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January 16, 2006

Blind Fear

I grew up in a little town in North Dakota. I had, probably, the closest thing to a Beaver Cleaver childhood that anyone's had in the past forty years. Doors didn't get locked much, I played around the neighborhood from dawn til way after dark (school permitting), and rarely worried about strangers, abduction, anything of the sort.

Oh, there were episodes. In sixth grade, rumors of a bunch of devil-worshippers swept Roosevelt Elementary School. Wearing sheets and travelling on foot (huh?) by night, sacrificing and butchering random cattle in their path, they were supposedly heading for Jamestown up the valley of the James River. And when I said "rumors spread", I don't mean "around the school"; the rumor swept the town. It made the newspaper; people were keeping their kids home from school, guys were driving south to look for the random pack of devil-worshippers.

The rumor, of course, came to nought; chalk it up to isolation and, perhaps, the sublimated fears of the upcoming farm crash.

Beyond that, of course, childhood was pretty good. Nobody got kidnapped; the only kid we lost, Shane Ford, drowned in the James River, falling off the spillway of an old ice house dam. Which is, of course, in line with the real risks children face.

I'm aware, of course, that for some people things have changed.

"You can't be free to explore the neighborhood anymore, or meet kids in the park," said Privette, a systems analyst in Watertown. "Something happens in 30 seconds. No neighborhood is safe."
That quote - from a superb Strib piece that ran yesterday - is from a guy in Watertown, Minnesota - as bucolic and safe an exurb as exists.

Of course, so was Saint Joseph, MN - where Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped, 16 years ago.

I've been hearing it, of course, since I moved here; people claiming to be afraid to let their children out of the house, afraid of...whatever dangers are out there.

It's a sad, and common, modern mantra. Children keep photo ID cards in their backpacks listing vital statistics. Malls offer free fingerprinting and DNA swabbing. Missing children stare out from mailers and bulletin boards. So it may surprise parents to learn that their fear of a Boogeyman, while understandable, is largely misplaced.
Of course, many parents buy into the boogeyman with both barrels. I've been running into them for years; there are two women in my neighborhood who won't let their sons (four, among them) outside their yards, and only before dinnertime.

More on them later.

Consider this: About 115 children were abducted by strangers in the United States in 2004; about half were returned alive, usually within 24 hours. In Minnesota alone that year, 91 children 18 and under died in motor-vehicle-related crashes, and nearly 8,000 were injured.

In a Minnesota Poll conducted last spring, Minnesotans -- including those with children in their households -- worried far more about abductions and violent crime in and outside of school than about kids drowning. In fact, drownings, along with poisoning and suffocation, are far greater dangers to children. The likelihood of being killed in a school shooting is 1 in 2 million.

So why - at a time when society is statistically safer than ever before - are so many parents so overwhelmingly fearful?

I think there are couple reasons that are being overlooked:

  • The Feminization of Education. The public (and, let's be honest, most of the private) school systems are run by graduates of an education academy that is dominated by a strain of feminism that obsesses over victimhood, victimization, victimology. Many of this academy's precepts are based on the prevalence of institutional victimization, of genders, races, classes, whatever. Why would a generation of educators who've trained themselves to think of themselves as victims (with graduate degrees and posh lifetime-tenured jobs) not, consciously or not, perpetuate the victim lifestyle?
  • Family Courts. Women are almost universally granted full custody of children in divorce cases. Women are, as a gender, also vastly less proactive about dealing with threats than men (yes, I know exceptions exist). Studies have shown that women tend to be much more risk-averse in child-rearing than men; fathers will tend to allow children to take chances and run risks that make mothers blanche. In an intact nuclear family, that's not a problem; things balance out. But in a single-parent family, isn't it logical to suspect that the single parent's dominant approach to risk will infuse the lifestyle of the house - and, via sheer numbers, society as a whole? I've seen no studies comparing risk-aversion in single-mother and single-father families - but I'll place a bet right now on what the results will be.
Read the Strib piece. It's excellent.

Posted by Mitch at January 16, 2006 06:27 AM | TrackBack
Comments

I agree with the symptom, though not your diagnosis. I think the reason everyone lives in fear today is quite explicable: when we were kids, how many days in a row would the media cover the disappearance of someone? A week? Ten days?

How long has CNN been flogging the Natalie Holloway story?

When we hear every day about the latest kid to vanish, it makes it seem like it's a Really Big Problem, and we don't notice that we haven't heard about any other kids vanishing anywhere in America because, well, they haven't.

This is why I worry about my daughter being abducted when statistically, the most likely person to abduct her is me. It's not rational. It's simply borne of being told, for thirty years, that Everything is Dangerous. The lesson sticks, even when it shouldn't.

Posted by: Jeff Fecke at January 16, 2006 08:00 AM

I refuse to live in fear.
Remember 40 years ago there were public service adds showing a little girl puppet in a theatre? The Stranger puppet sits down by her, she gets up and moves and the Stranger moves closer. She shouts "I'm going to call the usher!" in her little girl voice. The tag at the end was Danger here, Stranger near.
Has anything really changed?

Posted by: Kermit at January 16, 2006 10:05 AM

I agree. I guess I've been conditioned to think the same way, and always in the back of my head is that little voice saying "yeah, but WHAT IF.....and are you willing to be responsible if WHAT IF turns into WHY DID/DIDN'T I?"

Maybe if I lived in a small town in the Dakotas, but not in the metro.

Posted by: Bill C at January 16, 2006 10:08 AM

Much of it has to do with the destruction of community. High mobility in the urban areas means more exposure to strangers, which in turn leads to higher levels of stress and distrust since strangers are evaluated as a risk. While the increase in risk is minimal, the increase in perceived threat is much higher.

Now, where we live in a very low density, out of the way 'burb we know all the neighbors and if there's someone we don't know poking around the neighborhood he'll get challenged pretty quick. When the town accessor came around for the first time in 8 years he was visited pretty quickly by 3 of us waiting for the school bus.

Posted by: nerdbert at January 16, 2006 10:39 AM

JF: This is why I worry about my daughter being abducted when statistically, the most likely person to abduct her is me.

AK: depends on your situation. Women are less than 10% of non-custodial parents, but over a third of parental kidnappers. Statistically, your child's mother is more like four times as likely to be a kidnapper. The system is trying to train men to think of themselves as incipient villains; sorry to see, Jeff, that it worked with you.

Posted by: AK at January 16, 2006 12:28 PM

Eeek! Jeff is a victim!! Quick someone set up a support program for him. We'll have to raise taxes of course, but if one person can be given a warm fuzzy feeling it's worth it!

Posted by: Kevin at January 16, 2006 12:56 PM

I'll bet those devil worshipers originated in Valley City!

Posted by: Bob from ALAMN at January 16, 2006 01:00 PM

Poeple from Valley couldn't do a blood sacrifice if they tried; they'd stab themselves in the thigh by accident.

No, Minot was always the most likely culprit when I was in high school.

Posted by: mitch at January 16, 2006 01:28 PM

Spoken like a true son of the Worlds Largest Buffaloburg...

PS: People from Minot scare me, too!

Posted by: Bob from ALAMN at January 16, 2006 03:24 PM

AK: Not so neither; I'm very unlikely to kidnap my daughter, and frankly, so is her mom. We have a pretty good understanding of each other, and things are working out quite well between us, because we both keep our daughter's needs in mind.

My point was not that I'm likely to kidnap my daughter, but that it's extraordinarily unlikely that anyone will. That would be true if tomorrow I magically became the custodial parent and my ex became an NCP--she is as unlikely to kidnap Katie as I, because both of us view it as an unmitigated good that she have both parents in her life.

Posted by: Jeff Fecke at January 16, 2006 09:32 PM

I blame Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: angryclown at January 17, 2006 08:13 AM

Thank you, Angryclown. It is good to be appreciated. May Allah protect you from camel-born veneral disease.

Posted by: Saddam at January 17, 2006 08:37 AM

Too late.

Bastard.

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