Media Creates Paranoia

I was talking with a few people at work today and it came up that one woman has a 12-year-old daughter who is just ready to start walking to school, as opposed to being driven. She said they let you know when they’re ready to walk. I sometimes pass a school in the mornings where there are numerous cars with parents dropping off their children.

When I was a child, at the tender age of six, my mother took me to school the first few times. My next older sibling was six years older and in a different school so she couldn’t take me. After about a week I was on my own, wending my way through blocks and blocks to school. That school was well over ten blocks away.

In the winter, outfitted in multiple layers and big, clunky boots, I would trudge through Calgary snows to get to class and get out of the snow suit, or tights and pants and toque for the classroom. I was late every day for over a week because I just couldn’t make it through the snow faster. My teacher said to tell my mother I was late.

But I still walked to school. My mother didn’t drive. My father often worked out of town and people just did not drive their children to school. It could be argued that people have to go greater distances but we were far enough away that it took a child over a half hour (maybe it took an hour) to get to school. It was at least a mile.

Junior high and high school were all about the same distance as the elementary school and yet we continued to walk it, winter or summer. No one was abducted. I don’t think anyone was even hit by a car. People didn’t drive as fast, roads weren’t as crowded. Perverts didn’t lurk around every corner. I don’t know of anyone who was killed by any means while I was in school.

And speaking of perverts, I bet most parents would quote safety from murderers and abductors as their number one reason for driving their child to school. Probably safety from traffic and then distance would rate as second and third reasons.

Interestingly, we were mature or responsible¬†enough and given the freedom (told to) go to school on our own as children. Parents didn’t watch our every move. We weren’t given cell phones, we weren’t given cars (only a very few kids in high school had cars). The maturity hasn’t dropped in thirty years yet the responsibility level has risen, so what has caused the overprotective nature of parents and the dependence their children now have on them to do everything for them?

Fear. Fear of murder, of sexual abuse, of abduction, of traffic injury, of succumbing to the elements. Overall, the incidence of murder and child abduction hasn’t increased in thirty years. However, driving children to school has. Interestingly, in the US, even the rate of pedestrian-traffic accidents hadn’t increased, but 50% of children injured by cars were hit by parents or other students driving. And school zone speed limits are often exceeded. I see this every time I’m driving through a school or playground zone at 30 km and I’m passed by 90% of the cars.

The increased driving can be partly attributed to the fact that more parents work and fewer stay at home with the kids, there are more cars so that each parent may have one, and media. We now have radio, newspaper, internet and TV. There are more channels and you can get news 24/7 and the same news repeated. And repeated. And repeated. In fact, not only do the news channels repeat and update us several times a day on the same dire crime, they now go into long talk shows and reports and interviews and research on a particular phenomenon.

With the inundation of events, these murders and abductions move to the forefront of our thoughts. Parents hear the details of a horrific child abduction and murder, where the body was found, how the child was murdered, the search and rescue attempts, the hunt for the murderer, the sorrow of the loved ones, and the trial with all the horrific details again. It becomes one never-ending circle, a parent’s worst nightmare and it feels so close.

The media needs to take half the blame here for being too focused on the dark, dire and depressing. When various statistics for most Western countries indicate drops in all sorts of crime including those against children, consider if you’re coddling your child too much. Will the next generation hide in the cocoons of their homes and condos, only interacting through virtual media, too afraid to talk to anyone? I’m worried that it’s already happening, perpetuated not by crime but by the fears of it.

US report on kids walking to school and crime incidences since 1969: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/then_and_now.htm

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