Did Oprah Make Us Terrified for Our Kids?

Readers isiyizadfe
— This is idea that someone should write their doctorate on.

Dear Free-Range Kids: During the height of this summer’s “hot car” hysteria, I found your website and it was like a lightbulb went off.  All the common sense I have stifled in the interest of being a “good mom” has a voice!  And a community!

Anyway, as I delved into your site, and came face to face with some of my own irrational fear as a modern day mother of three children (ages 9, 7, and 4) I started to really wonder, what happened?  Like pretty much everyone else my age, growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, I had an idyllic “Free-Range” childhood.  The last thing I would consider my own parents is neglectful or irresponsible.  So, where did this pervasive paranoia come from?  What exactly happened in the late 90’s and 2000’s?

As I pondered this, and thought about 24 hour news, and other logical explanations, one thing kept popping up in my head:   The Oprah Winfrey Show.

As I think about the litany of freak accidents and hidden dangers I need to be constantly worried about for my kids, almost everything has one common recurring element…I saw it on Oprah one time.  Baby drowning in an inch of water, healthy girl scrapes her knee and dies of MRSA, child decapitated by an airbag, carbon monoxide from the car in the garage kills the family, dry drowning, school shootings, home invasions, and countless other tragedies.  And then there are the abduction, molestation, and sexual predator stories.  These were typically featured on Oprah at least once a week.

While I applaud Oprah’s efforts to raise awareness, catch truly horrible criminals, and break the silence of abuse victims, this HAD to have an impact on the perception that there is a predator around every corner, and you can never be too careful, because “ANYTHING could happen.”  After all, Oprah dominated the media during this time period, with an undisputed influence, particularly amongst mothers and housewives.  What do you think?  Have you ever considered the Oprah Show connection?  I would love to hear your thoughts.


Sincerely, Laura

Lenore here: After I emailed back to Laura, she said that the topics she listed were just the ones she recalled off the top of her head. Wow! Now it seems obvious to me that of COURSE Oprah and the daytime TV industry drummed up the fear to drum up the ratings.

And I always blamed the news and Law & Order. – L

UPDATE: This comment from below made sense to me too:

Oprah’s recommendation of books probably didn’t help, either. I learned early to avoid Oprah book club books because so many seemed to deal with child abuse or other dire circumstances. Lovely Bones comes to mind.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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81 Responses to Did Oprah Make Us Terrified for Our Kids?

  1. Andy October 1, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    Oprah is a rarity in my life, in that she is someone that I actively,overwhelmingly, dislike. She’s done more to damage childhood than any other person in the last fifty years. The sad part about it is,people follow her blindly and take everything she says as gospel. One of the few unforgivable crimes in the media today is to offend Oprah. Especially if you’re a male.

  2. Vicki Bradley October 1, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    The irony being that she didn’t even have her own kids, but it seems she went out of her way to ruin, albeit inadvertently, the possibility of millions of children having a free-range childhood. Any time a celebrity gains as many followers and as much power and influence as Oprah did at the height of her career, one must always be careful – it becomes cult-ish, which is never a good thing.

  3. Michelle October 1, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    I always thought Oprah was one of those people who everyone had heard of, but nobody really watches. 😛

  4. E October 1, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    I guess I didn’t watch Oprah that much all those years. Occasionally I’d tune in (and I probably watched when I was on maternity leave), but I think it was typically when someone/something she had on was inspiring or interesting. She had plenty of that too. For my parenting years, I can say without question that the news and news magazine programs are what exposed me to risks, not Oprah. But that’s just as anecdotal as saying it was Oprah. Most of the moms I know work and don’t have time to watch Oprah.

    The show was on over 20 years every day (other than re-runs). She covered a LOT of topics. I would suggest she covered as many empowering topics as fearful ones.

    I don’t think Oprah had to worry too much about ratings.

  5. K2 October 1, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I’ve never seen that particular show. I think that in general the celebrities are not moderates and take their causes too far to be practical and good for both individuals and the society as a whole. I think entertainers shouldn’t really get involved in politics and things that might be politicized. Jack Walsh is another example of an entertainer having a bad influence. Deep down I really think the worst offenders for physical and sexual abuse (more than a small spanking and a kid under 12- not just consensual sex of a teen with an 18 year-old ) should be dealt with severely enough that the offender is not going to do it again because they are in jail and/or have gotten the death penalty. The whole country shouldn’t have to change because of a few criminals.

  6. marie October 1, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Oprah’s recommendation of books probably didn’t help, either. I learned early to avoid Oprah book club books because so many seemed to deal with child abuse or other dire circumstances. Lovely Bones comes to mind.

  7. E October 1, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    One thing — Oprah (or anyone) didn’t “make us” do anything. Do some media outlets share rare but scary thing that happen? Of course. News, news magazines, soap operas, primtime television, cable television, etc.

    I applaud the efforts to show the other side (and I can’t vouch for how accurate or not the likelihood of these events were portrayed), but I think it makes more sense to talk about how often something is presented and how accurately or not.

    Saying “Oprah made us” kind of paints adults as incapable of rational thought.

  8. E October 1, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    ugh — sorry for awful spelling!

  9. BL October 1, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    “I would suggest she covered as many empowering topics as fearful ones.”

    Am I alone in detesting the word “empowering”?


    I remember many years ago watching an episode of the nighttime soap opera “Dallas”. For some reason, JR had been removed as president of Ewing Oil and younger brother Bobby was president.

    At one point, Jock Ewing, their father and the company founder, went behind Bobby’s back to do something. Bobby confronted his father and began “you gave me the power …”

    “Power isn’t something somebody gives you!” roared Jock. “It’s something you take!”

    The word “empower” suggests power is given, not taken. Which means it’s not power at all.

  10. E October 1, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    @BL…sorry to offend you. But I’m not sure I care what fictional characters on Dallas think.

    I think a lot of people use “empower” exactly as it’s intended. In the work place a boss can “empower” you or “undermine” you.

    Maybe “food for thought” is a better way to put it. But maybe some other show tainted that phrase too.

  11. Beth Coll October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    I don’t think you can pin it exclusively on Oprah. The Oprah show began in the 1980’s. So did CNN and the beginning of the 24 hour news cycle. I think the real issue is the competition this brought to the entertainment business. And trying to fill up 24 hours of programming… you kind of run out of quality stuff at some point. Enter: fear. There is no shortage of it, and no shortage of ways to use it to attract ratings. In the 70’s we had less than 10 channels and so there was no need to fill in all the extra programming space with sensationalist talk show journalism.

    And to respond to E – I don’t think anyone is saying “Oprah made us be fearful.” But without a doubt we are currently living in a zeitgeist of fearfulness, and it does beg the question, “Where did it come from?”

  12. marie October 1, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Probably not Oprah alone. When did we start looking to the experts for all our answers about being parents? Experts aren’t experts if the only thing they can tell us is to trust our instincts or that everything will be fine. To look like an expert on parenting, they must have something to increase our level of concern so we will rely on expert advice.

    John Rosemond, a child psychologist, blames that change on the rise of the (ha ha!) child psychologists. Spock, Brazelton…somehow, parents started looking to the experts for answers. “When should I start potty training?” For centuries, that wasn’t even a question, it was just something you did when you wanted your child out of diapers.

    Once experts were established, they saw their role as one of improving parents. Parents will do fine on their own, for the most part, but experts shake their confidence.

  13. Donna October 1, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    I think the media is used as a scapegoat. The media – whether Oprah, the news or something else – sole reason for being is to make money. I’m sure people like Oprah will give lofty ideals as to their work, but if programs about dangers didn’t make tons of money, they wouldn’t air. Pure and simple. Even at her height of popularity, Oprah’s cache would only carry her so far in delving into her ideals at the expense of money for the network (and, frankly, herself). If people didn’t want to see such programs, they wouldn’t have made so much money and aired so regularly.

    The media isn’t making us (and by us I mean the general media-consuming population, not us specifically) watch these programs. The media is producing the programs because we want to see them. We are the problem, not Oprah.

    There are many sociological reason as to why I think we have become so risk-adverse. The constant barrage from the 24-hour media helps reinforce the beliefs that the world is unsafe, but the beliefs are coming from society.

  14. no rest for the weary October 1, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    I recall many “flavours” of “Oprah” in the smattering of episodes I saw. Celebrity interviews, general fluff, years of fitness and nutrition stuff, and toward the end, a real “consciousness” fetish.

    What always seemed like a complete anomaly, however, were the “Be Fearful of This” episodes. They really seemed out of place to me. Like, “One of these things is not like the other.” Days and days of fluff and feel-good, and then, suddenly, the deadly THING that seems mundane. The dark music. The encouragement to cower.

    At least “Oprah” had something of a balance. In the 80s and 90s, when daytime shows were really duking it out, wow, the depravity. Jerry Springer. Maury Povich. How did these people sleep at night, knowing what they were putting out there?

    But I feel the same way about über-violent video games. “The market demands it” has always been a sad, sad response from those who pump soul-killing garbage into the cultural mix. Where is the responsibility of the creative caste? I guess it’s been hijacked completely by profiteers who aren’t looking at human existence very holistically.

    The damage was done, but yes, we can speak up to the shadow-figure nature of it and assert that THERE ISN’T ANY EXTRA DANGER THESE DAYS.

    There just isn’t.


  15. E October 1, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    @BethColl — the title of this post is: “Did Oprah Make Us Terrified for Our Kids?”

    @Marie — my Mom had Dr. Spock’s book and she started raising children in 1950. Rosemand came after Spock, so it seems odd for Rosemand to mention him.

    My Mom raised 6 FR kids born in the 50s and 60s and used Spock as a reference. I think most references of that time (and even later) dealt with looking up health concerns right? Like rashes and fevers and such?

    Anyway – I vote for the 24 hour news channel and 100s of channels. If they can find an audience of people to watch people with mental illness and hoarding tendencies, you can surely find an audience of parents with young kids to “educate” of various risks (and share a gut wrenching story to go along with it).

  16. Ann in L.A. October 1, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    My favorite from an Oprah show:

    The DANGER!!! lurking in your nursery: your child might inhale baby oil! Warning! Warning! Warning! Warning!

  17. Brandon October 1, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    While I can’t blame Oprah alone, I’ve definitely felt that her show had the single largest influence on my mother being as overprotective as she was/is. As I grew up in the 90’s/2000’s, Oprah was on the TV daily and my mother would make a point to tape all the shows that would pertain to personal safety so she could show them to my me and my brother.

    I vividly remember the story about a child being kidnapped and locked in a room, having to use the light switch to Morse code SOS for days until a neighbor notice. Or the one about what to do if you find yourself kidnapped and locked in a car trunk, or that if you’re ever grabbed at knifepoint and told to stay quiet, you should be as loud as possible because odds of being rescued after leaving the primary location of the kidnapping is much lower.

    Oprah would often have FBI agents or police investigators on telling the worst types of horror stories, which clearly fed into one of my mom’s greatest fears, which were transferred to me.

    Anyways, while I’ve always realized that she went to an extreme on the fear side, discovering your book has helped my wife and I feel much better about the prospect of having children in the near future.

  18. Donna October 1, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    “When did we start looking to the experts for all our answers about being parents?”

    When we scattered to the far ends of the globe and no longer had a network of elders to give advice. We no longer die on the same land, or even in the same country, where we were born and where all our family lives. We raise our children long distances from our parents, grandparents, aunts, siblings. and those people are no longer readily available to give the advice that we now seek from “experts.”

    When, due to the transient nature of life, we stopped having multi-generational personal tribes. Obviously communities at large are multi-generational, but our own personal go-to people tend not to be. They are no longer made up of the elders in our family, their friends, the parents and grandparents of our friends, the store clerk who sold us candy every Saturday for our entire childhood and the doctor who delivered us. Those people may still part of our general community, but not our day-to-day living because we now all live in different places. It isn’t that we have sought this out, but that we tend to make new friends similarly situated to us when we move to a new location. A 25 year old is probably not going to seek out senior citizens for friendship upon moving to a new city, while a 25 year old who remains where she was born will likely maintain a relationship with senior citizens with whom she bonded as a child.

    When “parenting” became an actual thing as opposed to everyone simply getting through the day without someone dying. We put so much thought into parenting today that I know my grandparents and even my own parents didn’t. It is not that previous generations loved their children less; there was simply less pressure to do it “right.”

  19. Jill October 1, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Do not get me started on Oprah. She’s awful.

  20. Kathy October 1, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Interesting because I have been raising my seven children free-range for 25 years now and I never have liked Oprah, whereas my sister who loves Oprah is constantly saying to me “What if . . . ?” and “You can never be too safe,” and other such things. And I completely agree about the books as well. I bought two books recommended by Oprah at Costco and after that I wouldn’t read anything with her name on it. Depressing as hell.

  21. MHM October 1, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    People also started having fewer children so if you only have one or two kids its easy to micro manage them. With more you are running after all the fires and let things go. I also feel the internet has also provided parents with more fear mongering issues. Just in my town’s facebook page you see a lot of it going on.

  22. J- October 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    I did not come from an Oprah watching family. I don’t think I’ve seen more than a few minutes of her show in my life, and always in waiting rooms of doctors offices or Jiffy-Lubes.

    That said, I will never forgive Oprah for two things: 1) foisting DR OZ on America, 2) RAINBOW PARTIES.

    I was in high school when Oprah made rainbow parties the moral panic du jure. Supposedly, kids were cutting class to attend group oral sex functions in which girls wore different color lipstick and the boys…. you get the idea. The thing is, THIS NEVER HAPPENED EVER!!! NEVER!!!

    Study after study, interview after interview, there was not one documented case of a rainbow party ever happening.

    That didn’t stop her though. Next it was the different color sex bracelets and then something about different color hair ties. Again, there was not one documented case of kaleidoscopic teenage sex parties. But school after school banned bracelets and hair ties and whatever else Oprah said was evidence of truant caligula-esque bacchanalia.

    The stuff that came out of her show about “what teenagers do when you are not looking” was beyond the pale for Penthouse Letters and in too poor taste for the writers of Law & Order SVU. I don’t know what child molester with pit and death’s head moths in his basement was hired as an investigator for Oprah, but there was nothing too extreme for her to drum up into a moral panic to scare the crap out of parents with.

  23. E October 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    @donna – such a great post! The dynamic between generations is SO different. My parents grew up on the same street. For the first 25 years of their marriage they lived nearby their entire families. My Dad was transferred out of state in his 40s. Their children? I’m one of 6 kids that live in 4 different states (not adjacent and >1000 between the farthest flung).

    Now we have books and websites and blogs (I cannot get over the fervor with which carseats and babyslings are discussed — it was quite literally NOT a topic of conversation when I had kids 20 years ago, let alone a “hot” topic.) and now neighborhood listservs that warn of us every conceivable threat or unmarked van.

    It’s just so different.

    As far as who watches Oprah? Perhaps people are drawn to her because they are just different than those that aren’t? I mean, I don’t watch any Vampire shows because I think it’s a dumb concept. I have friends that love them. Different things appeal to different people. Do those shows (like Oprahs) feed into the paranoia? I guess. But I’ve watched some of those type of “DANGER DANGER” shows and NOT turned paranoid.

    Same goes for her current shows. Some people love the Sunday shows she does..others don’t (and they are certainly not at all related to fear in raising children).

  24. BL October 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    “sorry to offend you. But I’m not sure I care what fictional characters on Dallas think. I think a lot of people use “empower” exactly as it’s intended.”

    I was using a fictional quotation to dramatize the meaning. But OK, let’s leave the Ewings aside.

    Exactly how is it intended? The dictionary definition I get is “GIVE (someone) the authority or power to do something.” (emphasis mine). It still puts people in a passive state, waiting for permission to have “power”. Permission from someone like Oprah?

  25. E October 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    @J- love your post — it made me laugh!

    I also think the “instant everything” of email and social media has a byproduct of co-opting other people’s experience as our own. It can be used to give false confidence and justify behavior (in teens) and spread fear or outrage that might never come across my radar screen 10 years ago.

    I think some people are more influenced by those things (tv, FB, media, news) than others. Oprah and the rest just feeds that part.

  26. Kim October 1, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    I think America’s Most Wanted contributed along with CNN sensationalism.

  27. E October 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    @BL, another definition (you just chose to ignore) is:

    Empower: make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.

    Sometimes people (or at least some people) can use the experience of others to gain a different perspective on what is going on in their lives. That’s why reading autobiographies can be interesting. That’s why going to career development seminars can be helpful. You are taking information not previously available or pondered and processing it in personal manner.

    So you don’t like the word…okay. But that doesn’t meant hat people don’t get ideas, confidence, strategies, advice from other sources: family, therapy, seminars, books, friends, mentors. My point was just that Oprah had a wide range of topics, not just “danger around every corner”.

  28. fred schueler October 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    …so maybe that’s why free range parents who eschewed TV don’t have so much of a problem with this kind of stuff

  29. Donna October 1, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    I often liked Oprah. Many of her book club books too. I also religiously watched Law & Order: SVU for many years.

    I think that if you are a fearful person, you will find fears in spades in these programs. You may even be drawn to those types of programs. But if you are pretty confident in your safety in the world around you, then you will remain so whether you watch these programs or not. If you are insecure about your parenting, you will find a million ways to stress yourself out in these programs. You may even be drawn to them. But if you are somewhat confident, then you will remain so whether you watch these programs or not. It is all about the person and not the program at all.

  30. Jim October 1, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Of course its not all Oprah’s fault but a large part it. Oprah did one unforgivable thing which is to treat Mom as if its an expert field of study and by far the most important and hard thing to ever be accomplished. She made it ok for a Moms feeling to be worth more then experts in the medical field or psychology field or sociology field. She put on hucksters with no expertise or that pushed nonsense as experts such as Jenny McCarthy.

    She of course took advantage of the environment she was in. She came on air right around the time the Satanic Day Care Hoax occurred*. She was there with the child super predator nonsense. She was there with the Video Games/Music will turn you into Hitlerstalin. Columbine.

    *This event really seems to be the dividing line between “free range” and “helicopter”.

  31. Kate October 1, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    Donna, you are so right about this. Also, with smaller families kids are less likely to have older siblings or cousins with infants. I had a friend who had never held an infant until she left the hospital after giving birth to a son. She did not babysit so had little experience with children. I do not get why an “expert” will know more than my mother,aunt or even neighbor with grown children. Somehow things are different today? My mother had one book recommendation: Dr Spock, mostly used to see if we should go to the Doctor or treat rashes and such at home.

  32. marie October 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    In the pioneer days, families were not so much in the multi-generation-under-one-neighborhood model. Ma and Pa Ingalls left parents and siblings behind to strike out on their own. They traveled far away, with no guarantee they would ever see that family again. If they were lucky, letters were exchanged but even that meant they were getting news that was months old.

    My parents lived 200 miles from my grandparents and they wrote regularly. Long distance phone calls were rare and very special.

    Today, young people can move around the world and talk to Mom and Dad and siblings and the rest of the extended family multiple times a day.

    If asking Mom or Grandma would solve the questions of when to start feeding solids, that is easily done today. Too many times, asking Mom or Grandma what they would have done is not seen as the answer. Why? Because Grandma rode in a car with the baby on her lap. Because Mom always put her babies to sleep on their tummies. Because What to Expect tells you not to start solids EVER before four months. How can young people trust their elders to dispense good advice when the experts says the elders are wrong-wrong-wrong?

    Research has done some good. The incidence of SIDS has dropped (by half? not sure) since the Back to Sleep campaign was introduced. Car seats save lives.

    People are much more likely to trust the experts. The experts are much more likely to tell you they have a better way to do things. The better way usually is all about safety.

    The idea we’ve been sold is that safety should be our biggest concern. If it saves one child…

  33. lollipoplover October 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    For you:

  34. E October 1, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    @marie — not all of us descended from the Pioneers, but many from immigrants that came to our shores and lived in highly populated places like NYC/Boston/Philly, etc.

    I think Donna’s point is valid. It’s not that information doesn’t evolve, but it used to evolve from what we were taught and what our Drs shared with us…There was nothing more than word of mouth and a few books. Now you can find parenting advice on an INSTAGRAM photo. Someone can share a photo of them and their child in a snuggly and there will be a chorus of responses that say “his head isn’t being supported enough” or “slide that clasp further up on his chest in that carseat”.

    You can overhear something at a coffee shop and google it while you are still sitting there.

    What’s the phrase Analysis Paralysis? It’s practically like that — especially IF you are more susceptible to that.

  35. John October 1, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    LOL….I loved it Lollipop! Great video and oh so true!

  36. hineata October 1, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    I got into watching Oprah when I was feeding my first, same with CNN (which was a filler at night-time here then). I liked her programme, certainly better than ridiculous shows like Rikki Lake (btw I’m sure that woman must breed her guests in a secure compound somewhere!). Never felt it made me more paranoid, but then I guess mostly the danger stuff was pretty alien to my concepts about life, so I just ignored it.

    There was one interesting one that pointed out the extremely rare but easily-taken-care-of danger involving kids standing on free-standing ovens, and I think I put wads of newsprint under the front feet of the oven after that one :-), mostly because it would help the oven not tip forward in an earthquake, a far more realistic danger in earthquake country. I remember that tip because I happened to be talking to my mother the next day and laughed as I told her about it (silly Americans yada yada, what will they worry about next 🙂 ), and she said that actually it had happened in New Zealand when I was a kid…. nobody panicked about it because it was just an unfortunate accident, and also there were no talk shows to spread the idea that this was an imminent danger to mankind :-).

  37. JP Merzetti October 1, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    If mass media has created risk aversion, then perhaps the real danger is the media itself.
    The power of media is nothing new. (Consider the mass panic that Orson Welles started with nothing but a radio broadcast.)
    I disconnected from network tv at the age of 16.
    It did me no harm.
    Yet the amount of it I absorbed before that age – had no discernable effect, either.
    I grew up in a free-range era.
    But then, security was not big business, and fear was not commodified for profit enhancement. Even a cold war couldn’t really shake us out of our thirst for freedom. Life went on.

    If Oprah had been the greatest advocate for free-range, what then would be the national discourse on the subject?

  38. Donna October 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm #


    Yes, there were some people who broke the mold. Always has been and always will be. However, the vast majority of people in prior generations prior the car were born and died within a couple days horse ride.

    Unless you believe that parenting is one-size fits all, asking someone for parenting advice via skype is nor more meaningful than expert advice. My brother lives in Colorado. I talk to him regularly, but I see him very rarely. Since neither of us have any intention of moving, his children, should he have any, will be virtual strangers to me their entire lives, as my child is a stranger to him. I am no more of an authority on strange children by virtue of being their aunt than an expert would be. There is no reason whatsoever that he should listen to me over an expert. I may be an authority on raising MY child. I may have some good suggestions for friends about their children. But I am certainly not an authority on a child that I have never met.

    Contrast that to grandma who lives next door or down the road. If my brother asks me if his child is ready to potty train, I have no freaking idea. I’ve may never have even met the kid. He might as well consult an expert. If I ask my mother, if my child is ready to potty train, she can answer based on actual knowledge of both potty training in general and my own child’s personal readiness.

  39. Donna October 1, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    And those who did break the mold and move away from family, tended to move into insular communities of immigrants that they then never left. My great grandparents immigrated from Germany after WWI. They knew nobody here, but moved into a community so insular that my grandfather, born in America, didn’t speak a word of English until he started kindergarten. He had no need to as everyone in his world spoke German. Even pioneers tended to move west in large groups and not as individuals traveling alone.

    I saw this is A. Samoa. The palagis (white folk) pulled together and formed a family-ish unit on the island. I could count on someone helping me out any time I needed. Much more so than here. It was kinda the mentality of we are all here all alone so we all need to help each other out.

  40. hineata October 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    The only thing I din’t like about Oprah was that the times she did stuff on race, as was expected of an African-American superstar, she never talked about Native Americans. And she’s not the only one. I have probably raised it before, but it’s shocking to me that Native Americans appear to be almost invisible in the US media, at least the stuff we see here, except for maybe the odd thing about casinos.

    And what was with all those dating shows? I think you all have talked about inter-racial couples, so obviously they exist, but the crappy dating shows we used to get to see all ha either Spanish types being set up with Spanish, whites with whites, African-Americans with African-Americans. No natives there either – presumably natives can fix up their own dates :-). But we generally preferred the Spanish types, and were also left wondering who half-castes dated……. 🙂

    I found those shows, plus Days of Our Lives, far more fear-inducing than Oprah. A first world nation, where supposedly civil rights battles had ended years before, still trying to keep the races apart….Mildly frightening for we mongrel breeds watching it :-).

  41. Peter October 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    During the 1980s, as part of her “break the silence of abuse victims” crusade, she actually gave the following advice: Ladies, if you want the upper hand in your divorce proceedings, report that you or your children were abused by the man you are divorcing.

    The number of abuse-based divorces skyrocketed. Not because of actual abuse, but because it worked. Children were taken away from their fathers without question. The imbalance in mothers winning custody became legendary. The pendulum is now slowly swinging back, but it is still relatively easy for a woman to make false accusations of abuse and be believed, regardless of evidence or lack thereof.

    And, once again, it was all in the name of “keeping the kids safe.”

    Thanks, Oprah.

  42. bmommyx2 October 1, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Funny, I don’t remember that Oprah had all those shows like that. I was an avid watcher from the early days & I really don’t remember that many show like that, but I didn’t have kids then (I was one). Honestly I think it’s the 24 hour news, the internet, facebook, Amber alerts, local news (slow news days), dateline and other news shows & lower quality (sensationalized) talk shows & all of those movies of the week. The Lifetime channel is the worst when it comes to these over dramatized stories. Of course I think that each different paranoia came from or was made worse by different events. I think the children being stolen & kidnapped paranoia was really made worse from the Adam Walsh Kidnapping and murder in 1981 & his father John Walsh (america’s most wanted show), he was on every news program & talk show for years. It didn’t help that this happened only two years after the disappearance of Etan Patz (which was highly publicized) on his way to school. Etan Patz was the first missing kid to be pictured on a milk carton beginning in 1984. Every day or several times a day parents & children where reminded of all of the missing children pictured on milk cartons & pizza boxes. I think the molestation paranoia came from or was made worse by the highly publicized McMartin Pre-school fiasco that turned out to be highly fabricated, but not before it did a lot of damage. I think in the 90s many adults came out to tell of being molested as children (Oprah did too) that along with more movies of the week on the subject just fulled the paranoia. Even now there are stories of kids being molested & the whole Catholic church priest fiasco didn’t help either. Another famous case that got a lot of attention was Steven Stayner who was kidnapped in 1972 & held (and molested) for 7 years until he escaped with another victim Timmy White in 1980. I remember the TV movie about his story it was so horrible. I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame on Oprah. Also don’t forget all the companies that market products that prey on parents fears or danger (child safety), accidents, padded everything, SIDS, baby monitors etc. Fears of liability have created lots of crazy child related so called safety rules.

  43. E October 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    I feel like I’m defending Oprah, and she’s one person that can take care of the herself, lol, but @Peter you are suggesting that Oprah stood on her show and advocated that women lie about abuse in order to gain an advantage in a divorce? That seems completely counter to what you’d expect Oprah to say, and as a someone who encountered sexual abuse herself, seems counter to what anyone with that background would do — create more people who cry wolf?

    Perhaps this is a misrepresentation of what her message was?

    There are enough anti-Oprah folks out there and this would seem like a headline to discredit her and I’ve never heard it before.

  44. Warren October 1, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Oprah was no different than any other entertainer. She just hid it better. It was not about raising awareness, it was about ratings. Ratings equals income. Pure and simple.

  45. Liz October 1, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    I don’t know that it was necessarily Oprah alone, but I do think her reign as media queen coincided with a few important moments in history. In 1999, there was the Columbine shooting, which was really the first large-scale episode of school violence to be covered relentlessly on 24-hour TV. A year and half later was 9/11, also a massive cultural moment, also documented endlessly on TV. Both events put a new focus on “security” and “safety” in ways we hadn’t thought about before. This also all happened right around the time the Internet was becoming truly ubiquitous for the masses. Now news websites needed to fight for page-clicks and not just TV viewers. Stories about public safety, especially when children are involved, tend to get lots of attention, regardless of the real story. In short, I think our 24-hour news cycle and online bombardment through websites and especially social media prey upon parents’ worst fears and have changed our cultural climate from what it used to be. Oprah was definitely part of that, but not the whole part at all.

  46. Jennifer Griffin October 1, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    There’s something to the Law and Order thing – My mom was so afraid of my sister going to college at NYU until she visited New York and realized it’s just another (really big) city. She’s been several times since. Same thing with CSI when my sisters moved to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. And they were adults!

  47. Reziac October 1, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    It isn’t that Oprah made us fearful. It’s that her show put the concepts in front of millions of new parents still looking for clues. She’s just one facet of a “news” and “current events” industry that is forever seeking more eyeballs, because each additional eyeball glued to the screen is another dollar in their pocket when they sell you to their advertisers.

    If a for-profit entity offers you a service for free, you’re not the customer — you’re the product.

  48. Laura October 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    I am the original author of the letter above. I agree that not all of Oprah’s shows were fear-inducing. I was a fan and she covered a wide range of topics, as well as light-hearted “fluff”. However, when I really thought hard about why I was irrationally fearful about certain things happening to my kids, horror stories from Oprah kept coming to mind. And worse than a regular news report, on a talk show, it is usually accompanied by the victim of the tragedy, a face with a name, making it more personal. When you see a devastated parent crying on Oprah’s couch, you make a mental note…That’s horrible! Those poor people! I don’t want that to happen to my kid! It’s a natural reaction.

    Brandon and J’s examples are exactly the kind of shows I am talking about. You didn’t even know you needed to worry about rainbow parties or the hidden stove danger until Oprah brought it to your attention! Better safe than sorry! 😉

    I also agree about the book club, very depressing selections.

    To Donna’s point, I watched Oprah a lot when I started staying home after the birth of my first child, and yes, I was far away from family. My closest relative is still over 7 hours away. I do think there is a definite connection to the lack of family/close community influence as well. It was basically just me and this very vulnerable infant versus the world.

    “The world is different now. You just can’t do that anymore. There are too many sickos out there nowadays” etc. We all hear this refrain and it is largely accepted as true. My question was how did this come to be in the span of basically one generation.

  49. lollipoplover October 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    I didn’t get to watch Oprah growing up because I think it aired the same time as General Hospital and mom just loved those Quartermaines and her All My Children. I can’t really give a fair commentary on the content of the shows but I do know that the hooks they aired to get you to watch a catchy news segment were very convincing of dangers and things to worry about.

    One thing I will give Oprah is she commands a sense of authority (and is a very savvy businesswoman). Oprah can say “What every parent needs to know about garden gnomes” and folks will tune in. She is the Shamwow of talk show hosts. I also know she comes from a family history of abuse. Perhaps this experience has warped what she featured but more likely, it was for the almighty ratings and profits.
    Scare sells.

  50. Steve S October 1, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Like pretty much everyone else my age, growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, I had an idyllic “Free-Range” childhood. The last thing I would consider my own parents is neglectful or irresponsible. So, where did this pervasive paranoia come from? What exactly happened in the late 90’s and 2000’s?

    I don’t have any complaints about my childhood, but parents certainly worried about things that weren’t harmful back before Oprah. Parents certainly bought into hype and paranoia.

    The news and entertainment industry has always featured the sensational. Do you really think people would watch these shows if they featured stories like “drunk driving can be dangerous” and “why you shouldn’t give your child laudanum.” No, people want to see the unusual.

  51. Stafir October 1, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    I think this article does get it wrong in a few ways..but not in the ways people consider.

    Let me just give you a summary now. What has caused the fear of childhood is not just one factor, but many. Many separate factors, that have all worked together to form this fear of childhood.

    Did Oprah alone make people terrified of childhood? No she didn’t..but she contributed, she helped.

    Did Adam Welsh make all of us terrified the country is more dangerous, and we need to keep our eyes on kids at all times? No but he helped..

    Has the focus on standout horrible tragedies over feel good ‘look at this amazing thing people did’ stories help make us terrified of childhood? No but it helped.

    Has the likelyhood of lawsuits caused fear of childhood, by trying to get rid of all the unsafeness to stop lawsuits? No but it helped.

    You can’t pin the blame on just one thing..you can’t pin the blame on the individual alone either. Yes the person decided to be afraid, yes the person decided to believe all of this. But when you have dozens of small things, every day. Dozens of small accidents from far away you hear about, small accidents from far away you hear about, small tragedies from far away, when people start saying that certain activities are too unsafe to do. When you feel afraid if you leave a knife open on a table and someone cuts themself by accident..you could be sued. When you feel like by ignoring a child who is in a situation you think is ok, but others think is unsafe, you might wind up getting pinned for helping child endangerment. When you are hit repeatedly by all of this..day after day, month after month, year after year.

    Yes….the person decided to be that way, but you are shaped by the environment you are around..by what you take in. And when that environment mentioned every single horror, no matter how realistic or far away it is. You start to get affected by it..and it takes a very tough person to not be that swayed by it.

  52. E October 1, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    Right we all have pressure points that work for us. For me (aside from teen driving, which is a real and valid risk), I always “worried” when my older kids would go off to a swim party or a rope swing at a nearby lake. I had to always talk to them about diving in shallow water and the risks. I know someone who life was permanently impacted by that PLUS I worked thru college at a pool with a good but serious aquatics director.

    Now someone might say that was unnecessary fear, but when I have first hand knowledge of horrific injury..it’s harder to ignore. All of these media outlets (as many have mentioned) allow (or tempt) us to co-opt those experiences for our own. Instead of knowing the guy who is in a wheelchair from an ill advised dive, we say we “saw it on [Oprah|20/20|CNN|Facebook|?]”.

    We lost a friend suddenly last week. He was alone at his home as his kids are away at college and his wife was traveling for work. I’m sure it will be difficult to send her kids back to school…or for the kids to know their Mom is home alone. That’s a normal reaction to a first person experience.

    I think it’s the inundation of everyone else’s like experiences (and in some cases exaggerations and bad info) that makes it difficult for some to prevent modifying their own lives to “prevent” bad things from happening.

  53. Donna October 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    “My question was how did this come to be in the span of basically one generation.”

    It didn’t. It has been on the slow move for generations. My grandparents had more freedom than my parents who had more freedom than me. The ages at which people become “adults” has been creeping up for generations. My grandmother married at 16 and that was not unusual for the time. 16 would have been unheard of in my mother’s generation unless pregnant, but 25 was an old maid. Now we consider it too young if you get married before your late 20s.

    As for why, there are many reasons, none of them Oprah. Oprah is a symptom, not the disease. Some have already been addressed – dispersed families, transient populations, lack of community, smaller families that result in a lack of exposure to children growing up.

    Another major reason is the rise of the middle class. Helicoptering over your kids and extended childhood is a rich man’s game. The poor are too busy simply surviving to helicopter and kids need to contribute to the family as soon as they can, not languish away in teen angst. Helicoptering and extended childhood has always been part of the upper class to a certain extent. Being able to helicopter and extend childhood is a status symbol that more people wanted to take on as the wealth of the country grew. You still see far less helicoptering in poor areas like the ‘hood, where there is little hope for the “American Dream,” and is very common in poor areas where it is strong, e.g. immigrant populations.

    Another is that we are incredibly safe now. Absent an accident, the vast majority of our children will live to be 80+ years old. As childhood death became rarer and rarer, it also became something completely unfathomable and to be avoided at all costs.

    Another is a lack of feeling of security about our future. Permanent loss of manufacturing jobs, terrorism, declining wealth, declining opportunities have left Americans feeling disheartened about the future and feeling out of control. That makes us open to the idea that everything is going to hell in a hand basket and makes us desirous of controlling what we can control i.e. by keeping our children close, they won’t get hurt.

  54. Donna October 1, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    I also think that an older age of first time parenting comes into play. We tend to become more cautious as we age. It kinda makes sense that populations where people become parents for the first time at 18 would be different than populations where people become parents for the first time at 28.

  55. JaneW October 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Oprah is also into selling imaginary solutions to invented or overblown health hazards. (She gave the scam artist Dr. Oz his start.)

  56. Edward October 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Here’s another MADtv YouTube vid that more directly relates to the original post. Going to try thr embed code – wish me luck.

  57. Edward October 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    OK – didn’t work. Here’s the link – I hope.


  58. SOA October 1, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    I never understood the obsession with Oprah. I never watched that show. I like her as an actress but not really into her real personage so to speak.

  59. SOA October 1, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

    I did read Lovely Bones but because I wanted to, not because it was an Oprah book.

    I heard about it and thought I would like it. Actually that book is not exactly anti free range. The main character did something that we are free rangers teach our kids. She went somewhere secluded alone with someone she did not know that well.

    That is something I teach my kids so I can trust them alone. If the main character had not taken that bait and been taught that lesson by her parents, she may not have died that way. Just saying. That was my take on it.

  60. J.T. Wenting October 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    And Oprah is far from alone. Just about every “talk show”, “reality show”, etc. etc. got on the band wagon and did exactly the same thing.

    And of course once the pattern was established, Hollywood got in on it and made it a central theme of just about every movie and television series, authors smelled money and turned it into novels, news agencies noticed that blowing even the smallest “tragedy” way out of proportions sells and started inventing them where they didn’t exist, politicians now had a very easy catch phrase to push through more power and money for themselves “it’s FOR THE CHILDREN” and “if it saves one life IT IS WORTH IS”.
    And last but certainly not least insurance companies and lawyers smelled blood in a big way and thrive on the billions upon billions of dollars earned every day on needless insurance policies that have such strict payout terms that they never have to pay out and frivolous lawsuits where they benefit from massive settlement because everyone sued is too afraid to let it come to trial.

  61. Laura October 2, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    Excellent points Donna.

  62. Nicole 2 October 2, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s (born in 86) and my mom was paranoid. I doubt it was Oprah specifically, but rather a cultural shift following high profile child abductions.

  63. Oppo Joy Phone October 2, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Good evening. I come from Indonesia. Its my firsttime read Your blog.
    I so surprise read about Oprah.

  64. Andy October 2, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Funny vid. I loved it.

  65. E October 2, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Yeah, I don’t think Oprah did much different than a lot of media outlets, she just had a bigger audience. She took what Phil Donahue was doing and then just did it better and more successfully. That genre didn’t exist long before her…I don’t think Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin covered anything but celebs and fluff.

  66. Stacy October 2, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Very good points Donna. I absolutely agree that it has become a status symbol to hover. Part of the problem too is that middle to upper class parents who are home with their children during the day have very little they must do, compared to women in the past. Some become excellent at domestic arts, but for many of us hovering becomes our job. Working from home has helped me find my way to a more free-range parenting style. On the other hand, working mothers feel the need to hover in the evenings and weekends to make up for lost time.

    Loss of community and close connections with extended family is also significant. A new mother I know has posted her concerns on facebook about whether her child is developing right on schedule. Older relatives immediately reassured her that children develop at their own pace, but she seems unconvinced because the books say___ or the pediatrician says___.

    Although Oprah wasn’t alone in her messages, she created a unique connection with her audience. When women were parenting without support, Oprah came into their living room like a friend. Some of her advice was good, some was not. I intentionally never watched any tragedy episodes because I know my own tendency to over-empathize. I can see how they would influence viewers.

  67. Donna October 2, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    I read an article this morning basically equating parenting with religion. That modern parenting treats children as little deities to be worshiped rather than parts of the whole of the family. I wish I could find it again, but I can’t.

    Basically, the premise was that somewhere around the 80s children moved from part of their parents’ world to being the center of their universe, especially the mother’s. Everything else – marriage, friends, her own interests – now must take a backseat to children. And so when the children become independent, there is nothing left.

    The article focused on the cost to marriage of this arrangement, but I think the same could be said for the cost to children’s independence. Making children the center of the universe so that little is left after they leave makes mothers unwilling to let go. It also makes the prospect of losing that center devastating.

  68. Jill October 2, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Donna makes an excellent point, and I’ll take it one step further by saying that quite a few ads and TV shows promote the idea that there is no longer a clear division between childhood and adulthood.
    I’m thinking in particular of an ad for a hotel chain that shows kids and parents jumping up and down on a bed together, seemingly having the time of their lives.
    My parents would never have done that, nor would any of their peers. Parents didn’t dress like kids, talk like kids or behave like kids. Kids had their own world, where they did kid stuff, and adults had their world, in which they did things that seemed either very sophisticated,like getting dressed up and going to a nightclub, or very boring, like balancing the checkbook. Adults had dignity back then, and adulthood had status, but now it doesn’t.

  69. K2 October 2, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    It might be noted that this was right around the time that CPS got started.

  70. Stacy October 2, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    When my oldest was little, I believed that I was supposed to show him that he was the center of my universe. It took a few years to reteach him that he was not, in fact, the center of THE universe and he still occasionally forgets. I have friends who are wonderful people and loving moms but feel guilt over doing anything for themselves, or really anything that takes them away from their elementary age kids. There’s a disturbing cartoon that went around on facebook about a mom celebrating her child going to kindergarten and clinging to him when he goes off the college, which moms described as “so true!”

  71. Stacy October 2, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    “It might be noted that this was right around the time that CPS got started.”

    We’ve all heard the stories of good parents being investigated by CPS, but I have heard too many shocking stories of child abuse not to believe in the value of child protective services. Terrible things do happen to children, nearly always at the hands of family and those the family invites into their lives. Their families can’t always be trusted to protect them. Unfortunately, some people have trouble distinguishing those cases from differences in parenting style.

  72. SKL October 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    I really don’t understand Oprah’s appeal. Pure, shameless pandering to the darkest parts of our minds. Well, not “our” minds, because some of us will not watch her.

    From what I’ve read, she had a rough life herself and maybe she thinks she’s doing a good thing by telling people “this can happen.” But it is not helpful in my opinion.

  73. Buffy October 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    @Donna, was it this one? This is very good, even if it’s not the one you’re referring to.


  74. EricS October 2, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    I think The Oprah Winfrey show was one of many influences. And it didn’t help (or helped, depending on your perspective) that she was very influential. It’s your typical, well I heard it on the news the other day, and a friend of a friend said it happened to her too, now Oprah is saying the same thing. So it MUST be true. Now multiply that by everyday of a year for the next 10-15 years, drilled into people’s heads. Heads that have been softened by technology to become lazy. Now you have a making of mind control.

    This is not conspiracy. If you look at how brainwashing works, those mentioned above is the base of it. You break down the mind, then you constantly bombard it with the “truths” you want the person to have. Then give them rewards for accepting those truths. In the case of children, the parents’ reward…peace of mind. Eventually, those “truths” become their reality. Just as much as we can believe the sky is blue. A brainwashed person can believe it’s pink, given the right amount of conditioning. Now add fear and paranoia to the mix, and now you have today’s society. No one likes to be fearful, so anything that can help themselves feel better is a welcome remedy. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong remedy.

    It all boils down to what people see, hear and read. And most of these comes from the internet, and television, with technology making access to them that much easier. The short of it, is that media needs to be much more responsible in what they tell people. But as long as money/profit is involved, based on ratings, I doubt this will ever happen. So all people can rely on is their own common sense, logic, and reasoning based on facts they need to look into. Not emotional triggers to give into.

  75. EricS October 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    One also has to keep in mind, is that Oprah was a product of an abusive childhood. So she is biased in a big way. Just like John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted is biased because of what happened to his son. I can’t begin to imagine what either have went through, but psychologically I’m very sure it did quite a number on them. As it does for many victims. Affecting how they think today. Just like many parents that let fear control their lives.

    But it doesn’t change the facts, their ordeals are still rare in the global, even national scale. And that people pick and choose when they fear, and what they fear, based on their own conveniences. The mind, it’s a terrible thing to waste, but an easy one to manipulate.

  76. Donna October 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Buffy, yes, that is it.

  77. E October 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    Here’s a non-Oprah anecdote but illustrates the way we are exposed to things. In the last 2 weeks, 4 children (3 incidents) have been hit by cars while waiting for or getting on school buses in our community. One was killed, the others seriously injured. I can guarantee, if I had a child that rode a school bus today, I’d probably wait with them after hearing these stories. It’s dark in the mornings, we don’t have sidewalks in our neighborhood, and apparently we’ve had at least 2 drivers who don’t know how/when to stop for a bus (and my kids had to cross the street to board).

    But when was a kid, how long was the local news? Did it start at 4am and run until 9am? Did it starts at 4:30pm and run until the Nat’l News? Nope.

    Of course, I presume those stories would hit the papers (and should) but today you really can’t help but be bombarded with the incident, the images, the parent interviews, etc.

    So sure, can Elem kids wait for a bus on their own? Of course. Would I do it this week after seeing this stories and images? Unlikely. It might not be logical or necessary, but I’d definitely be re-training my kids about how and when to cross and want to be there until I felt a little more confident.

  78. Ann October 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    I’m confused about the early 90s comment. I have nieces and nephews who were children at that time, and I also used to babysit and work in a daycare. I didn’t see any “free ranging” going on then. Parents in the upper-middle class community I was working in were pretty helicopter-ey at the time. There hasn’t been a true “free range” environment since the 70s and 80s, honestly. The 80s were the start of the daycare craze.

  79. pentamom October 3, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Yeah, I started having my kids in the early 90’s and the helicopter thing was already started. I was influenced by it myself, not so much to the point of helicoptering a lot myself, but of at least feeling guilty or judged if I didn’t, and being more cautious than I needed to be about some of the “dangers” supposed lurking out there. I don’t have a good guess about pinpointing the beginning, but it goes back farther than that.

  80. Laura October 3, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    @Ann-Original poster here…To clarify, I was a teenager in the early 90’s, so my parents probably still had the free-range attitudes of parenting in the 70’s and 80’s. You are probably right that parents of small children in that time period had started helicoptering. (Oprah and daytime talk shows were going strong then!) I will say that my own parents have radically changed and are way more paranoid now as grandparents. They were not immune to the “times have changed, you can’t do that nowadays” phenomenon. For example, when I was a kid, and we went to the beach, once we were decent swimmers, my mom would lay on the beach sunbathing,reading etc. while we played in the ocean, walked or drifted down the beach til we were out of sight and then we would turn around and come back. Contrast that now, when we go to the beach with my kids and neices and nephews. My parents will stand right at the water’s edge keeping a close eye on all the kids, even the ones who are 10 or older, and strong swimmers. The ocean has not gotten any more dangerous in the last 2 decades that I know of, but they have adapted to the paranoia, and the majority opinion that you must literally watch and protect the children every second.

  81. Warren Pacholzuk October 3, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Check out George Carlin’s “Children Worship” he is so on the mark.