Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fear Itself

Not to wax nostalgic about "the way things used to be," but this recent opinion piece in the L.A. Times dovetails with some thoughts I've had lately about the difference between my twelve-year old daughter's experience of the world, and the way I experienced it at her age.  Rachel is twelve, and she's never ridden her bike around our neighborhood by herself; she's never gone to the movies with a friend alone; she's never taken public transportation without an adult to supervise her; and she doesn't just "go outside and play."  She is, in effect, a prisoner of her parents' fear of the world the way we think it is -- or rather, the way we've been taught to believe it is, by a news media that depends on creating fear to drive ratings, and by politicians who use fear to get votes.
The bizarre thing is, I'm not particularly afraid of the world, or my neighborhood, and I know for a fact that the times we live in are not more dangerous than they were when I was growing up.  Don't believe me?  Check the FBI's annual crime statistics, and compare the crime rates for say, 1965, to the crime rates of today.  Despite the fact that we have maybe a hundred times more people in prison today than we had forty years ago, crime isn't particularly worse today.  It's our perception of crime that's worse.  And for that, we can lay the blame squarely on the aforementioned news media and the politicians who use bad news to manipulate us.

Or maybe we should really blame ourselves.  We're the ones who accept this nonsense.  We're the ones who tremble every time we hear about a drive-by shooting on the six o'clock news (only to learn, when we finally get the details, that the drive-by happened in another city, in another state, and was, in fact, newsworthy only because it has become such a rare event).  We're the ones who think our children are at daily risk of attack by Sexual Predators -- despite the reality that more than 90% of sexual molestations occur at the hands of family members.  We let ourselves be manipulated by fear, and it's our children's freedom that suffers.

Sigh.  So, what else is new?

1 comment:

Never Settle said...

My life growing up in rural Mississippi is something my children will never quite understand. My sister and I were always outside and never had fears of drive-by shootings, being kidnapped or anything of that sort.

I am currently raising my family in a very busy suburb in Phoenix. While I want more than anything to keep my children safe, I also believe that some things in life just have to be experienced.

My sons are teenagers now and I tell them to "go play outside" at least a few times a week. I expect them to walk to their friends' homes a few blocks away, to the park down our street or to go climb the mountain about a mile from our home. I also expect them to return safely. My daughter, however, is five and lives by different rules (just as my sons did when they were younger).

I try not to let the media influence my decisions as a parent, but the fact of the matter is that three child molesters live within ten miles of my home. That would be unheard of twenty five years ago in the small town I lived in, but it's about average for a big city. (Trust me, I checked the crime statistics when looking for a home.)

While I may have some media-induced, irrational fears, I still believe that children need to be children. If we rob them of all the life experiences that taught us, that gave us the grit to know what in life is worth fighting for, it would be a great disservice to them. So, as a mother of three, I will push my fears aside and send my children to "go play outside."