Thursday, January 06, 2011

perceived vs. actual threats

An interesting point via Grist. I've noticed last year there was some discussion "out there" about the topsy-turvy way people -- and parents in particular -- perceive danger. This sentence illustrates it well:
...the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.

Of those, of course, car accidents far outstrip everything else, accounting for some 30% of teen fatalities. Those fatalities, by the way, occur more frequently in rural/exurban areas than urban/inner suburban ones, as shown by this map from the CDC website and this UVA study cited in the Grist article.

Ironically, parents often react to illusory danger by subjecting their kids to actual danger, e.g., driving their kids around to prevent them from walking and public transportation, or escaping the hordes of drug pushers, terrorists, and shifty strangers of the cities by moving to the gun-ridden, car-centric, condom-eschewing exurbs.

Our relatively new parental culture of keeping kids in sight at all times must be hell on single parents. My mother let me walk home from school every day at least partly because she had little choice, what with school letting out fully two hours before her job. I suspect being a "latchkey" kid fostered in me a sense of the outside world as a safely navigable place, which perhaps ultimately led to my independence in junior high and willingness to take long road trips in high school and college. It may even have had a hand in my choice to go to Ireland alone for my junior year rather than the group study abroad programs that everyone else joined. It's still the best decision I ever made, and those trips to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Durango are some of my fondest memories.

If Mom made that choice to start letting me walk home from school today, she'd probably be reported to Child Protective Services.

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