A mom writes:
Dear Let Grow:
First of all, thank you so much for the work you have been doing! I just finished reading Free-Range Kids and it was such an eye-opener.
Since I am unsure whether I am overreacting, I would like to ask you for your opinion on this situation:
My son is turning two at the end of this month and has been going to daycare here in Australia for three weeks now.
Yesterday, they had a lockdown simulation at the childcare center, pretending a perpetrator had entered the premises. The educators gathered all children in a small locked up room and told them “Shhhh! Someone is coming.“
I honestly dislike the idea of my little son having to hide in a locked room, thinking that a bad person might come to get them. I find it disturbing.
I understand that there are crazy people out there and that anything can happen. But I dare to believe that the chance of somebody wanting to do something this horrible and actually making it through the high walls, fences, the security code and the staff members of a childcare center, is extremely slim.
So I don’t want them to unnecessarily instill fear in children by doing these drills.
What are your thoughts?
S, I very much agree with you. Thinking ahead to the absolutely worst case scenario and believing that only this kind of overwhelming fear and pessimism keeps kids safe is a defining feature of our time. It’s almost superstitious: If we act out a tragedy — and actually suffer — real tragedy will pass us over.
But there’s another, more likely, tragedy facing us, and that is raising kids to believe it’s an awful world out there. Obviously there are some sad, sick people. (Always have been. Worst school attack in America was in 1927.) Focusing on these horrors and teaching our kids that it’s a rotten world out there, where trust is for saps — that kind of outlook actually has a name. It’s called a “negative primal.”
A recent, long-term study of kids raised with negative primals like “seeing the world as dangerous keeps me safe” found that it actually does the opposite of what parents hope:
“Regardless of occupation, more negative primals were almost never associated with better outcomes. Instead, they predicted less success, less job and life satisfaction, worse health, dramatically less flourishing, more negative emotion, more depression, and increased suicide attempts.”
Jeremy Clifton and Peter Meindl
Of course schools and day care centers must take some basic precautions to keep kids safe.
But a big one should be ensuring that they don’t accidentally hurt kids’ future health and happiness by turning them negative on the world. — L
Great advice, Lenore. I especially liked your thoughts on raising your kids where we don’t instill that we live in a horrible and dark world. Kids need to see beauty and magic of what’s around them.
This one leaves me torn. I definitely agree with the notion that we should not raise our kids to fear the world, to fear what could be, but as a resident of a city in the US that experienced a recent mass shooting at a school 1.5 miles from one of my kids’ school and less than 4 miles from my other kids’ school, it is a real threat in this country and horrifyingly, how quiet my child can be could mean the difference between being found by a shooter and being passed by. How horrible for parents in this country to feel this way.
On the other hand, I also agree that creating a world in which everyone is out to get us can create unnecessary fear and hinderance to our children’s growth and development. In 2023, the US has experienced 288 mass shootings (I am not sure how many of these were school specific) while Australia has experienced zero. So for a place like Australia, lock down drills likely unnecessarily stoke fears (esp for a 2 year old!), but in America when the threat is next door for so many people, I am not so sure.
With that being said, despite school shootings to be an ongoing threat and gun violence to be the #1 cause of death for kids in America, dying in a school shooting is still rare (<1% of shooting deaths of kids).
One thing I think we can all agree on is that no one wins in these scenarios. 🙁
That’s absolutely awful. Obviously a two year old lacks the maturity to distinguish between fantasy and reality, between a practice drill and the real thing. Now every time he hears the words “someone is coming” he’ll be terrified. I think this kind of extreme and irrational fear mongering is itself a form of child abuse.
The only way in which I think some kind of “drill” or preparation could be done without long lasting harm is that the school makes this into a game. In other words, do not tell the children that there is or could be a bad guy and that they need to hide. Make it into a fun game to see how quiet you can be and pretend to hide. Make the kids think it’s a game. That will be your best bet at making an improvement to the children’s safety without traumatizing them.
Lenore, I agree with your response to the Australian parent. I also greatly appreciate your inclusion of the Univ. of Pennsylvannia study about negative world views. The abstract opened my eyes to the fact that a majority of parents hold such perperceptions and believe it necessary to pass along to their children. Although entirely anecdotal, I would suggest that there may be a statistical association between the recent spate of shootings of young people in the United States (Kansas City, MO; Hebron, NY, and; Elgin, TX) who mistakenly approach a home or car and such negative primal world views. As to your point about mentally disturbed and sadistic persons being a constant feature of society, I am reminded of a 1999 visit to Port Arthur in Tasmania while my wife was serving as a Rotary International Goodwill Ambassador. Just 3 years prior the town had experienced Australia’s worst shooting.
Link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_(Australia) Unlike the mind numbing effect of near daily mass casualities and political gridlock in the USA, the tradegy at Port Arthur lead to a fundamental shift in thinking about gun violence amongst the populace resulting in far reaching national legislation in an attempt to restore that country’s sense of personal control and wellbeing.