Fear is such a powerful emotion. It has to be of course – the evolutionary reasons are sound – elicit a fight or flight response to real or perceived danger. Like many of the psychological responses hard-wired into us from the dawn of time, however, the function has gone a bit haywire in the modern world. Yes it still has relevance – for example, we fear creatures which we know could be dangerous, yet we cannot switch the fear off even when we have certain proof that the creature scuttling across the floor towards us is a completely harmless British house spider.
Phobias are reportedly on the rise in western society. Reasons attributed to this include stress, anxiety and depression. After watching Michael Moore’s documentary on gun control in the USA, Bowling for Columbine, I am stuck with the idea that the media plays a huge role in fuelling our fears. We are constantly bombarded with bad news stories which put us on the defensive.
Not long ago I listened to an episode of the podcast ‘Invisibilia’ in which the programme makers interviewed a man who had grown up in a town in America and had the freedom to roam his environment relatively unchecked by adults. However as a parent himself he wouldn’t allow his kids to do the same. Looking into crime records from the location in question they discovered that in fact crime wasn’t on the increase – there was no marked difference in crime statistics between the present day and the childhood years of their interviewee. Yet how many of us feel the same way now? Hands up who’s prepared to let their children go to the local park on their own and if you did and something happened – would you be able to live with yourself? In that thought right there, we are all inside the mind of Kate or Gerry McCann.
What we are left with is the feeling that the anxiety we have for our children – their safety, their future – is not an irrational phobia. But is it? Maybe its as irrational as the fear of flying because, you know, your plane could go down.
I have a sneaky suspicion that many many more children are killed or injured in car accidents every year than are snatched off the streets for nefarious purposes and yet we’re all perfectly happy letting our children travel in cars. But perhaps it is psychological damage we are afraid of – there is something of the bogeyman about the sexual predator – the monster under the bed. And maybe the world is changing faster than we realise.
At one of the panel discussions at last year’s Blogfest the psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos talked of the way in which the Internet is enabling groups of like-minded individuals to come together and validate their own beliefs or desires which in turn can lead to them taking action where once they may have sat in a room alone and dismissed their thoughts as extreme, anti-social messages from a misfiring brain. This discussion was in the context of keeping your children safe online – one of the key challenges I believe I will face in the coming years, and such a very new phenomenon.
As a parent you don’t want to be breathing down your child’s neck, monitoring their every move, restricting their every freedom but there is a fine line to be walked, a balance to be maintained.
So how do you learn to draw the line? Giving your children the ‘stranger danger’ talk? Teaching them not to give their trust freely? Offloading your misgivings onto them?
If anyone has any words of wisdom I’d be happy to share – I don’t want to live my life as a parent in fear.
Linking this post up to the lovely Sara of Mum Turned Mom‘s weekly Prompt which this week is all about fear.
If you found this interesting then why not listen to the Invisibilia podcast ‘Fearless’ which I referenced above – it is really fascinating stuff.
Photo by Nicolo Paternoster