The Globe has a story today about the hazards of summer -- skin cancer, Lyme disease, EEE, West Nile, etc. -- and how they've been overblown, causing widespread worry when the dangers are relatively tiny. This idea is a microcosm of a bigger problem in our society: we worry too much about the wrong things.
Recently I heard Lenore Skenazy, author of a book called Free-Range Kids, on NPR and she cited crime figures that show that, as a rule, children are as safe today as they were when their parents were growing up. Crime did rise for a decade beginning in the mid-1980s, but the number of murders, assaults, rapes and abductions are way down in recent years. The perception, however, is that we live in crazy times and that children need to be chained to their parents.
This paranoia is fostered by local news and true-crime TV shows, but it isn't reality. Of course, every child -- every person -- who is the victim of a crime is one too many, but American parents seem consumed by the idea that a stranger is going to leap out and snatch their kid. Any review of the facts will show that when children are abducted or harmed it is almost always a relative or close friend; when they are reported missing it often turns out that they've run away or that they're with dad.
I remember going to see Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine and thinking that it'd be a liberal crusade against guns -- a crusade I support -- but the theme was actually quite different. Moore has been an NRA member since he was a teenager. His movie focuses on the fear that many Americans have that someone is going to burst through their door to attack them, rob them and/or hold them hostage. Again, this is an irrational fear. That is not to say that it never happens, but that it is extremely rare. Watching local TV news and true-crime shows, however, you'd think it happens every other day in your town.
As a result, people in the United States arm themselves with all sorts of weaponry and fight against laws that would exercise some control of their armaments. In the movie, Moore crosses the border and walks around Toronto -- a big urban center -- and into people's homes. Turns out they don't lock their doors as often in Canada because they don't fear crime the way we do. They aren't bombarded with fearmongering on the tube every day.
Yes, I know: crime does happen, and it can be devastating, but I don't believe that we should let the way we live be controlled by TV stations desperate for higher ratings.