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Abductions, school shootings and other things that probably won’t happen

By Angela Reinhardt, staff writer
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    About a month ago my family attended a birthday party at one of those ultra-safe, ultra-modern (I’d argue ultra-boring) playgrounds where wood chips, recycled rubber padding and molded-plastic equipment should, in theory, keep parents’ minds at ease.    
    Still, the scene my husband and I encountered as we pulled into our parking space was indicative of what I witness almost daily as the parent of two elementary-school-age children --- skittish mothers and fathers rapidly administering hand sanitizer and not only watching their children play, but actually playing on the tot-sized equipment with them. (I’ll admit it made me chuckle thinking about moms and dads getting lodged in tubes designed for kids age 1-5).
    This park experience resurfaced for me last week when parents called for an increased police presence at Georgia schools, including Pickens, following two unrelated incidents in Dekalb and Cherokee counties where armed men were arrested on school property.
    Of course I was relieved that students left those campuses unharmed, but that was the end of it. I didn’t go home and tuck my children in extra tight that evening, or call their school the next day to make sure the front door was locked, or spearhead a committee that would inspect all birthday cupcakes for signs of suspicious paraphernalia because my children were in no more danger than they were the day before.
    Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it for a lot of today’s parents, who have all but turned into writhing balls of anxiety and paranoia when it comes to their kids. It’s good to be protective when there is a realistic threat, but parenting has gotten to the point that we are practically paralyzed over the perceived danger of “creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape,” as Lenore Skenazy, author of my new favorite laissez-faire parenting blog “Free-Range Kids,” puts it.
    We are worried to the point that we have stopped treating our children like the smart and capable people they are, and are instead operating on the notion that they are helpless masses who can’t do anything for themselves without the hovering, ever-watchful eye of an adult. This attitude robs children of self-confidence and independence while encouraging a dependency that leads to kids who don’t get their driver’s license until 19 and who don’t move out until 30.
    Last week I spoke with my dad about this editorial and he, like so many in his generation, reminisced about his own be-back-before-dark childhood. Dad and his friends would disappear for hours on end, playing in the woods or riding bikes in the streets with no supervision (and no cell phones to call home.)
    Try letting your child loose for too long now, or let them cross the road alone at too early and age or ride their bike to practice unsupervised. Chances are someone will call DFCS to report your negligent parenting.
    In all fairness, our irrational and ungrounded paranoia isn’t really parents’ fault. Abduction stories and school shootings get a grossly sensationalized and disproportionate amount of airplay because they produce good ratings. In effect, the media has taken rare events like these and made them seem much more common than they are. Over time this phenomenon has resulted in what Skenazy’s calls the “Worst-First Scenario,” in which parents make plans as though the worst possible outcome is going to happen.
    But the worst-case, the rouge school shooter or a black-clad abductor, hardly ever happens. Just look at the statistics. Since 1993, 184 children have died in school shootings, while 115 have been abducted each year by a stranger. (According to the U.S. Department of Justice nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year, but nearly all of those are the result of a family issue or miscommunication.)
    Those numbers are dwarfed by the 6,683 children age 0-19 that died in automobile accidents in 2007, or the 1,665 that committed suicide that same year, threats most parents don’t pay much attention to.
    I am by no means an expert, but after seven years at motherhood I know this: You don’t have to worry to be a good parent. Teach them to take care of themselves without you and you and your child will be better off because of it.