The Media is Making Parents Hysterical, February 29, 2016
By Lenore Skenazy
If you watched the Oscars on Sunday night, you learned that there are two very scary things in the world. (Three if you count Heidi Klum’s dress.)
1. Grizzly bears.
As a viewer, you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that most men are out to abduct and rape anyone they can get their hands on, especially kids.
It’s not just that the Best Picture award went to a movie about predatory priests. It’s not just that Vice President Joe Biden took to the stage to talk about campus rape. (Off-campus rape is actually more prevalent.)
It’s not just that there was a song about rape. And a group of young rape survivors on stage with their stories written on their wrists — eerily reminiscent of Holocaust tattoos.
It’s not simply that Brie Larson won for Best Actress in a movie about rape, “Room,” which also involves a kid.
And it wasn’t even the endless ads for ABC’s new drama about an abducted child. Naturally, it’s called “The Family,” as if it represents something universal and generic — yet another kid snatched by a predator.
It’s the whole picture. When the entire entertainment world starts to look like “Law & Order SVU,” all of us — but especially parents — become terrified. And that has a direct impact on how we raise our kids.
As you might have noticed, most kids don’t walk to school anymore. Safe Routes to Schools puts the figure at 13 percent. And most kids don’t play in the park after school either, unless they’re doing organized, supervised sports. The Child and Nature Network says only 6 percent of kids age 9 to 13 are playing outside on their own each week.
Of course, technology plays its part in keeping kids inside, but another part of the reason is parental fear.
Recent studies of parents’ top five fears found kidnapping was No. 1 and “Stranger Danger” No. 4.
“Obviously, we all want safety from violence, for our loved ones and ourselves,” says Cathy Young. “But no one, including victims of violence, is helped when threats are relentlessly hyped.”
How hyped? The crime rate today is back down to what it was in 1963. So today’s parents played outside when the crime rate was actually higher . . . but the depictions of child abduction and rape were far fewer.
You can’t blame parents for helicoptering when fear is being shoved down their throats. But you can see the effects: Not just the rising rates of obesity, diabetes and depression in kids, but their actual dread when they finally get some time on their own.
An amazing experiment by Prof. Susan Moeller at the
a few years back showed the impact of growing up under constant supervision.
Moeller asked her 200 students to unplug for — gasp! — an entire day. When they
wrote about the experience afterward, several said they’d felt too scared to
walk across campus without being able to talk to their parents while doing so. University of Maryland
Being on their own, even electronically, had become just too terrifying.
This may seem quite a leap from what we saw at the Oscars, but it isn’t: Children brought up in a society that says they’re never safe from kidnapping and rape are children who never get a chance to be by themselves or think on their own.
Whether the media are earnestly trying to educate us, or cravenly attempting to entertain, the effect is the same. We believe our kids are in constant danger and parent accordingly.
And if you want to witness how this fear is even seeping into law, talk to the moms and dads arrested for letting their kids do, well, anything on their own.
It’s not that they put their kids in danger. It’s that a society drenched in terror can’t see an unsupervised child without flashing on “The Family.” Or “Room.”
It’s easy to understand why filmmakers and TV titans choose child abuse, rape and kidnapping as their go-to plotline. Our hearts ache and our gorge rises. We’re glued to the screen.
But that doesn’t mean those shows are making the world a better place. Instead, they’re making us believe the worst about everyone.
As Nancy McDermott, author of the forthcoming book “The Problem with Parenting,” put it: With the #OscarsSoWhite issue hanging over them, “the only way the academy could get back any moral authority was to fixate on child abuse.”
Fixated they were. Fixated we are. So fixated that we can’t give our kids a childhood.