Scariest Place of All: An Parenting Editor’s In-Box

Hi yiyraetaif
Readers! Ever wonder why we parents are so scared all the time? Maybe it has to do with the incessant din of marketers predicting DOOM unless we buy something. Something they just happen to be selling!  Take a look at this blog post by Carolyn Graham, editor of L.A. Parent, and you’ll see the kiddie safety industrial complex in all its glory. This is an excerpt from Carolyn’s blog, “
I Don’t Have Time for This.


Then today, I got to work and opened my email. It’s scary, and not just because there’s so many emails that I’ll never, even in a couple of lifetimes, be able to read or respond to it. But many of them are trying to scare me and make me, a serial worrier, even more freaked out.

I’m sure that even if I didn’t work for a parenting magazine and wasn’t constantly bombarded by pitches about new products, Web sites, parenting experts and other stuff designed to “keep our kids safe,” I’d still check Jack’s breathing at night and sweat till Kate’s school bus arrived at her field trip destination.

But I decided to do a little experiment and see if my email might be contributing to my worrisome world view. Here’s a sampling of subject lines and opening sentences in some emails that I received in just one – ONE – 24-hour period:

  • Could an Electromagnetic Pulse Wipe Out Civilization? New ‘End of the World’ Scenario Gets Serious Attention
  • With Halloween being one of the most dangerous days of the year for children – children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than the rest of the year according to Safe Kids Worldwide – it’s important for parents to prepare their children to stay safe while trick-or-treating [this was a pitch from a cell phone company]
  • Teen Attitudes Toward Smoking Linked to Likelihood of Drinking and Using Drugs
  • Suffering at the Hands of a Bully
  • New book uses psychosynthesis as means for families and individuals to reach their full potential
  • According to the FBI 2008 Crime in the United States (CIUS) report an estimated 2,222,196 burglaries occurred in that year. 61.2 percent involved forcible entry, 32.3 percent were unlawful entries without force, and 6.4 percent were forcible entry attempts. Burglaries of residential properties accounted for 70.3 percent of all burglary offenses. ( [this was a pitch from a blinds/window coverings company]
  • We’ve all heard the horror stories about bad babysitters and dangerous daycare centers.  I am sure you remember the story about the dad who found a sitter on Craigslist who then abducted his son.  And who can forget about the four toddlers who wandered away from their day care facility in the blistering July heat.  It’s very hard today to know who you can trust. [this was a pitch for a babysitter-finder service]
  • Forget chocolate and cookie dough, here’s a great school fundraising idea that also aims to keep kids safe. The Amber Alert Registry School Program (a no cost program to the school) allows parents to sign up for this important safety tool while providing significant funding to participating schools.
  • WWI Chemical Found in Air Outside 15 Public Schools

Is there any wonder I’m worried a good percentage of the time?

It’s not that these issues aren’t legitimate and need to be addressed. And I’m all for hearing about great products, books and other helpful items – and if we truly need to make sure parents are aware of a very real, harmful danger out there, I want to know about it. But can we please cut down on the fear tactics as sales or public relations pitches? Either that, or I’m just going to stare at the ceiling all night wondering when that electromagnetic pulse is going to strike …

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21 Responses to Scariest Place of All: An Parenting Editor’s In-Box

  1. Dot Khan October 6, 2009 at 4:07 am #

    Check out reason number 10 of how people fear the wrong things. Worrying is more hazardous to our health that the actual risk from the things we fret about.

    link –

  2. Alan October 6, 2009 at 4:20 am #

    It’s funny how these things scare her and excite me.
    I look forward to these adventures or I’m interested in how to overcome them. Yet she hears about these actions and becomes fearful.

    Of course the reason could be that I am a 22 year old city dweller with no kids. I need only to worry about myself and learning as much as I can in life, so of course these things excite me. If I were trying to create something fragile, these things would be quite the thorn in my side.

    But yes fear mongering in order to sell something is a good ploy and it is over used. Sadly the reason it is used so often is that once add agencies find something that works they all drink the cool-aid and jump on the band wagon before we become oversensitized to it and it ceases to work. The problem will only get worse before it gets better. I just pray we are close to that breaking point already. Or I guess we could employ strict ethics to every facade of life.

  3. Bernadette Noll October 6, 2009 at 4:42 am #

    Fear based advertising leads to fear based parenting which DEFINITLY does NOT equal free range kids. I find the necessity to tune out the fear mongering in an effort to let my children be.

    You could do a little check in with yourself each time you read one of those headlines. Do a body check: how do you feel? What part of you is effected?

  4. CD October 6, 2009 at 5:41 am #

    It seems that fear marketing is the meme of most magazines, at least those geared towards women.

    Every time I see the magazine selection at the checkout line (Cosmo, Glamour, etc.), each one seems to have a couple of headlines along these lines:

    “Cancer. What your doctor isn’t telling you!”
    “Your cute neighbor- Good Samaritan Or rapist?”
    “Deadly toxins – in YOUR home? The hidden dangers of toothpaste.”
    “Shocker! Are YOU the other woman!?”
    “Is your dog a slut?” (Actual, non-ironic headline.)

    The headlines in men’s magazines, by contrast, are more along the lines of: “10 kick-ass vacations. Dive with sharks! Battle ninjas! Jump without a parachute! Yes, you’re that awesome!” Or, “Get laid even MORE! How to make your abs even more ripped.”

  5. pentamom October 6, 2009 at 6:05 am #

    That’s funny that the electromagnetic pulse thing is going around again, and is touted as new. I remember it going around when I was either in high school or college, and I graduated college in 1987.

  6. darklyndsea October 6, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    Maybe that’s why I’m not worried- all my spam seems to be in Chinese or Japanese so I can’t read it and get worried.

  7. Eric Howe October 6, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    Fear sells. Or has everyone forgotten “Bowling for Columbine” already?

  8. Sandy October 6, 2009 at 9:53 am #

    A few years ago I cancelled my subscription to a popular parenting magazine for this very reason. Namely, because of a monthly feature affectionately dubbed, “It Happened to Me.” Every month we got to hear about yet another freak accident by a faithful reader/contributor. As a new mom with little babies I was scared to death. I hate fear. So I stopped reading the magazine. I also stopped watching the news. And just a few months ago, I cancelled my news paper.

    I now have no earthly clue what is going on in the world, but by golly, I’m not afraid!



  9. Mrs. A October 6, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    I’m so glad you’re putting words to an over used and inappropriate means the media uses to get our attention. Stuff like this drives me crazy. It seems so obvious…but then I wonder why I point it out to others so often.

  10. bethan October 6, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    With the work I do, I’m inundated with requests to support some product or other, and I usually refuse. Fear based products are the opposite of empowering, and they probably do just as much harm as good.

    Kids need to learn how to be safe and respect themselves. Good judgement and self-respect don’t come with plastic wrap.

  11. Nicole October 6, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    How are cell phones going to get an impulse child to not run into a busy street after her witches hat blows off her head? Hard to wrap my mind around that one…

    Anyway, my biggest issue with fear based marketing is it drowns out the real concerns. A good example is car seats- like 80-98% of all car seats are misused (most of which could be prevented if people read the damn manual), and we know that car seat misuse and lack of use causes a good number of kids to die each year. I see parents who feed only organic, don’t let their kids out of their sight, etc, etc then turn around to buckle there 2 year old into a seat with harness loose enough you could fit another child int here, or 6 year old into the car without a booster. There child is much more likely to die from this than any of their other worries.

  12. copyboy October 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    Ice-nine, definitely Ice-nine

  13. Julie @ Angry Julie Monday October 6, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    Geeez, that e-mail inbox would give me complete anxiety. I need a Xanax just reading that post.

  14. Helen October 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    I hope that Carolyn is using her “fear” as a device to illustrate the ubiquitous use of fearmongering in marketing. I find a couple of her statements a little troubling for someone who has decision making power over what a lot parents read. In particular her claim that the points brought up are all “legitimate and need to be addressed” – several of them would be much better starved of publicity than addressed in any way.

    Still I am heartened that Carolyn recognises and laments the use of fear as a marketing tactic. I curious how her opinion impacts her work.

  15. Pankaj October 6, 2009 at 7:01 pm #

    Great Job

  16. Lola October 6, 2009 at 8:53 pm #

    Years and years ago my brother (who isn´t much of a TV viewer) glanced at a commercial as he crossed the living room and just muttered “buy this or your child will die, dieeee hahahaha!”.
    It was so accurate it has been a family joke ever since. Now I can´t watch one of those ads without remembering the sinister laughter…

  17. RadiantLux October 6, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    I like this one. This looks like an awesome thing to post on Facebook. You know how those things go around, where everyone writes a note called “25 random things about me”, or they take a 100 book list and check off all the ones they have read it…? We all read each others’ posts and comment on them. What should we call it?
    “One Day of Fear from my EMail”.

    This would be a really good way to help others become aware of the scare tactics coming at them that they might not even realize. In college I took a class on popular culture. Until then I didn’t look at television as a means to sway my opinion. It really opened my eyes. Too bad I didn’t learn it until I was 19. When I watch TV with my kids, I mention from time to time that EVERYTHING on TV is trying to sell something.

  18. AirborneVet October 7, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    I truly enjoy the home security system commercials. I have a home security system from ADT. I went with them because they don’t play the scary commercials like some other companies do.

  19. Ben October 8, 2009 at 4:11 pm #

    Who in their right mind would get a babysitter off Craiglist? There’s already too many people on there who pretend to be publishers or writers, so how can you trust anyone who claims to be a babysitter. The best way to get a sitter is to get a recommendation from someone you trust.

    As for the WW1 chemical outside the schools. That’s just plain scare-mongering. Water and sugar are chemicals too. Unless the stuff is identified, there’s nothing to report.

  20. jim October 12, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

    Just a note – unrelated to kids – on women’s magazines. Somewhere I have a rejection slip from New Woman magazine (remember that one?) based on my experiences with a very attractive woman who was so insecure that I could not compliment her appearance without getting into an arguement. Needless to say, she was a big fan of magazines with lots of articles about diets and the need for plastic surgery. So I wrote an essay (“rant” might be a better word) called “You’re Fat And Ugly, And I’m Sick And Tired Of Hearing About It.”

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