aNewDomain — People have a low threshold for tragedy, horror, and violence.
Wars have been growing progressively less violent over time. The Civil War remains the costliest war ever fought in terms of lives lost, including both World Wars I and II. The Vietnam War ended with a total loss in combat of 47,000 American lives.
With Vietnam, protests really got started when the media became involved. Images of fighting, of bodies coming home, stories of atrocities and more, drove the United States public to decide we didn’t want to be at war in Vietnam.
When the Gulf War was launched in 1990, many were pretty sure it was all pretty righteous. By then we had 24-hour media coverage. We lost 148 people, 35 to “friendly fire.” Every wounded person, though, was listed on the news. Coverage was round-the-clock, with funerals and flag-draped coffins.
And so we very quickly wanted out.
When the violence is on the news, we quickly lose our taste for it.
And we’re right. Martin Luther King, Jr., was intentional about getting the violence of the Civil Rights Movement on the evening news. That was a deciding factor in the struggle. When the brutal attacks against peaceful protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge made the 6 o’clock broadcast, the fight to keep the South segregated was decisively ended.
What does any of this have to do with childhood?
When I was a child, I had the run of the neighborhood. Of many neighborhoods, on account of we moved all the time.
By 10, I biked around the block, built a fort in a field, dug out and reinforced a shelter, broke into an abandoned house to look for ghosts and got into a certain amount of trouble in the neighborhood.
By 11, I went to museums alone, parks across town, the community center, the ice rink, the library.
I got kicked out of the house in the morning and only came back home at night when the streetlights came on.
But I can’t kick my son out of the house in the morning and forget about him until dark. Not today.
Look. Statistically, the world is no more dangerous than it was when I was young.
But every child molester getting out of jail is all over the local news. Every perv who tries to get a little girl into his car is covered wall to wall. Amber alerts keep us sensitized to missing children. Every violent crime, robbery, car accident, we hear about all of them.
And everyone is all riled up.
We definitely should protest war. We certainly should know about every combat death so we can count the cost. (Here’s a hint: it’s always too high.)
Information is good in nearly every context. Problem is, we can’t sensibly evaluate risks versus rewards, and all this information about our neighborhoods is making us all crazy.
Not all of it is even true.
For example, how many kids have ever actually gotten a razor blade in an apple on Halloween?
The stuff that really is true, we tend to overestimate.
We’re becoming helicopter parents, but not always of our own volition. Halloween is dying in my neighborhood – fewer and fewer kids knocking on the door and fewer houses with the lights on. We’re moving into YMCA climate-controlled Halloween experiences. Safety first.
Also, people freaking out are keeping us from not freaking out.
They see our kids walking to the park alone and call the cops. The cops show up and they don’t go, you know, maybe you guys are overreacting.
My son is 10 years old and he’s driving me crazy. He wants me to entertain him all the time, be his buddy. I want him to go out and play, make friends, yeah, even get into trouble. Boyhood means bumping up against the world, not hanging out in Dad’s armpit all the time.
There’s a park a quarter mile from our house, down at the end of our cul-de-sac.
But he can’t go there.
Why? Because homeless people sleep on the park benches, and some of them are probably pedophiles. Because older kids go there and drink malt liquor. Because the parents at the busy end of the street taught their kids to solve problems with their fists. Because people drive through here like it’s a race.
And because if I let him go down to the 7-Eleven with a pocket full of quarters, the cops might come over and arrest me for negligence.
I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. You’re making me do it.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.