Monday, November 2, 2015

Stranger Danger

From the time our babies arrive to the time we watch them head off for college, we imagine all sorts of bright futures for them. But, when we're not envisioning fame and fortune and happily ever afters, we're thinking — sometimes obsessing — about all the things that could go wrong. Terribly wrong. Like drowning in the bath, choking on grapes, contracting the plague. Most of all, we fear "bad guys:" strangers at bus stops, professional kidnappers and, as our kids get older, perverts stalking them on the Internet.

Consequently, we have to be all-vigilant, all-the-time. We make excuses for helicoptering, smothering our children in the name of protecting them. They're over-scheduled and rarely left to their own devices. Of course, we can't possibly give them the autonomy we had. What kind of parents would we be?

Common wisdom says that the world is a darker and more dangerous place these days. That thinking is certainly common, but it isn't exactly wisdom. According to an extensively researched feature in New York magazine earlier this year, we should all take an enormous chill pill. Reinforced by stories in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, the numbers would tell us that our kids aren't just "all right." They're safer than they've been in decades.

Here are some highlights:

• Since 1992, sexual abuse of children has fallen by 64% and physical abuse has fallen by 55%.

• Since 1997 (the year my daughter was born), abductions of children by strangers has fallen by 51%.

• Since 1994, incidents of violent crime against children has also fallen by 59%.

• And, since 1997, reports of missing children have fallen by 40%.

In our minds (fueled by constant and sensationalized headlines and news stories), our children are at constant risk. And, if we catch ourselves over-parenting and protecting them more than our own parents did for us, we justify it. "Well, they didn't know any better. They weren't aware of what might happen."

That's not exactly true. Here's a 10-minute so-called "educational" video from 1961(the year before I was born, btw), warning teenage girls about exactly what might happen. Comprising several cautionary tales (spoiler: only one of the girls gets out unscathed), Girls Beware doesn't offer much in the way of positive, empowering advice. Essentially, the world is full of bad guys and if you're careless, greedy, vain or stupid ... well, you're pretty much going to get what you deserve. (My favorite is the last tale about a girl who doesn't tell her parents about her older boyfriend until she's "in trouble" and "it's too late." She's taken out of school and "placed under the guidance of juvenile authorities. "Holy Magdalene Sisters, Batman!" Welcome to America.)

You can watch it here. Better yet, grab a teenage girl and watch it with her. She'll thank you for it.



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