Is fear a necessary part of parenting?

Fear tightrope

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



15 thoughts on “Is fear a necessary part of parenting?

  1. Such an interesting post – I found myself nodding along whilst I was reading! The gap between perception and reality is huge I think when it comes to fears, and as you say the media have an awful lot to answer for.

    When it comes to parenting there is so much I have found myself getting terrified over already, and Arthur’s still only two! So far it’s all been about whether I’m making the right choices, but once he has more independence then a whole other layer of terror comes in…

    I think when it comes down to social media, and all the other potential threats our children can encounter without our knowledge, the main key has to be communication – building a relationship where they feel able to speak to us about things that are worrying them, and where they don’t need to go elsewhere for validation. I realise that approach won’t be foolproof, but it’s a start! I was a nightmare as a teenager – I dread to think how that would’ve been amplified in a world of social media – but at the root of it was rock-bottom self-esteem and feeling utterly cut off from my parents. I really hope I can avoid falling into that trap with my own kids… We shall see!!! xx
    Sophie Lovett recently posted…The evolution of fearMy Profile

    • You’re right Sophie – that was one of the points that the panellists made at Blogfest – that the only way to help children protect themselves was to show an interest, have an open door, communicate and be involved as well as being a source of advice and information. It’s the next level of Parenting isn’t it which I guess is why people say that it never gets easier, just different challenges. Personally I’d say comparing navigating a tween through the murky online world to navigating your way through the sleepless, exhausting shock of the new with a tiny baby is a bit like comparing a Boeing 747 with a blue whale: two completely different things!! Xx

  2. Yes, i think a certain amount of anxiety for our kids wellbeing is totally part of the package of parenting. But i think its been heightened over the years with all the news reports/social media/access to research that parents listen to that make it worse. The other side is that our kids (esp boys ) are getting too molly coddled and not being given an essential freedom to take risks and learn to face fears etc. Psychologists say its actually harmful to kids to not expose them to some of this at the RIGHT time – thats the key. We need to give our kids freedoms slowly over time as they are ready for it. Sometimes that takes the dad to ‘push’ them a bit (mums tend to be more protective). I’m going to face this with my eldest in Sept when she starts going to Sec school on her own. I’ll be so nervous let alone her! But i know how much she’s come on in the past 6 mths even and is ready for this next stage (just!). The key is to breathe, relax, and know that every parent goes through this, and to trust your instincts for each child! Great post!
    Siobhan @ Everyone Else is Normal recently posted…Our Mother & Daughter trip to Dublin – in 5 Funny FactsMy Profile

    • I guess, again, that it is a case of having a mother’s instinct and, as you say, taking each child on the right journey into independence at the right time. I just hope I am a good enough mum to spot that moment when it comes. X

  3. Fear is a huge part of life as a parent, and I do think I am way more protective over my kids going out alone than my parents were (perhaps overly so) but it is not through fear of them being snatched on the street (abuse and child killings are far more likely to be someone they know), however from when I was a child in the 80’s to now, the amount of cars on the road has increased hugely, and those drivers seem to care very little for what is around them. having lived on all manner of types of street from through roads to cul-d-sacs drivers invariably come around corners and up roads way too fast to be able to stop if a child ran out.
    Ashley Beolens recently posted…Worry for my DaughterMy Profile

    • Oh yes – you’re absolutely right – the increase in traffic can easily be overlooked but it’s really significant and only recently I heard of a little two year old who was hit by a car in a suburban street in my town and had to be rushed to a London hospital by air ambulance. We are paranoid about insisting our kids hold our hands as soon as we leave our front gate as we live on a main road and people do drive really fast. Scary thought.

  4. This is a tough one because as parents it’s only natural to worry about your children and want to protect them at all costs. But part of that protection is helping them to become individuals who have the ability to think for themselves and assess potentially risky situations. All we can hope for is that our messages get through. I have an eleven year old who is coming to the age where she wants more independence. I am happy to give it to her, but it doesn’t mean I won’t worry. In a way, I’m glad they get to have mobile phones nowadays because at least we can contact her to find out where she is. In September she will go from being hand held to primary school everyday, to going on a bus on her own to a secondary school twelve miles away. She needs to develop that independence in order to cope with all that.
    Nicola Young recently posted…Friday Fiction – FearMy Profile

    • Funny you should say that about mobile phones because I was only saying to a friend just the other day how long before we can chip our children like we do our pets?! Only half joking!! But yes, giving them the tools they need at the right time along with the knowledge that we are here to support them with understanding and acceptance – it’s the only way isn’t it? Xx

  5. This is such a common feeling amongst parents these days. Sometimes I wish we could live in the blissful ignorance that our parents did and those before us. My husband and I feel very differently with regard to how we parent….I always err on the side of what MIGHT happen and he errs on the side of ‘why would it happen’? He’s a good balance for me actually because I would let them go nowhere otherwise! My eldest has cycled down to someone’s house to go and sit her dog for a couple of hours (for money, obviously!). Of course several ‘what ifs’ have already gone through my head 🙁 I think we have to force ourselves to let them go bit by bit. x
    Suzanne recently posted…Photo of the Week 22 / A Short ReprieveMy Profile

    • I guess it’s about staggered “letting go” as much as anything isn’t it? Learning to intervene in the right way if necessary but not overstep. Tricky one…

  6. It is really hard, isn’t it? I don’t want my kids to feel that they should be afraid of the world (have a healthy respect for it, and a bucket load of common sense, but not fear), so I try very hard to keep a lid on my own fears, and deal with each new situation as rationally as I can (not that fear as a parent is irrational, but I think it can sometimes be artificially amplified, if that makes sense). Now that I have an almost 9yo it is becoming more of an issue as he needs a little more freedom. For example, I just drop him at the door of our local YMCA for swim practice, I don’t go in with him anymore… Just pick him up again an hour and a half later! I have a background mutter of worrying thoughts at all times, but we can’t live our lives entirely on ‘what ifs’. Great post Sam, really thoughtful and thought provoking. Thank you so much for sharing with #ThePrompt x
    Sara (@mumturnedmom) recently posted…The Prompt: Week 69My Profile

    • Ah thanks for giving me something to think about and write about – I always enjoy writing something a bit more in depth that gets people thinking. And yes, I think we have to bring some balance and common sense into our parenting as they get older. They need to know we trust them as much as they need to know that we’re there if they need us. Xx

  7. Such an interesting post and after I’ve read a more #ThePrompts I’ll be plugging into the podcast. Fear is so indiscriminate and irrational when it comes to parenting, and I find that as they grow older the fears seem to become more prominent as the risks seem to too, although this is based on no hard stats just media reports, news items and snippets online. It’s true that I wouldn’t let me children go to the park on their own but I was allowed to when I was a child – the crime stats are probably the same but it just doesn’t feel like it. And that’s it: ‘feel’. Fear is a feeling which is difficult to rationalise. I think when it comes to my children becoming more independent I’m just going to have to feel the fear and let them do it anyway. It’s hard being a parent at times!
    Lovely post #ThePrompt

    • Ooh I hope you enjoy the podcast Tracey – its not all about fear in parenting – just fear in general as a phenomena and how it can hold us back as well as how to overcome some of our fears. I’m not sure about ‘Invisibilia’ as a whole but they do pick some fascinating subjects! You’re right – fear is something we have to deal with by taking calculated risks – otherwise we’d never be able to live our lives or let our children live theirs. Thanks so much for the comment and re-tweet X

  8. Great post. I have been fighting my fears about my daughter and trying not to be such a worry wart. At Wychwood Festival this weekend, I let her walk around with a 10-yo girl she had just met, though my initial instinct was to not let her go. They were gone an hour, but they were fine.
    Californian Mum in London recently posted…My Fabulous Kobo E-Reader!My Profile

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