Fear and Loathing in the Nursery

I recently stumbled across the blog of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids and proud recipient of the epithet, “America’s worst mom.” Turns out, a few years ago, Skenazy allowed her 9-year-old son to ride public transportation in New York City alone—and then made the mistake of talking about it as a syndicated columnist and NPR commentator. The outrage  prompted her to write a book examining the dangers most parents fear.

The blog post that caught my attention that day was her annual roundup of her “Golden Helicopter Awards,” given to those “helicopter parents,” officials and administrators who she thought the most preposterous. Among them? The pediatrician who lobbied for hot dogs to be redesigned because they are a choking hazard; though, one child in more than 200 million actually chokes on a hot dog. There was the story of a forgotten stuffed animal left on a sidewalk near a school in Ontario; the school was placed on lockdown and the bomb squad was called to blow up the stuffed animal. And then there was the media frenzy over “Video Barbie”—which comes with an FBI warning that it could be used by child pornographers; there are zero cases of it having happened.

Being a parent is a very scary proposition—I should know. I’m entering my sixth month of pregnancy as I write this, and just about everything scares me, from the possible toxic off-gasses from my crib mattress to the dangers of BPA in baby bottles. Even the recent recall and sales ban of drop-sided cribs surely fostered fear in parents across the country. But as Skenazy pointed out on her blog, the facts just don’t support the level of fear associated with the issue.

My mom and dad tagged along with my husband and I when we went to register. My dad loves babies and actually gets a kick out of wandering around baby stores, looking at the oodles of baby stuff. But as we got in the car—exhausted and overwhelmed by the process—laughing about this gadget or that device we had seen, he said simply, “Well, you survived.”

And he has a point. This is not to say that innovations in safety and convenience are all bad, because they’re absolutely not. It’s merely a quiet reminder that generations of kids survived and thrived before there were motion-activated crib pads to alert parents if baby stops moving, before there were cell phones with GPS “family locator apps”—heck, before there were cell phones.

So I’m trying to temper my fear with a little research and a lot of common sense. Sometimes it’s a challenge to tell the fact from the fear mongering; sometimes it’s tempting to give in to the fear. But at heart, I’m an optimist, and I can’t shake my dad’s comment: I survived. He survived. And millions of children throughout the world today are surviving and thriving—with or without a cell phone.

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