Something I've heard a lot from both parents and non-parents over the years is that the world is now a far more dangerous place and poses an increased threat to children's safety compared to decades past. If those people are referring to an increased threat of accidental shootings in the home or in the family car, I would have to agree. But in terms of "stranger danger" and other crimes, the statistics show otherwise in almost every type of imagined scenario. In fact, as noted on the Free Range Kids site, crime is down overall, but the perception of crime is up. New York Magazine even ran a story this week with the headline 'The Psychology of Why Americans Are Afraid of Historically Low Crime Levels.'
Given that we live in a world where horrific bombings and mass shootings now occur on a daily basis, it's understandable how this irrational perception has come to exist. But the residual outcome of that fear is a lack of humanity shown to the people in our own communities. Parents are so concerned about their children, or their neighbors' children, on such a micro level, the police and CPS get involved when kids are simply discovered to be walking home from school or playing in their own front yard without a parent standing two feet away, watching like a hawk.
I've heard from countless parents who are scared to let their kids (even as old at 11) do pretty much anything on their own anymore, because they've seen so many news reports about children being taken from their parents after being allowed to play in a park alone or sit in the car for 20 minutes while an adult grocery shops. All it takes is one quick call for a child to get picked up and questioned by police and his parent(s) arrested. There's almost always an "arrest first, ask questions later" response to these types of situations. For those of us who grew up without the fear of our parent(s) being arrested for letting us develop our independence, these reports always come as a bit of a shock. It's hard to change our thinking from, "Let kids learn by giving them freedom when they're emotionally ready," to, "Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to be anywhere alone at any time, ever." When I was 11, I was babysitting and responsible for someone else's child. Today, a parent could get charged with negligence for trusting a kid to take care of other kids, even when it's their own sibling. It's lunacy. One mother summed this up by sending me a picture of a letter that her nosy neighbor left her rather than knocking on her door and having an adult, neighbor-to-neighbor conversation:
If this letter doesn't enrage you, then I'm afraid we have nothing in common and you may as well stop reading this column right now. Not only do "concerned neighbors" feel that it's appropriate to tell their neighbors how to parent, but they also see fit to call the police on them for NO REASON AT ALL. Never in this letter does she say, "Your kids appear to be in distress." Never does she indicate that they appear to be in danger. It's the fiction in her head that has created this "dangerous" narrative, and yet she feels justified in threatening her neighbor because she lives in a nanny state (nay, a nanny country!) that responds by treating her unfounded paranoia as perfectly valid. This is illogical, and it makes me sad for kids who don't get to experience what the rest of us did when we were children. The freedom to play, ride bikes, and go to the park or walk to school alone is empowering for kids and a healthy, crucial part of growing up. But in the case of Busybodies V. Their Neighbors, the Busybodies are given more credence almost every single time.
No story better embodies this than the one I read in the form of an op-ed last October. Titled 'Dear Cambridge neighbor who called the police,' the letter outlines a father's sorrow and frustration after being treated like a criminal by six police officers who responded after a woman called 911 over a man "taking pictures of children" at the local park. After explaining in the letter that he's been a neighborhood resident for more than 30 years and his own son grew up playing in that very park, he added this:
"You must be new in the neighborhood. I am often in the park, on foot or on a bike, talking to friends who have children who play in the playground. I know you were standing very near to me for the entire time I was on the bench, though I could not figure out why. Now I know: you were taking my picture. Suggestion: the next time you suspect someone is up to no good, perhaps you should say hello, speak to them first and, if still anxious, ask what they are taking pictures of. That’s what people do in a neighborhood park: talk to each other. This would save someone the humiliation and degradation of being stopped and held by the police, and might save the police from wasting their time when they could be doing something more useful."
There's no doubt in my mind that this notion of "safety" is what's causing everyone to go ballistic when they see a stranger -- especially a "strange man" -- taking pictures or even just taking a walk in a location where child might be playing. It's also why some parents appear proud of hovering over their kids, because the more they hover, the more they presumably care about their children. Parents who have that mentality believe that if another parent isn't hovering over her child, she's negligent and/or unable to make parenting decisions herself. To those people who pride themselves on helicopter parenting, nothing and I mean NOTHING is "too safe" for their precious angel who probably can't tie his own shoes. Even if it puts other people out. Especially if it puts other people out. If you're someone who complains about policies that help ensure that a child is super duper EXTRA safe, then you're essentially a monster and you should stop talking immediately.
See that? If Amanda replies to Candice and says, "I choose to believe that kids can walk a few extra feet to their front door without being "taken by sex offenders," the chances of Candice de-friending Amanda are about 99.99%. You're either fully on-board the fear-mongering train or you're an enemy who doesn't care about the safety of children. It's as simple as that! People like Candice are part of the reason that home security systems are so popular, and they're most definitely the reason that ridiculous companies like this one are advertising in New Albany, Indiana (population 37,000):
If you're not a parent who fears the worst about your own kids, your neighbors, and complete and total strangers in your community, you're probably living next door to or around the corner from someone who does, and THAT is what's truly scary. Let's check out some examples of how not to be a paranoid parent in 2016, according to Facebook.
1. And This Is How Children Get Kidnapped.
Oh, SNAP, Jim! I'm extending a most sincere digital high-five for pointing out the obvious here. What's more dangerous -- leaving your kids alone for 30 fucking seconds while you get a sandwich, or taking a picture of two kids you don't know and plastering their faces on the internet while accusing their father of putting them at risk for kidnapping? I would say the second example is far more dangerous, because Ange is a seriously dangerously paranoid person. When is it going to be acceptable for people to go to the police with shit like this? When will it be acceptable for a parent to stand up to delusional women and say, "Hey lady, eat your fries and mind your own damn business!"? It's not illegal to take someone's photo in public, and it's not illegal to post said photo on the internet, but to do both of those things AND insinuate that a parent is putting his kids at risk while also tooting your own horn for being a vigilant asshole on the lookout for "predators" SHOULD be a crime.
Does anyone remember the man who was shamed on Facebook by a mother who assumed he was taking pictures of children in the mall, when in fact he was trying to take a Star Wars-related selfie to send to his own children? That's the typical outcome of a situation like the one pictured above, which also occurred inside a mall. Regardless, Ange and Melissa appear to be thoroughly tickled by their own sense of superiority and entitlement. The reality is that they both sound totally crazy, and the chances of either of these kids being "snatched up" are slim to none. In fact, I'm guessing there's a much higher chance that this father would come across this photo on Facebook.
2. Christine Is Losing Her Damn Mind
While I can appreciate any parent's paranoia related to school shootings -- a child gets in trouble for bringing a gun to school every single day of the school year, and mass shootings have taken place inside of schools for nearly two decades -- what I can't appreciate is a mother who allows her paranoia to cloud her judgment to the point of ranting on Facebook. For Christine to lose her shit like this on social media tells me that she might want to reexamine her relationship to reality, because in reality, her child is more likely to be shot by a classmate than by an armed intruder. Teachers are far more likely to be shot by students who attend the school than by masked gunmen who have entered the school with a backpack full of ammo. It's discouraging that parents are made to feel this insecure about sending their kids to school in 2016, but it's also straight up bonkers that Christine is hypothesizing about hall monitors getting shot in the head like it's an everyday occurrence. Get a grip, Christine. Get a job. Get a smoothie. Turn off CNN and take a nap. And for the love of cafeteria pizza day, please get the hell off Facebook.
3. Heebie Jeebies
Okay, Nikki, I WILL call you crazy, just like that security guard subtly implied, because what you just wrote sounds more than neurotic. You're really going to judge a guy for having a "crazy hairdo" and wearing a t-shirt with a slogan on it? Is it even worth noting that Muhammad Ali famously said, "I shook up the world!" when he won the fight against Sonny Liston, and then later said, "When I beat Sonny Liston, I shocked the world. When I joined the Muslims, I shocked the world. When I beat George Forman, I shocked the world. I am from the House of Shock."? Not that I know why this guy with the "crazy hairdo" is wearing a shirt that says "Shocking the World" on it, but you know... there's usually a REASON behind people's clothing choices, and context matters -- especially when a message on a t-shirt refers to a man whose very identity was emblematic of peace. Unless of course you're Nikki. Then context doesn't amount to anything, because she's not seeking knowledge, or context, or understanding. She's assuming that every man with a "crazy hairdo" who happens to be pacing back and forth is a mass murderer about to commit a heinous act of violence. Very logical.
NOTE TO NIKKI: If you're so concerned about the things going on in this world today that you're racing out of a gym with a security guard, daughter in tow, you can *call your representatives* and speak out about making background checks for gun owners a federal law. That's what you're afraid of, right? That a mentally imbalanced person has violent intentions and unlimited access to weapons? There's something you can do about that!
4. When Ur At The Toys R Us And Ur Scared For No Reason
Hey, thanks for doing your part to promote pointless paranoia, Michelle. You're really stepping up to increase awareness of ... um, people making light conversation at the toy store? Or the home improvement store? By asking questions about your kids because they have kids, too? This is why people who live in big cities tend to think that small town dwellers are overly suspicious nut jobs who assume that every stranger they encounter is a pedophile or a human trafficker. Seriously, WTF.
Last but most certainly not least, we have this batshit insane chain message that has traveled around Facebook among the dumbest people you know for yearsssss. This chain message will never go away, because parents will never stop being this paranoid. It's like a Grimms' fairy tale somehow made much more fucked up. Also: what kind of "Caucasian female" (LOL of course) is only worth $2,500? That's a mighty disappointing figure for such a dystopian nightmare. Trust me, crazy white moms, your kids would trade for more than that. In the meantime, please stop sharing this horrific-but-amusing fanfic and treating it like it's a legitimate possibility. It's one thing to have this type of conversation with yourself internally, and it's another to make your friends aware that your paranoia is on a near-incoherent level. Oh, and PS: You don't "have" to take a picture of your daughter and post it on Facebook for all your friends and family to see. If you're as paranoid as this message suggests, perhaps you could save the phobic rants for your therapist and stop posting so much nonsense on Facebook in the first place. Just a suggestion for you to "share with as many you know."