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I have a lot of grievances about how we as a society talk about parenting, and the prevalence of fear-mongering about every single thing is probably my highest. As a society, we seem incapable of assessing risk: we helicopter kids in the worst ways imaginable (mom at the playground: you don’t have to wait for your four-year-old at the bottom of that slide), and yet 80 percent of our kids are strapped into unsafe car seat configurations, despite the fact that car accidents are the number one cause of death for children.
One of the reasons people are having fewer kids is because parents are held to an unreasonable standard by strangers in public all the time. I cannot count how many times I’ve been yelled at for my parenting by random people; you’d think I was an actual child abuser. Most recently, last week I let my three-year-old son walk 15 feet behind me in the mall while I ran ahead to call the elevator. A man saw him, got hysterical “Where is his mother?” and when I casually said “he’s mine” I was screamed the riot act about abduction. I looked around at other people like “is he for real?” and was met with a dozen disapproving stares, not of his behavior, but of mine.
Here’s the thing about stranger abduction: it is incredibly uncommon. How uncommon? If we were able to assess risk and statistics, parents consumed with fear of stranger abduction should never let their children walk outside if it’s raining; because being hit by lightning is five times more likely than being kidnapped by a stranger. You know the stories because they are so exceedingly rare, they make national news. Elizabeth Smart, a teenage girl abducted from her bed at home is still famous because of her kidnapping, well over a decade later. And even more surprising given how frenzied our society is about stranger abduction: it’s getting even rarer.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, David Finkelhor, an expert on missing children explained:
Stranger abductions, such as the case of the three young women in Cleveland, are fearsome because they appear random and so often involve rape or homicide. But children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.
Which is what infuriated me so much about this video on Facebook, which has been shared almost half a million times and viewed over 147 million times already, is how senseless it is, and how it feeds into this culture of fear. In it, a father on his phone doesn’t notice when a man sneaks up to his son playing on the playground in order to “abduct him.”
The comments are, predictably, filled with parent-shaming sanctimony from people who want to feel justified never letting their children out of their sight for a moment, who have never zoned out at a playground.
To those sharing it in my newsfeed, I say: spare me. If you want to be a hovering control freak and raise a child incapable of being alone, or even walking alone, for 10 seconds, fine. But don’t pretend that other people’s children are somehow endangered for being given a few minutes of unsupervised fun in a total bubble, either at a suburban playground or in a mall.Published in