Parents Are Worrying About The Wrong Things

D. Anschutz/Getty
D. Anschutz/Getty

You may have heard that your child is going to get sex trafficked in Target. In 2016, a woman in Kansas claimed on Facebook that she felt an encounter with a stranger was an attempt to lure her daughter into the world of sex trafficking, according to Fox6News Now. A little girl kept following them and asking her daughter for candy, and then for gum. Then she saw a “strange man” nearby who “seemed to be instructing the girl … The manager of the store was telling me what they do is, they target places like Target,” the woman says. Police denied that this is what happens, but the rumor had already started. People will target your children for sex trafficking in Target. Be afraid. This is an actual risk.

Except, honestly, this isn’t much of a risk at all.

Michael Snowden, with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Human Trafficking Division, says that while “human trafficking is a reality, there are no cases he is aware of in Oklahoma where a child or a mother has been kidnapped from a retail store and forced into human trafficking.”

We worry endlessly about childhood risk: predators, molestation, those monkey bars on the playground, leaving them in the car, choking to death. In reality, according to CDC, injuries are the leading cause of injury and death among children ages 0-19. More than 9,000 died from “unintentional injuries” in 2009 (the last year for which data was available) and 9.2 million are treated in emergency rooms for “nonfatal injuries” (2008, the last year for which data was available). The CDC says, “Leading causes of child injury include motor vehicle crashes, suffocation, drowning, poisoning, fires, and falls.”

We live in desperate fear of the risk of child predators. When I told my aunt that I let my kids play in the front yard unattended, she shook her head and said, “You can’t do that. Times are different now.” But crime, according to statistics from The Week, has dropped to levels we haven’t seen before the advent of color TV. Times are different now — for the better.

On the other hand, the CDC reports that every hour, 150 kids are treated in ER from injuries related to motor vehicle crashes. More kids from 5-19 die in car crashes than from any other type of injury. Yet we still let our kids get in cars. We don’t freak out about the risk of buckling them in. If we do, people say we have an anxiety disorder: simply because it’s something so necessary for daily functioning that we can’t be afraid of it.

If we were afraid to drive our kids anywhere, we’d literally be impacting their quality of life. It’s simply not practical.

We chop our kids’ food into teensy-tiny pieces. Choking is definitely a real risk, and a scary one that parents have the right to worry about. During 2000 (the latest year for which data was available), 160 kids age 14 and under died from “obstruction of the respiratory tract associated with inhaled or ingested foreign bodies” and only 41% of those were associated with food, according to the CDC. In 2001, 17,537 kids were treated for choking incidents at ERs, most on food. 1,844 had to be transferred to get a higher level of care. These numbers are frightening.

On the other hand, the CDC also says that every day, two children die from unintentional drowning. Moreover, “for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries … More than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments (EDs) require hospitalization or transfer for further care … These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning.”

We hear all about how we have to protect our kids from choking. Every one of us knows we need to cut our child’s food into small pieces. We know we should take infant CPR classes. But we don’t think as much about drowning — especially when our kids aren’t in the tub or near a pool. Maybe we need to start.

We also freak out about missing children — and the risk that our kids will become the face on the milk carton. You know the names and stories of JonBenet Ramsey and Madeline McCann and Polly Klaas and Elizabeth Smart. Snatched at night. Murdered and never found. While those stories are devastating and terrifying, the last statistics for which we have data, according to Free Range Kids, says that every year, 115 kids are abducted in the stereotypical “stranger-abduction” scenario, and of those, 50 are murdered. On the other hand, according to the foundation Darkness to Light, 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused, and 90% of those kids will know their abuser. 30% will be abused by family members, and that number goes up to a staggering 50% if the child is under 6.

The risk of your child being sexually abused is staggeringly, frighteningly, terrifying higher than the risk that they will be snatched from their bedroom at night.

Don’t bar your windows. Teach your kids about consent, bodily integrity, how to say no, and how to report abuse to trusted adults.

And while you’re busy teaching your kids about consent, keep them away from shopping carts. Every day, according to Science Daily, 66 kids are treated in United States ERs for shopping-cart related injuries. That’s one every 22 minutes, and according the article, the number of concussions and “closed head injuries” is actually on the rise. The situation is so bad that doctors now say, “It is time we take action to protect our children by strengthening shopping cart safety standards with requirements that will more effectively prevent tip-overs and falls from shopping carts.”

But you’ve probably never heard about shopping cart injuries. You probably haven’t heard about another serious risk to kids, an even bigger risk: burns.

Every year, 250,000 kids require medical attention for burn injuries, says the Burn Injury Guide. 15,000 need to go to the ER, and a staggering 1,100 of those injuries are fatal.

These are the real risks of childhood. Burns. Drowning. Shopping carts. Sexual abuse. Not stranger danger. Not kidnapping. Not human trafficking. So stop freaking out about letting your kids play in the front yard, and start teaching them how to swim. Start teaching them bodily integrity and consent. Get a stove guard.

But don’t freak out about some off-the-wall situation with absolutely no statistical significance. Chances are, the risk is infinestimal. You’re much better off checking and rechecking your car seat installation.