Saturday, May 23, 2015

What Has Happened to Us?

I've heard the laments from parent after parent (and I've said them myself): "Kids don't get to have the freedom we had when we were kids." It's sad that nowadays we have to watch our kids all the time. Why can't kids just go outside and play like they used to?" "It's sad that children have to be watched over so much."

Here's what's crazy about this:

  • WE are the one's telling our kids that they can or cannot do such and such.
  • WE, the people lamenting the fate of our children, are ourselves creating this fate.
  • WE know what we enjoyed as children, yet we refuse to let our children enjoy those same simple pleasures.

Here are some facts:

  • Only around 100 children are abducted by a non-family members in any given year, according to the most recent study. (1)
  • The vast majority of child abductions are committed by people children know (family and friends). (1)
  • Nearly 60% of all abductions are of teens aged 15-17, not young children. (1)
  • The violent crime rate has fallen nearly every year since 1994. (2)
  • The violent crime rate in 2010 was only 25% of the rate in 1994. (2)
  • The number of violent crimes has decreased about 12% over the past four years. (3)
  • Statistically speaking, people in a town the size of Fayetteville are least likely to experience violent crimes. (4)
Despite these statistics, the majority of Americans continue to believe that crime in the US is getting worse. (2)

How did it come to this?

There are a lot of reasons, a lot of places at which to point fingers, but today I want to point to two: media and the human brain.

The human brain naturally loves novelty (5) and remembers negative events more vividly than positive events (6). That coupled with the repetitive and sensational (novel) nature of the modern, 24/7 news media cycle means that every mass shooting, every abduction, every robbery that piques the interest of reporters and media outlets stands a very high chance of (a) attracting ratings and (b) being retained in viewers' memories. As our brains create narratives, those memories and our impressions of those memories become dominant, coloring our understandings of the world.

In essence, we have let ourselves be tricked by our own minds.  We have let our emotional responses create a narrative that exists in our minds only, a narrative that is unjustified by objective analysis. This is a narrative that persists and embeds itself deeper into our culture's collective parent psyche not because of accurate observation, but because of continued reenforcement in media and by well-meaning friends, families, educators, etc. No one wants a child to be unsafe. But the fact is, our children are growing up in one of the safest countries in the world, at one of the safest times in history, in one of the most educated and socially aware societies that has ever lived.

A very safe society: Perhaps that's exactly why we are so sensitive to risk and danger.

In any case, I wish we could go back. I wish we could put aside our irrational fears and let our children play, run around the neighborhood, explore, and learn. Don't you?