If You Must Be Afraid, Fear These Things

Thanks in large part to media coverage of high profile mass shootings, lots of people are feeling more fearful than normal.

If you’re feeling even a little more fearful than normal, maintain the positive routines of your life and limit your media exposure. You don’t have to completely bury your head in the sand, but you also don’t have to become an expert in all things ISIS.

If you’re resigned to being more fearful than normal, then you should study this Center for Disease Control list of threats that greatly outweigh an ISIS-inspired mass shooting.

Number of deaths for leading causes of death

  • Heart disease: 611,105
  • Cancer: 584,881
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
  • Diabetes: 75,578
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

Source: Deaths: Final Data for 2013, table 10[PDF – 1.5 MB]

Want to truly be, not just feel, more secure? Take a walk outside, eat more fruits and vegetables, don’t drink or drive, and wear a seatbelt.

Alternatively, you can follow Jerry Falwell Jrs. advice.

 

Fear is Contagious

Recently, inside the MVCoho, halfway between Victoria, British Columbia and Port Angeles, Washington, I had an epiphany. The more peaceful those around us are, the more manageable our fears.

One day, I remember, the GalPal got exasperated with me for not being more sensitive to some fear of hers. “You don’t have any fears!” she lamented. If only. Among my fears I’m afraid of turbulence while flying, rough seas while boating (detect a pattern?), and what Tom Brady might do to the Hawks if the Superbowl footballs aren’t inflated properly.

Halfway between Canada and the United States, the MVCoho started rocking and rolling in a heavy metal manner. So much so people couldn’t walk. Outwardly, I was masking my inner dread. The inner dialogue. “This is stupid. I’m probably one of the stronger swimmers on the boat. Yeah, but that won’t matter. Hypothermia will set in so fast, I’ll be toast just like everyone else.” Closing my eyes didn’t stop the rocking.

I decided to study other people’s faces to assess just how bad the situation was, and lo and behold, I couldn’t find a single person who even looked distracted by the experience. I let their calm wash over me. Everyone’s nonchalance convinced me we I was going to be alright. I considered giving each person a hug once we anchored, but I’m too introverted (fear of strangers?).

The Pew Research Center has published an interesting study about the relationship between social media use and stress. They conclude, “Awareness of stressful events in others’ lives is a significant contributor to people’s own stress.” The opposite of my boat experience. If you look around and everyone is panicking, your anxiety will increase.

It’s not a direct correlation, but the more people use social media, the more aware they are of stress events in others’ lives, and the greater their own stress tends to be. This is especially true for women.

My recent experience on the high seas and the Pew study make me think maybe we should be more intentional about surrounding ourselves with people who are less afraid of what frightens us most easily.

Epic Parenting Fail

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s in Kentucky, Ohio, and Southern California, I enjoyed amazing freedom. When I was six, seven, and eight, I spent my summers swimming at a local pool and playing golf at an adjoining nine hole par-3 course. With my clubs outstretched across my handlebars I biked a mile plus to the course. No helmet, major road crossing mid-way, no problem.

I’d be gone all morning often returning in the afternoon with my mom and sibs. Thus the skin cancer. While Wonderyears Wayne brandished his legend on the 10 meter platform, I decided between Twinkies and HoHos.*

From nine to twelve it was pickup football EVERYday after school. Despite being built like a 3-iron, I just wouldn’t go down. An 80 pound Marshawn Lynch. We’d play on our spacious, fenceless, suburban Ohio lawns, or on especially rainy or snow days, we’d jog along a wooded trail to the Talmadge High School field where the objective was to win while sliding as far as possible in the muddy grass. On Friday nights in the winter I’d take the same trail to the gym to watch high school basketball games.

Fast forward to today, where my wife and I and our friends grossly overplan every childhood activity**. If you had asked my mom where I was at any given non-school moment, odds are she wouldn’t have known. That’s why she was caught off guard when a construction worker chased me darn near into our house after friends and I raised hell on his site. And that’s why, one spring, she threatened to “never take me to the Emergency Room again” when I called to tell her I cut my foot wide open while playing around barefoot on a just melted tennis court. Today, she’d be tarred and feathered for her laissez-faire parenting.

But I lived. More than that, I flourished, because I was allowed to learn from bonehead decisions. Today, parents are squelching their kids with hyper-organized activities and constant monitoring. Recent research reveals that on average, even today’s college students text and/or talk to their parents twice a day. Co-dependence trumps independence.

Why the over-involvement and constant contact? My hypothesis is an irrational media-fueled fear of childhood abductions. My guess is there are the same or even fewer child abductions (per capita) today than in the 60’s and 70’s, but when they happen they get amplified in people’s minds as a result of cable news shows, People Magazine, and the 24/7 news cycle. By tuning into the media bullshit, we’ve helped create a false sense of unmitigated danger.

And so we end up with soccer leagues for three year olds and global position satellite devices for teens’ cars. And to what effect? Young people who aren’t passionate about much of anything because they’ve spent the bulk of their childhoods doing what their parent(s) have wanted them to.

Bethrothed and I talked this through on the way home from Seventeen’s last swim meet. It’s not a coincidence that she only swims in-season when adults expect her to. A friend of hers, an ace violinist, is sick and tired of playing the violin. Neither have ever been even close to the ER.

The GalPal and I have regrets, but also know there was a certain inevitability to our parenting approach given the “tipping point” created by our friends’ decision making. We tried to swim upstream one summer, honestly we did, deciding not to schedule any activities at all. Turned out few if any of our daughters’ friends were around thanks to a steady schedule of drama, sport, music, and dance camps.

If you’re twenty-five or thirty and just starting a family there is one escape. Buy a small farm. Raise animals and grow food. If your kids have to feed chickens, milk cows, and repair fences, they’ll spend far less time playing adult organized activities and facebooking (yes, that’s a new verb).

Of course there are legitimate things to worry about, for older children especially, alcohol and drug abuse, driving under the influence, and teen pregnancy. Minimize those risks by having dinner together, checking in regularly, knowing your children’s friends, and listening. Eliminate them by scheduling all of your children’s time, putting a video cam in their bedrooms, and monitoring their every move.

In the end, the choice isn’t entirely yours, in large part, it’s the families in your hood.

* in hindsight I should have said, “Hey girls, someday I’m gonna crush the Platform Primadonna at Ironman Canada.”

** kid you not, there are about eight parent committees to choose among if you want to help plan the class of 2013’s post graduation Senior Night

Deep-seated Fear

We’re reading Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau in my Soc of Ed class. In the book, her grad students and her report on their findings from having carefully studied several middle, working class, and poor families. The vignettes are centered upon each family’s nine or ten year old child.

She contends that middle class parents practice “concerted cultivation” by which she means they consciously supplement their children’s schooling through numerous extracurricular activities. In contrast, working class and poor families aren’t nearly as “child-centered”. Instead, they let their kids informally play with peers and rely upon, what she terms, the “accomplishment of natural growth”.

Lareau argues there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. I agree with a few of my students who have suggested the best approach is probably something in between.

When reading Lareau I can’t help thinking about the parenting approach L and I have taken over the past 17 years. I think we’ve made a good team which is another way of saying I’m proud of the young women our daughters have become.

But Lareau’s analysis has also got me thinking about my childhood. My parents were middle class when I was 9 or 10, but they took more of an “accomplishment of natural growth” approach than a “concerted cultivation” one. Maybe in part because I was the fourth of four, but I don’t think birth order was as significant a variable as the larger ethos of the time.

Even though the Vietnam War was raging (I iced-skated at Kent State once a week and was surprised to see the downtown burned down on one trip to the rink) and the counter-cultural revolution was in full bloom, parents didn’t feel they had to keep an eye on their children all the time.

I spent my summers biking a mile and a half (clubs on handlebars) on fairly busy roads to the nearby nine hole par-3 golf course and Olympic-sized outdoor pool. One summer my friends and I set up a schedule where I taught golf on M-W-F and they taught swimming and tennis Tu-Th.

I played organized baseball, but everything else was “pick up” in the hood.

Flash forward to a swim-meet conversation I had with a friend last week. The more she talked the more obvious it was that she’s afraid for her daughter. Among other revealing statements, she confessed, “I’m just so glad it’s a closed campus.”

Contrast her with my sissy who let her then 17 year old drive across several states with friends one summer. Throw in a ski boat, cabin, and I think boys for good measure. I remember asking her, “Are you crazy?” To which she replied, “She’s never given me a reason not to trust her.” Trip went off without a hitch.

My guess is my friend is far more typical than my sis.

The question is, why? How much of it has to do with nonstop national media coverage of horrific abductions and/or murders? Unlike my sister, maybe my friend spends her evenings watching those handful of cable television channels that cover (and sensationalize) crime nonstop. Is Nancy Grace to blame?

Negligent parents deserve criticism, but why don’t we challenge the increasing number of overprotective , fearful parents, to consider the costs of their sometimes obvious overcompensating?