Katie Kimball: No matter what the parents do individually with the decisions we’re making, there is a toxic culture that could be holding us back. We talk a lot with food about the root cause: What’s the root cause of our kids’ behaviors, of possible food sensitivities? Let’s apply that to parenting. What do you diagnose as the “root cause” of this culture?
Lenore Skenazy: One is really obvious. You have to blame the media.
The media discovered missing children in the ’80s. They put them on the milk cartons, and they made mini-series about them. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children testified in Congress falsely that 50,000 children are snatched every year. That’s off by a factor of about 50,000! It’s way, way smaller. There’s no crime that is less common than a stranger abducting a child, thank God.
And yet, when you start looking at all those milk cartons while you’re eating your cereal in the morning (or a homemade omelet because you taught your kids to cook), you start to feel that right and left children are being snatched off the street.
The media recognized this as the most lucrative story that they could tell. Because if they’re telling the story about a white, middle- or upper middle-class child who has been taken by a stranger, no one will turn off their TV.
That’s why Law and Order started Law and Order SVU. Why else would you start a whole television show about the saddest, most disturbing possible thing? They knew it would make money, and it does. Between the news and the drama shows, you just are getting a steady diet — as it were — of these really very troubling stories that lodged themselves in our brain.
And our brains work like Google. If you ask, “Is my child safe at the bus stop, Brain?” The brain says, “Let me look.”
The easiest stories for it to find sound like this:
- “No! Etan Patz was taken from a bus stop!”
- “No! Jaycee Dugard was taken from a bus stop!”
Just like with Google, you think that the first couple of responses are probably all you need. The easiest search results to retrieve are the ones that you consult.
But the easiest ones to retrieve are also the ones that are the scariest and least common. That’s what makes them easy to find! But we use them to determine what we think when we see a kid outside — or see a kid at a stove.
Katie Kimball: Fear sells. That’s the way our brain is created. Our amygdala is firing to keep us safe and keep our kids safe, and that’s what we’re going to throw money at.
You can find the “Healthy Parenting Handbook” on any podcast platform. To hear the full interview or short nuggets like this one, visit the Healthy Parenting Handbook podcast clips channel.