeping the saddest stories in front of us. But just as drunks get jolly in some countries and morose in others, depending on the social norm, there  seems to be a new social norm about how we RESPOND to tragedy. And that’s what interests me: How did “dwelling” on tragedy, or sort of “mentally checking in on it” slip into the pantheon of normal feelings? How did we get so much more sensitive to sad news? It’s as if a layer of skin was peeled off. But somehow this new sensitivity doesn’t make us better people, just more scared and depressed.

Who can explain this? Or even tell me if “this” is the case? – L.

P.S. Was about to press “Publish” when a reader sent in this excerpt from a blog post by actor/writer/blogger/raconteur Wil Wheaton. He was at the Phoenix Comic Con recently, when a fire alarm cleared the convention hall:

I will share one observation: I’m 40, and I’ve been dealing with this sort of thing my whole life. Fire alarms go off, and most of the time it’s a false alarm. No big deal. But when I looked around at the younger people, the teenagers and the twentysomethings, I saw a real fear in their eyes as they waited to find out what was going on. I heard lots of them talking about the bombing in Boston, and how they were genuinely afraid that there was some kind of bomb or something inside the building.  It says something about the different worlds we’ve grown up in, that my first reaction was “not this again” and theirs was “oh shit I hope it’s not a bomb.”

The immediacy of fatalism and terror — how did we get to this? It’s as if our whole society feels that optimism is such a pleasant feeling that we don’t deserve it. – L

Modern expressionism. (Well, a modern expression.)

65 Responses to A Question for Psychologists (And Anyone Else) About Kidnapping Fear

  1. Acerbica May 31, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    Good post. *role, not roll, right?

  2. Per May 31, 2013 at 4:47 am #

    Daniel Kahneman has written a great book called “Thinking Fast and Slow” which talks about how biases are formed. Basically, when thinking fast, we intuetively replace the question “how frequent are … ?” with “how easily can I think of examples of …?”. So, asking people if the letter “k” is more common as the first letter of a word or the third letter, they will (wrongly) say “first”.

    Since many stay-home mothers keep their TV-sets on all day, they know more about kidnapped children half a continent away than they do about their own kids’ classmates. Should you ask them if kidnappnings by strangers are common in the US, they would say “yes”.

    It would be interesting to see a study about correlation between TV ownership and fear of kidnapping. I bet people who have no TV, or only one in the living room, are less afraid than those who have one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom.

  3. Rick May 31, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    I’m 48 and have a son who is 4 years old now and I started noticing the lack of children playing outdoors about 20 years ago. I was at a May Fair earlier in the month and I remarked to my wife, “so that’s what a 7 year old looks like.” The decline in the feeling of safety happened during the cold war and went into high gear during the so-called “War on Terror”. Fear has a useful purpose for those who want to control the public. It turns people towards the government for protection. The public school system has become indoctrination system for the National Security State established in 1947 by Harry Truman and reworked in the Patriot Act after 9/11. The key to turning back this abomination is decentralization of power and empowering your local community and empowering your kids for independence. You’re doing a great job with Free Range Kids. Thanks.

  4. Beth May 31, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    @Per, I don’t think it’s the TV ownership or number of TVs that’s the issue; I think it’s what one does with that TV. I, for one, can watch Parks and Recreation, Nashville, Mad Men, The Voice, and Arrested Development (yay!) without becoming remotely overcome with despair about the safety of my children. I don’t watch TV news and I’m rarely watching, it seems, when a Special Report comes on.

    TV is just as valid a medium for compelling storytelling as anything else. It is not necessary to completely turn off or get rid of television in order to live a full, fear-free life.

  5. Denise May 31, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    I think Rick has part of it down. We are taught to fear to be easily controlled.

    And Beth has part of it down- if we avoid SVU, CSI and violent movies we’d start to walk away from fear.

    Instead, we allow our kids to eat, sleep and drink the fear of something. GMOs, fluoride, media, etc.

  6. red pen mama May 31, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    It’s not just TV. People are tuned into media all the time. Twitter, Facebook, the Internet, plus the 24-hour news cycle.

    Frankly, I don’t think that’s the issue, though. I mean, maybe, but it would take extensive study to pin the persuasiveness of despair and fear on media. Not that i know what the answer is; I’m sure the current trend we see regarding fear has many factors, not the least of which are the real events, from 9/11 to the Boston Bombing. We start thinking that it could happen anywhere; it could happen to me.

    The only defense is to live life fully in spite of our fears. Like that mother who lets her children play outside despite her imagination’s insistence that they are endangered. I’m terrified of my children getting hit by cars, I have awful nightmares about it. But it means I have to teach my kids reasonable safety measures so they know not to play in traffic. Common sense really needs to make a comeback.

  7. David Bernstein May 31, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    I agree with this piece 100 percent, and quoted Free Range Kids in my blog here about a kidnapping incident near where I live…

    http://www.the-big-shift.net/2013/04/is-fear-of-kidnapping-good-for-our-kids.html

  8. Jennifer May 31, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Denise, I DO watch SVU, Criminal Minds, etc. And I watch them and have them on during the day as I go about my day. How am I able to let my son out and about, and how am I able to function without cowering under my bed on a regular basis? It’s because I realize that these are Fictional Stories, which I watch for entertainment. I do NOT watch CNN or any of the 24 hour news cycles, which report the “real” occurrences in the world. I see it as the difference between reading a novel and reading a newspaper. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the “News” has become more like entertainment, and the entertainment has become more “real”. Therefore, fewer and fewer people seem to be able to make that distinction anymore.

  9. Heather May 31, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    I was 9 when Cherry Mahan was abducted. It was in our school district and my mom had often subbed at the school she was in. Suddenly all of the parents around here went crazy. Suddenly us kids, who had grown up completely free range (we thought nothing about being more than a mile away from home all day- in fact my mom had a giant cow bell she would ring to call us home to dinner) were expected to stay in our back yard where Mom could see us out the window. The same was true for all my friends. My husband, who was a few years older at the time and lived the next school distraict over also remembers that. He grew up playing all over town. His mom would drop them off at the pool a few miles from home in the morning and they would walk home in the evening (they were 6 and 4 when he first remembers her doing that). It was normal and then bam! everyone was being closely supervised. Block Parents were set up, signs with “safe House” were put in windows, everyone kind of forgot what normal looked like.

    It was talked about everywhere we went, we couldn’t get away from it but after a while it wasn’t on the news so much and things settled though never went back to normal. The fear continued but lessened slightly and gradually because it slowly was able to leave people’s minds, or at least move to the back.

    The thing is, in that particular situation, it was so close to home. It was local and sudden. Suddenly everyone realized it could happen here.

    I think the 24 hour news makes everything local and sudden and it can happen here. We have tv, we use all types of social media but due to my own inability to cope with news overload we keep it to a minimum. When big things happen I get the basics then I move away from it deliberately because I know it will affect me emotionally. (This includes all media- I use F.B. Purity on Facebook in order to block certain topics for my own sanity).

    News has become a big source of entertainment just like the newspaper used to be. Because there really isn’t enough real news, regular news, to be interesting it ends up focusing and refocusing and regaining your attention with new little obsessive bits about whatever the latest big thing is, it keeps the fear at the forefront of your mind because you are constantly being exposed to it. The more you think about it the more you realize it could happen here. It puts it suddenly and constantly in your neighborhood, it makes it local.

    I know my inlaws, who have the news on 24/7 are sure our kids are going to be attacked, kidnapped, or whatever. I know because they mention their fear to them often. Meanwhile we, their parents, have made it a point of talking actual statistics with them, helping them figure out ways to respond in situations that they are afraid about, and deliberately avoiding scaring them regarding things they are not afraid of.

  10. Dave May 31, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    Adults must take part of the responsibility for this switch. How adults respond effects how the children respond. We must go with the averages. If something tragic happens some where else we can share with our young people how sad it is that something like that happened but then remind them that they are rare occurrences and we will not change our behavior in any way because it is highly unlikely to happen here to us. Bad things happen all the time throughout the world but because we don’t hear of them we don’t worry. We need to train ourselves and our children that just because bad things always happen somewhere that doesn’t mean we need to live in fear.

    i have friends that at the slights possibility that something might be wrong they start worrying and are depressed. They feel sick and right away its cancer. We need to learn to deal with reality as it happens and until an emergency happens we need not worry. Let us remember that most things are beyond our control anyway, so if I can’t control things I need not worry about them.

  11. librarian May 31, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I think this excessive anxiety is another “affluence disease “, resulting from stability and resulting emphasis on long-term planning.
    In times and places where you actually don’t know what the next day is like and don’t have much control over your life, you fret much less about making perfect decisions. If your life is full of real unpredictable dangers and changes, you have much less emotional and mental inclination to dwell on improbable scary outcomes.

  12. Warren May 31, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I know this is more than likely not going to be the popular viewpoint, but what the hell.

    It is a form of mental/emotional illness, and as such should be treated.

    Symptoms

    lack of ratonal thinking
    paranoia
    paralyzing fear
    anxiety

    If that isn’t mental / emotional illness then please tell me what is?

  13. A Dad May 31, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Could it be a progression over the past 30 years.
    The parents today grew up with stranger danger. Now that they are the parent, they are making additions to the mindset and taking it further.
    The next generation will move the envelope further again.

  14. lollipoplover May 31, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I think this safety anxiety stems from thinking every child death, accident, kidnapping is somehow preventable and within our power if we “never take our eyes off them”. Kids don’t play outdoors because it’s much easier to keep watch over a confined child vs. one allowed wide open spaces to spread their wings.

  15. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    I really don’t think it’s that complicated. People are influenced by the media. By the shows they watch and the images they see. they have free will, yes, but people are influenced whether they like it or not, and to varying extents. if they werent, advertisering wouldnt be as big a business as it is. Crime is sensationalized and high – profile cases continually reported. It distorts reality for those that are tuned in.
    There’s also an element that librarian pointed out. If you don’t have “real” problems, you invent them. Kids aren’t dying from polio like they used to, we’ve got plenty of food, a roof over our heads, war isn’t being fought on our land, an infection is no big deal because of antibiotics, our existence isn’t dependent on the weather and a good harvest, and on and on.

  16. Hels May 31, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    It’s the inability to do great many things, the biggest of which is critical thinking. WHen everyone is taught to test – memorize, regurgitate and promptly forget separate pieces of information – then one does not know how to put them together and analyze them and arrive at reasonable conclusions. People are simply taught not to think. I have been in the business of interviewing students for an analytically-oriented fellowship (these are students who were graduating with a professional doctorate degree, so the cream of the crop academically and all at least 23-24 years old!). It was incredibly difficult to get any glimpse of thought from them, anything at all other than stock rehearsed answers. And I interviewed ~40 students each year. Since then, I just accept it that there is little hope for this country’s young people and hope that if/when I have my own kids, they will be raised and educated in some other country.

  17. lihtox May 31, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Sometimes people will exaggerate how worried or upset they are because they don’t want to appear callous. And they’re probably talking themselves into fear as well. I remember how ashamed I felt after 9/11, because while I was sad and angry that it happened, I wasn’t *devastated*.

    Something else occurs to me. Before social media, if there was a natural disaster somewhere, I might read about it and think to myself “oh how terrible”, and maybe it would come up in conversation with someone briefly but it probably wouldn’t. Now that I have a Facebook site and a Twitter feed and all that, I almost feel obligated to say something about the event, somehow. There’s a feeling like we *need* to have opinions and feelings about things. (For instance, here I am posting on your website! :)

    That wasn’t very coherent, just some thoughts.

  18. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Also, yes lollipop thats an excellent point. Because society has solved a lot of problems there should be a solution to everything.
    Everything should be preventable from kidnapping to sickness to damage from natural disasters..

  19. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Also, Wil Wheaton’s blog is great. A true nerd through and through.

  20. lollipoplover May 31, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    @Natalie- It’s the need to have solutions to all deaths that thwarts actual living. If I hear one more person question why there weren’t storm shelters in the Oklahoma tornadoes to “save those children” (what about the adults?) or questioning why we take children to sporting events instead of leaving them at home in front of the TV for the Boston Bombings child deaths.

    You can avoid life to stay safe but it’s a hell of a tradeoff. I help with the journaling for my youngest (6) and of all the subjects/activities to write about, most of the boys write about video games. The characters, the levels, who they (electronically) are playing with. What I would give for a kid to write about climbing a tree….

  21. Warren May 31, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Some of you have brought up tv shows………if a person is emotionally or mentally weak enough for SVU or CSI to affect the way they live and raise their kids, then those people need to seek help.

    People have been trying to blame forms of entertainment for problems, for decades. Just another way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s decisions and actions. Excuses.

  22. anonymous this time May 31, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    But fear and anxiety are so exciting! It’s an adrenaline rush. Our lives are so utterly unfulfilling and boring, it gives us a sense of aliveness and meaning to feel afraid.

    Perhaps.

  23. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    The coverage and sensationalism of kidnappings in the news leads people to believe that their children are at risk. Facts and statistics are difficult to base decisions on if they don’t “feel” accurate. A number is not a story and doesnt pullin viewers. I think it was Stalin that said one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. (Anybody familiar with that phrase and who said it?)
    When I surveyed a few parents at work about when it’s appropriate for my daughter to walk home they seemed to agree that 10 was the magical age. Why? Not cars and road crossings, which I was worried about, but kidnappings. And times are different now. Where do they get that from? The media. They’re not weak willed, they’re as informed or more so than your average citizen, and they’re responsible parents who each raised two successful children.

    It has nothing to do with being weak willed or avoiding taking responsibility. It has everything to do with awareness and education. Like most biases that people pick up from their surroundings that aren’t true. The more misconceptions are pointed out, the more people take notice and question how things are presented to them, question the prevailing belief and where it came from. That’s why Lenore wrote her book, keeps this blog, gives presentations at national and international settings, and had a TV show. If she wants to influence society, she has to do it through the media. Because people are influenced by what’s presented to them.

  24. Warren May 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    @Natalie,
    If your attitudes and thinking is affected by fictional tv shows, or sensationalized news stories, such as those involving kidnappings, then yes you are weak willed.

    Giving into fear is all about being weak willed. If one was confident and of a strong character, they would not give into fear.

    People are influenced by what is presented to them, I totally agree. But those that let fiction and sensationalized news influence them are WEAK. There is a difference between being influenced by facts and reality, over being influenced by fiction and sensationalism. Natalie, if you cannot see that, then please seek some help.

  25. rob8qwap May 31, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Welcome to the bovine cowardly police state of america…

  26. anonymous this time May 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    I don’t think of giving into fear as weakness, I think of it as habitual and unconscious behaviour, and believe me, I live in a glass house and won’t be throwing any stones.

    To wake up is painful. In some ways it’s more painful than the familiar haze of fear and anxiety. What that pain gives way to is liberation, but there aren’t too many who have devoted themselves to waking up from the dream about what is going on—choosing reality.

    My father was a great coach for me in this waking-up process, God bless him for that. I was fortunate to have someone who was relentlessly logical and spiritual at the same time to provide a reference for me. Now I imagine it is my purpose to support others in waking up.

    But shaking someone awake, or berating them, or calling them “weak-willed” or “weak-minded” isn’t likely to get you or them where you’d like to go. I suggest gently inquiring about what it is that people GET when they cling to their stories and fears. Perhaps it’s a sense of predictability and security. Maybe it’s a sense of purpose: i.e. “My job is to protect my children, and without my vigilance, they’d be annihilated.” Purpose, predictability, and security are wonderful things, and there’s lots of ways to bring that into life. Hand-wringing about vanishingly small possibilities is not an effective strategy, but people have to be led to see that for themselves, not bludgeoned with judgement and blame.

    Lenore’s TV show was one of the most moving and inspiring things I’ve seen in a while. I was amazed to see the transformations occur in these mothers, especially. They went from the brink of emotional collapse and physical illness to radiance and joy. And what did Lenore do? Call them names? Lecture them on statistics? Take away their televisions? No. She gently and firmly got to the heart of what they really wanted for themselves and their children, and she showed them some new strategies. And when the strategies worked, they said, “Hey! This is fun!”

    How lovely if Lenore’s show could run on a 24 / 7 schedule on a prominent network! How lovely if there were more Lenores doing outreach and offering support. And how beautiful if more parents who are seized with fear begin to recognize for themselves that it isn’t working for them or their kids, and want something else.

    It’s an inside job, ultimately. I have nothing but compassion for those who are undertaking it or not undertaking it: each path has its own challenges.

  27. carriem May 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    I think that part of the problem is the 24 hour news stations used to focus on actual news: international issues, substantive things about the political process. However most people find important news boring. Say what you will about child abduction stories. They’re not dull!

  28. Hels May 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Natalie – this phrase is often attributed to Stalin after one dissident novel ascribing it to him, but it is a misstated quote from Remarque’s The Black Obelisk – one death is a death, while two million deaths are merely statistics (or something like that – I am translating into English from Russian which was itself a translation from German, I did try to read Remarque in German but his language was above my level…)

    Given that I work in healthcare, I find that majority of people are utterly unable to correctly interpert statistics and risks… there is a reason we are taught to speak at the fourth-grade level. :)

  29. J.T. Wenting May 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I think Lenore hit it on the head in her last sentence. We’re so conditioned to feel guilty about everything that we’re starting to think we don’t deserve good things to happen to us, therefore everything must be bad (after all, god makes sure we get what we deserve, right?).

    So every bit of inclement weather is “a climate catastrophe caused by manmade global warming” which of course is caused by your own CO2 emissions (therefore you did it to yourself, and worse to everyone else).
    Every crime, every bombing, every murder, is somehow your personal responsibility. Maybe you weren’t nice to that muslim because you were eating a ham and cheese sandwich and he got nauseous because of the lingering smell 5 hours later, that made him angry enough to start killing so you caused the killing. That’s the kind of “reasoning” we’re being conditioned to, no wonder people feel despondent.

  30. lihtox May 31, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    @Warren: We’re not looking for excuses, but for explanations. If one person is overly fearful, that’s something they need to deal with. But if an entire society has become more fearful then there must be some explanation for it. What has changed so that more people are “weak-willed” (as you say) now than they were 40 years ago?

  31. SusanOR May 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Actual psychologist here.
    I believe there are several (overlapping) factors at work.

    1. The human brain, when anxiety has been activated, responds through the filter of our flight or fight response — thus, certain cognitive shifts occur in the presence of anxiety (the state of anxiety, not the trait, btw).
    a) We are primed to respond in an all or nothing fashion
    b) Our brain in this state does not differentiate well between possibility & probability — thus, we respond similarly (intuitively) to things that “might happen” as to things that “are likely to happen.”

    2) The amount of coverage of events (tv, radio, newspapers, magazines, internet) skews our assessment of likelihood. If the brain hears about one kidnapping 50 times, it is as though 50 kidnappings occur. In addition, there is NO coverage of the absence of these events. Imagine this: Breaking news: 365 planes took off & landed safely today at your local airport! But if there is a crash, we hear about it constantly for an entire week, then again when the black box is found, then again when the NTSB releases its report, and again when we have an anniversary of the crash, and again if there is a lawsuit filed, and then it’s time for another anniversary of the crash, so more coverage.

    3) The way the media has covered these events has changed – in the Edgar R Murrow/David Brinkley/Harry Reasoner days, the story was reported by the news anchor reading a summary. Perhaps there was a photo shown behind his head while he was reading the story.
    Today, the story is told by getting people in front of the camera — which increases our sense of immediacy & empathy — they could be US! They are just like US!

    4) Updates about the story occur passively as well as actively: In the old days, you had to consciously say to yourself, “I’m going to watch the news tonight.” Now, the news creeps across your TV screen even when you’re watching something else, it pops up on your Facebook page even when you’re not looking for it because someone else is posting it, it’s on your twitter feed or your Yahoo! home page.

    In light of these factors, I consciously turn off much of my media when something big happens and attempt to titrate it, for example, by limiting myself to the daily newspaper. Part of my reasoning is also that by waiting until the morning newspaper, I am hoping that the reporters have had a chance to fact-check a little bit, which the on-line tv/radio/web reporters do not have much opportunity in the face of their everpresent deadlines. However, this is much more difficult than it sounds, and I still get this passive “bleed through” despite turning stuff off. And I’m making conscious effort to turn off.

    Too many of the previous posters attributed this to weakness/stupidly watching tv. That is far too simplistic an explanation and not accurate.

    When our brain’s anxiety has been activated, it tends to fall into the trap of thinking that if I just listen to the next news story, I’ll understand what happened and perhaps be able to protect myself/my family from it happening to us. We WANT the world to be predictable — our brain finds randomness very unsettling.
    However, we often fail to check ourselves to see if watching more is increasing or decreasing our anxiety. That is the metric I use with all my patients — is watching more helping or not? If it is decreasing your anxiety, ok, but keep an eye on that. If it is increasing your anxiety, turn it off.

    After 9/11, several of my patients responded to this (idea of turning off the tv) with concerns about being disloyal to those who perished. We talked at length about other ways to honor their memories without experiencing incapacitating grief & anxiety.

    Back to my practice now.

  32. Andy Harris May 31, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Amidst all the “Ohmygawd, some big evil stranger will, for no apparent reason, snatch up my li’l punkin and spirit him/her away to a life of slavery in Cleveland” hysteria (and really, which is worse, the spiriting away or Cleveland?), why is it that no one remembers that all the women accepted Ariel Castro’s offer of a ride home?

    Teach your kids not to accept rides from strangers and the threat level will drop precipitously.

    Geez, I’m tired of hysteria passing for responsible child care!

  33. red pen mama May 31, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    I give SusanOR 1000+ likes for her comment. Thank you!
    My husband is also a psychologist, and I am going to put Lenore’s question to him. It’s a little ironic, because he is actually much more helicoptery than I am. I left the kids alone outside (as I always do), and he said, “You don’t think they can get abducted from the backyard?” To which I replied, “It’s certainly possible for it to happen, just not very probable.” Which closed his mouth because he knew I was right.

  34. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    No warren, it doesn’t make them weak-willed, it makes them human. This is how humans react, in general. Also, everything that we see doesn’t have a huge bullet head preceding it stating that it is fact, or that it is exagerrated, or doesn’t accurately relay reality. It’s a gray world.
    If you had grown up in a different time, in a different place, you’d be defending helicopter parenting with the same zeal as you defend your particular method of parenting here. And not because you’re weak willed, because you defend with zeal what you believe in, and don’t seem to question yourself at all.

  35. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Thanks Susan. We can all benefit from some actual science. Awesome post.

  36. Donna May 31, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    I think some of it is the loss of community and family and the human need to feel connected to something.

    Society is much more mobile today than it was even 30 years ago. Back in the day as they say, people tended to remain in one place for much of their lives. The people they knew as children and the people they knew as adults were basically the same people. The community they were born into was the same one they died in. People cared about their community and the people in it because it is what they knew and it was where they were born and raised and intended to raise their children and watch their grandchildren grow and so on until death.

    Today few of us live as adults in the place of our birth. Our community is really just the place we reside until we move on, not something we are fiercely invested in. Our families often live elsewhere, with siblings and cousins scattered across the globe rarely seen. While most of us probably maintain friendships from childhood, these are people who live distant from us and those friendships consist of Facebook posts and email, not close personal connection. The bulk of our social circles are temporary connections made in a certain place that phase out as you move in different directions.

    And humans need close personal connection to thrive. I think we are building up these close personal emotions to things like Sandy Hook and Boston bombings because we no longer really are a part of something bigger than ourselves and we need the connection. Mourning Sandy Hook with everyone else forms a community of sorts for awhile and we need that.

  37. Warren May 31, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Let’s get something straight, I said letting fictional tv shows and sensationalized news affect the way you live or raise children is weak willed.
    If an adult went around talking to an invisible Yoda or Wolverine, you would all think he/she is nuts.
    Someone scared to let their kids outside because of CSI or Criminal Minds is just as nuts. There is no double standard just becaue he or she is doing it for the kids.

    If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and smells like a duck, don’t let it fool you……….it’s a duck.

    Playing our Black Sabbath albums backward did not turn us into Devil Worshipers. Criminal Minds shows on abductions are as real as The Smurfs. And if you do not have the mental willpower to say enough is enough, and realize that Adam Walsh was one incident, the Cleveland case was one incident, then you need to seek Susan’s help.

    And no an entire soceity has not become fearful. I am not, my friends are not, and alot of people in here are not.

    Living in and by fear is a mental illness. How can the fear of spiders be a diagnosed phobia, and fear of kidnappers not be? Fear is fear, no matter what the cause. And just like with all other phobia type fears, the fear of kidnappers is irrational.

  38. EricS May 31, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    In this day of technology and social media, I don’t think it’s so much “Trained”, but rather “Conditioned”. No one is really training (by definition) anyone to be fearful. But companies, media, holier than thou people, with access to the internet are inundating society with so much rare accounts (in the broader scheme of things) of danger. In this case, with children. Because many people have already started getting accustomed to information overload of the internet, they stop using their own common sense, and started believing more and more of what they see and read online. “If it’s online, it must be true” mentality. Insert, information regarding safety of children. Even once case broadcasted, people all over automatically think it’s happening everywhere, all the time. Then they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so, and so on. No one really knows what to believe anymore. But what is certain in them, is the FEAR. Once that fear gets a hold of people who can’t discern from probables from possibles, it’s pretty much game over for them.

    I just tell friends who are in this rutt, to think about how they grew up, how their parents raised them, and what happened to them, what did they learn. And then I tell them, if you believe in all these statistics, then you should know it’s a much safer time now than when we were growing up. They usually get this perplexed look. Like they are struggling with the fearful side and the common sense side.

  39. Warren May 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    And just so that Natalie can put it into perspective, I am a big fan of the crime shows, Law and Orders, Criminal Minds, NCIS, NCIS los angeles, The Glades, and others.

    But guess what, they are fiction. Not once do those shows affect my life, other than the “did you see last nites’ show”.

    The thought of kidnappers, predators, rapists, perverts or whatever have never once entered my mind when it comes to my kids. Not once. That is reality.

  40. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Well then, Warren, we’re talking about 2 different things aren’t we? No reason to get upset.

  41. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Also, you are allowed to talk to me directly instead of referring to me in the third person. I’m not that intimidating.

  42. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Donna- you bring up a good point about community in tragedy. After the marathon bombings, The people in Boston and the environs put up their names and phone numbers on an excel spreadsheet visible to everyone so that those stranded here could call them if they needed a place to stay. Some comments were pretty formal just stating what kind of accommodations: 2BR, Brighton. Others were self described LGBT friendly, others welcomed pets, children, volunteered rides to the airport, said they’d leave work, it was really beautiful.
    But then a few weeks passed and we’re back to not trusting strangers again. People really do want community.

  43. Yan Seiner May 31, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Sort of related – a comment on one of the articles on Yanira Maldonado, who was framed as a drug mule (and released today):

    Millions of Americans go to Mexico every year, putting their liberty and even their lives in danger all in the name of a “cheap” vacation.

    So the poster feels that going to Mexico is a threat to liberty and life, because “millions” go and one gets framed.

    The self contradiction of that one sentence is pretty neat.

  44. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    My mom didn’t want my sister to go because someone woke up in a bathtub with their kidney removed.

  45. Warren May 31, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    Sent my oldest to Mexico as a graduation gift. 10 days, had a great time, and came back with all her organs just slightly damaged by tequila.

  46. J.T. Wenting May 31, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    “But then a few weeks passed and we’re back to not trusting strangers again. People really do want community.?”

    no, people want to be seen to be “involved”. How many of those who put themselves on that list actually helped people? And how many were called only to make up excuses…
    My guess is the second group is a very high percentage, compared to the first.

  47. Natalie May 31, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Or not.

  48. Dan May 31, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    Meanwhile…

    Number of children KILLED BY THEIR OWN PARENTS!!!
    250-300 per year.

  49. Emily May 31, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    I think part of the problem is, people see sensationalized news stories, which have some truth in them, and then shows like CSI, Law and Order, etc., which are all fiction, and then the true stories get run together with the fictional stories in people’s minds, because they watched news, CSI, and Law and Order all in the same evening. Also, Warren, I agree with what you said about the Internet creating “information overload” by giving people access to news stories from all over the world. Before the Internet, I doubt we would have seen so much coverage about Sandy Hook from here in Canada, but since we have the Internet, we read (and saw videos of) the shooting itself, individual interviews with the parents of the victims, and plans to create a memorial by placing teddy bears on the graves of the children…….which, as one poster mentioned, is completely asinine, because there are LIVING children in this world who don’t have any toys, so why are people buying toys for dead children who can’t play with them? Anyway, what bothered me the most about this was the fact that one friend of mine from university, who’s since had children, bought RIGHT into the bleating refrain of, “Tragedies like this make me want to hug my children just a little closer!!!” I was thinking, it was a freak occurrence; it happened in the States, and things are no more dangerous here than they ever were. As for the Cleveland kidnappings, I agree wholeheartedly with the poster who said that people are paradoxically “kidnapping” their own children, by keeping them inside for many years, just like the people responsible for the kidnappings. True, parents think that they’re doing this to protect their children, but the effect is the same, regardless of the motive.

  50. Emilie May 31, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    SusanOR’s comment is very instructive, thank you :)

    About the TV/medias issue, my own experience is that since I’ve gotten rid of my TV a couple o f years ago, I feel much safer! Of course it’s not only the TV as others said, I’ve also stopped checking the news every hour, and I’m definitely NOT reading the atrocious stories of abucted kids, murdered kids (often by their own relatives), and so on. I’m not pretending they don’t exist, but reading hundreds of articles who are, most of the time, incomplete (because written in the rush just after it happened by a hurried journalist who doesn’t even have a clue about what happened and how and why…) has proven to be very useless, and it generates stress and anxiety.
    I’ve also stopped watching all those criminal TV shows, even as someone said before, it’s just fiction. I know they’re just fiction but watching constently (because they air all the time!) stories of murder and atrocities was actually also increasing my anxiety.
    Well since then, I’ve become a lot more relaxed, I really feel my reactions have changed (no more “worst thinking first”, and it’s a lot easier for me to go free-range with my kids (I believed in free-range before, but I often had to fight the urge to keep them under my eyes – now I’m not fighting anymore, it’s a lot more comfortable!).

    I’ll just add that everytime I end up reading an article about child’s abduction or murder (which happens sometimes, I sometimes feel that my morbid curiosity is tempted…), well every time it makes me anxious and it takes days or even weeks to “forget it” and go back to my regular confidence in our world. For a while I urge my kids not to stray too far, and I worry about many things I don’t worry about usually. Maybe not everyone is like me,but to me there’s clearly a huge difference living in a world where atrocities are not a daily part of life (though I don’t deny they exist and also try to warn my kids, without scaring them).

  51. Papilio May 31, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    If people are still curious about the dead-tragedy-statistic quote: according to Wikiquotes Hels was partly right about it coming from The Black Obelisk.
    (The main character is wondering why they’re so upset about the death of one person, while they seem to already have forgotten about the two million they’d seen falling in the war, and then he says: “Aber das ist wohl so, weil ein einzelner immer der Tod ist — und zwei Millionen immer nur eine Statistik” In other words (German readers please correct me if I’m wrong): But that IS true, because one single [person] is always Death — and two million always just a statistic.)
    But! Wikiquotes goes on saying there is an older version of this same statement in a booklet written in 1925 by Kurt Tucholsky: Französischer Witze, French jokes. (We’re lucky we can still read his work, because Kurt being Jewish and living in Germany in 1933, his books were burned. Which ultimately drove him to suicide two years later in Denmark.)
    The joke doesn’t give a clear description of the situation, but they (whoever ‘they’ are, some French people I presume) are talking about the horrors of war, and then the French diplomat says (in Tucholsky’s words – I don’t know if there is a French version): “Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!” In other words: The war? I can’t think of that as that horrible! The death of one person: that is a catastrophy. Hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!
    [/history lesson]

  52. lihtox May 31, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    We really can’t overlook 9/11 as a generational divide. Twenty-somethings today were tweens and teens during the attacks, at an age where kids are just starting to become aware of the larger world. Fear of terrorism is probably as ingrained for them as fear of starvation was for people who grew up during the Great Depression.

    Folks in their late-thirties (me) and forties (Wil Wheaton) were adults in 2001, and while there were certainly a number of people our age who were traumatized by the attacks, it wasn’t quite as defining a moment for our generation.

  53. Kay May 31, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    This has really gotten me pondering about it, and even after I said a person is nuts if they wouldn’t let their kid help an old lady. And what Susan has said really explains it. On one hand we have people fearful because they think times have changed for the worse. On the other side there are those like us who don’t believe in that and want things back to normal and that people in these times have lost all sense. People probably haven’t really changed at all, and they naturally have these kind of responses to whatever is causing their anxiety.

    This got me thinking to a kidnapping case in Cleveland in 1951 that I had read about, the disappearance of Beverly Potts which is still unsolved. But I remembered I had read that, at the time, Cleveland parents were gripped in fear after it happened. I just did a search on her and an article appeared on her websleuths page:

    “The Best from Three Decades of Commentary by Cleveland’s Top Columnist

    Stolen innocence

    We are almost old now, we boys and girls. Time has played with our bodies as if they were made of modeling clay.

    Anything that can sag is sagging. In school we learned that the law of gravity was about an apple falling from a tree and bonking Isaac Newton on the head. Now, in our mirrors, we see that the law of gravity can also shove our chests down to our waistlines. The hair,whats left, is white or colored from a bottle. If we have our own teeth, they are mostly gold and silver from a mine.

    But Beverly Potts is still 10 years old. She looked out at us again from the front page this week, and she hasn’t changed a bit.

    She is still the same as she was when we first saw her in the hot summer of 1951. When she made her debut beneath bold headlines in all three Cleveland papers. Headlines that demanded to know, Who Stole Beverly Potts?

    She was a child star that summer. She even looked a little like that other great child star, Margaret O’Brien. Our parents all thought of Margaret O’Brien as a real kid. But we didn’t. Real kids didn’t get into the movies. The closest a real kid got to a movie screen was during a yo-yo contest on the stage of the neighborhood movie house on Saturday afternoon.

    Real kids didn’t get their faces on the front page of the newspaper day after day either. In space normally reserved for President Truman or Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, who was off in Korea running a war people muttered about. That was the summer a French general named de Lattre de Tassigny visited Washington to try to drum up support for the French war in Vietnam. But nobody paid much attention to that. Beverly Potts shoved the French general to the inside pages. She, this real kid, was the real news.

    She gave our mothers something new and strange to worry about. Until Beverly Potts, our mothers felt that only two things could get us: polio and traffic.

    Traffic, while dangerous, was not mysterious. Polio was the terrifying thing. Mothers grimly scrubbed fruit and yelled out the kitchen window when they thought their kids were getting overheated. August was the height of polio season, and swimming in the lake or even a swimming pool was out. Since nobody knew what caused polio, anything could. And since anything could, our mothers didn’t want us to do anything in July or August, except maybe sit in a chair and stay there.

    The vanishing of Beverly Potts, like polio, was both terrifying and mysterious. Beverly Potts had been watching a Show Wagon show in Halloran Park one minute. And the next minute she had disappeared. Somebody had stolen Beverly Potts, and we, her kid peer group, had no idea why.”

    So, there you have the same thing, but not on a national level.

    But one thing that did not happen back then, people in California did not know what happened in a Cleveland neighborhood. But notice in the article the author related they had article after article on almost a daily basis, not unlike what the national media do today with something that used to be a local tragedy. I think it really does make in imprint in people’s psyche. Now people in Cleveland know what happens in California: Danielle Van Dam, Samantha Runnion, and others.

    The media knows what sells- things that touch a nerve or hit home, and will exploit a story to no end for the morbidly curious and those sitting on the edge of their seat in fear.

    Also, I think there is some truth to what J.T. Wenting said, “people want to be seen to be ‘involved'”. Charles Ramsey, the hero in the Cleveland kidnapping case, has been massively exploited, a lot has to do with his viral news video, everybody wants a piece of his pie or to be involved for marketing purposes both locally and nationally. I can’t tell you how many restaurants wanted to be the one that gave him “free burgers for life”.

  54. Donna June 1, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    “Now people in Cleveland know what happens in California: Danielle Van Dam, Samantha Runnion, and others.”

    This sentence also highlights another problem – the grouping of all child murders into reasons why you must never allow your children roam free. (I don’t think the commenter meant it this way; I simply noticed the names).

    While Runnion was the stereotypical child kidnapped from her yard by a stranger, Van Dam was kidnapped by a known neighbor from her bed while her parents slept. Both tragic, but Van Dam speaks nothing of the safety of children out in the community since she wasn’t alone in the community when kidnapped but was safely tucked away in her bed with a parent home all night. Same with Polly Klaus, Elizabeth Smart, JonBenet Ramsey. And yet people reference all of them to show how crazy we are for letting out children roam free.

  55. J.T. Wenting June 1, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    “Meanwhile…

    Number of children KILLED BY THEIR OWN PARENTS!!!
    250-300 per year.”

    yes, few weeks ago here, father took his 2 children into the woods. Next day his body was found, a week later the bodies of the children (immediate assumption is he killed them, then committed suicide, but that’s never been publicly announced)

    Response of the mainstream press? “What can we do to prevent NORMAL fathers from killing their kids”.
    Got to wonder since when it’s apparently normal for fathers to kill their kids…

  56. Puzzled June 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    You know, I only came across one true-crime story that really shook me, the way I was shaken by Milgran, Stamford Prison, etc. It happened earlier this year, when I first learned about Sylvia Likens. I had 2 weeks off from work at the time, and I spent a week of it in my apartment, burying myself in information about the case, sitting in grief over my inability to believe in human beings anymore. Then I realized – that case isn’t about a universal tendency to do horrible things. It’s about a very, very small number of people who do terrible things, and the loss of community that keeps others from knowing and helping, even makes them complicit. We need community for the very reasons that are so often used to destroy it.

  57. Papilio June 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    @J.T. Wenting: If this is about Ruben and Julian: you should consider switching to de Volkskrant; that paper was very calm and matter-of-factly about this case.

  58. mighthavejoy June 2, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    I’d like to piggyback on Donna’s comments about community.

    In addition to shared (but geographically-limited) experience, another benefit to that old-time community (neighborhood, congregation, service club, bowling league) was groundedness. When tragedy struck, the community helped put it into perspective. There was comfort in shared mourning, common rituals, a sense of meaning, and the idea (and evidence through neighborly actions) that people are basically good.

    I think a return to that kind of positive first-hand experience with humanity’s goodness, rather than fictionalized or sensationalized inhumanity, would go a long way to counteract our conditioned fear.

  59. J.T. Wenting June 2, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    @Papilio. yes, and saw that sensationalism in too many normally sane publications.

    It’s a symptom of the times I fear. I am single and live near a school. I get angry looks and sometimes worse when I drive or walk past there (and the neighbourhood store is right next door to it), been called a pedophile for merely parking my car there when I go to get groceries.

  60. hineata June 2, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    @J.T.Wenting – just for walking past? Or parking?

    That borders on extremely weird. How are you supposed to patronise the local store then? Half our dads at my local school look like stereotypical bikies, gangsters and drug dealers, and one or two of them possibly are, but they don’t get hassled walking, by, parking by, or coming into the school, (nor should they be, of course!) and neither do their mates.

    I wonder too, with that level of hysteria around, how women in your neighbourhood ever get together with men and breed in the first place.

  61. Papilio June 2, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    @J.T. Wenting: Wow – I don’t recognize that at all, it makes me wonder in what kind of neighborhood you live. Although – getting groceries by CAR – who DOES that??? 😀 Everyone knows you can’t abduct a child in a bikebag, so a car is totally suspicious… Okay, just pulling your leg a bit.
    As for the media… I kinda hope this only got as big as it did because the mother posted about her missing ‘little men’ on Facebook before that fact had a chance of reaching the public through normal canals: police statements, interviews, and then papers and news on TV.
    But again, I haven’t seen the sensationalism you describe, making the giant leap to normal fathers. I was even surprised to read the NOS reported updates about it once an hour! (Hart van Nederland, of course, RTL4, why not, but the NOS…!) It sounds so… (sorry guys!) … American. Or at least on the same slippery slope. Brrr.

  62. J.T. Wenting June 2, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    @Papilio, was splattered that way across the front page of Elsevier’s and I think de Telegraaf had something similar (which means Metro and the other free commuter papers carried it as well).

  63. Papilio June 2, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    @J.T. Wenting: I’m not surprised De Telegraaf (basically a tabloid, just looking at the front page makes me dizzy) and Metro & Sp!ts brought it eh, less sophisticated. That is just the kind of paper they are.
    Elsevier is neither a paper nor ‘mainstream press’.

  64. Tsu Dho Nimh June 2, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    I spent several years terrified of collapsing dams, earthquakes and floods, complete with nightmares about them. I occasionally – even now – rerune one of the old dreams.

    The cause was real enough, and there was serious danger (although on a different river system), but something about being close enough to feel it, the intense, if local, coverage and the hushed worried conversations of the adults in the area really got me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1959_Yellowstone_earthquake

  65. max June 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    i cannot believe the reactions of the kids, thinking it was a bomb. at my school our first thought is “oh great! we get to miss 1/4 of a lesson whilst the teachers play bureaucrat with their yellow safety jackets on and the infinite clipboards”