In my last post I asked a few questions in regards to why parents seem to be obsessed over children’s safety. Specifically:
Are parents more protective now that they were in previous generations? Or are kids less adventuresome than in the past? Is the US more dangerous now that it was when I was a kid? Is this a natural reaction to over exposure to information? Or just a reaction to changing technology? Or is it more dangerous now for children, and they need constant protection.
I have to say that from my experience everything is safer now than in the past. Wearing a seat belts was optional when I grew up, and air bags weren’t even standard until the 90s. Making a house ‘child safe’ meant making the house safe from children. Electrical code is stricter, building codes are better, smoke detectors are everywhere, lead paint is outlawed, asbestos is criminalized, and there is less pollution, cleaner water, and no more pull tabs on beer cans. So the parental paranoia can’t really be placed on an intrinsically hazardous environment. Almost all of the sharp edges in our society have been sanded down or padded.
What about crime, terrorists, child abductions, and random crazy people?
Contrary to popular belief child abductions from strangers is no more prevalent now than in the past. And violent crime has been in decline since the early 90s. Terrorism gets the news, but there isn’t a trend towards more terror attacks against the US. And random crazy people existed back when I was a kid, just as they exist today. Back then we called them drunks, trolls, or whack-jobs, today we call them the self-medicated, homeless, or emotionally challenged. The labels change, but the reality is the same. All in all I don’t think any of these are more prevalent now than when I was a kid, just under diagnosed and under reported.
So if the world is safer, and crime is less than it was, why are parents so concerned about their kids safety, and why aren’t kids playing outside as much? What has changed?
I discussed this with my wife the other night and she brought up the one thing that has really changed between then and now. Information availability. I did some research (google) and not only is she right, but there seems to be a direct correlation between the number of people who use the internet, the decline of violent crime, and the perception that America is more dangerous place live.
I can see the connection between the availability of information and a general feeling of anxiety. Just watch television for one commercial break, the news, or any news feed website and it is just full of reasons to hide in your basement. You can almost predict the fear-tag that is placed at the end of just about any news story.
Snow = avalanche danger. Rain = potential flood. Drought = wild fire. Wind = wild fire, fallen trees, and power outages. Guns = random murder. Cars = sudden acceleration, texting = accidents, drunk drivers, safety recalls. Drugs trap teens in a death spiral. Unless its drugs on TV commercials. Fire happens in homes for no reason. Pipelines explode just because oil companies are evil. Driving your car is killing the planet. Big dogs eat children. Planes fall out of the sky for no reason. Evil men lurk Facebook trying to talk kids into having sex. Football causes concussions. The sun causes cancer. Terrorists are evil geniuses. All politicians are stupid, drug addled, sex fiends, except yours. Words can cause injury. ‘-isms’ are running rampant. If you’re hurt, call a lawyer, and get free money. If you may be hurt, call a lawyer get free money. Tornados, cyclones, hurricanes, earth quakes, volcanos, asteroids, rock slides, rusty bridges, and aging infrastructure are all out to get you.
It’s no wonder todays parents are hovering over their children with a Styrofoam helmet in one hand and antibacterial soap in the other. Sensationalism has always been a tool of advertisers and news men. And in small doses I don’t think this has been an issue. But in the last twenty years it’s become difficult to escape the noise. “Follow me to safety, here comes the boogie man.” Seems to be the message on every form of media.
And they follow the same formula for explaining success. Money = luck, talent, theft, or climbing on bodies. The only way to get rich is to be an entertainer, sports star, lottery winner, or a cold hearted, evil, environment hating, Oil Company executive, or weapons developer.
I have to wonder how long it will take before things turn around. If crime rates continue to drop, and calls for safety and security continue to raise sooner or later someone is going to call bullshit.
I am an optimist. I see this happening within what time I have left here on earth. My intuition says that our society will probably swing back the other way with in the next generation or two. That kids and their parents will eventually adjust to the deluge of internet information. Like a pendulum when it swings too far in one direction it tends to swing back in the opposite direction. I expect that free range kids will be the next big fad in parenting.
My guess is that we will see the next generation raised much like I was raised. Off the leash, in the woods, exploring, inventing, creating, and periodically getting hurt. I see violent crime going down due to the increasing technical resources available to police, better entertainment. I see less people in jail, and more people minding their own business.
I also see an up and coming generation of tough little bastards that are not afraid to get hurt. They will have access to tremendous technology, and the guts to use it in powerful ways. And I think it is already beginning to happen. Just look at the Maker movement. Kids and young adults taking stuff apart and building stuff, just for fun and profit. They have guts and powerful technology. And they are not afraid to get hurt.