Seemingly every day, parents and children alike are told about the many dangers facing today’s young ones. As a parent, it’s very hard to separate the serious dangers from the more improbable ones. Part of the problem is that many of the organizations that trumpet frightening statistics have a financial stake in the danger’s existence. If, for example, I was head of the National Center for the Prevention of Goat Tramplings, I would probably do everything I could to make the public fear goat stampedes. If I didn’t, contributions to my organization would quickly dry up.
It’s also important, as a parent, to separate the idea of risk from uncertainty. Risk is, basically speaking, the statistical likelihood that something is going to happen. Uncertainty is the notion that we simply don’t know what will happen in the future. Statistically speaking, commercial airplane travel is one of the safest forms of transportation – you are far, far more likely to die in a car crash – but because the future is uncertain, people can and do occasionally (very occasionally) die in an airplane crash. As a parent, there are some things that are more risky than others, but because life is uncertain, sometimes things happen that can be nearly impossible to anticipate … and full-on paranoia is not good for a parent’s well-being or a child’s long-term emotional development.
Below are four examples of “overstated” and “understated” dangers – dangers that seem to be more or less common compared to public perception. A disclaimer: I’m NOT saying that parents should go overboard on the understated list or stop talking about the overstated ones. What I AM saying is that some things are simply more dangerous than we realize, while others are less prevalent than we think.
1. Stranger abductions.
Although America has one of its lowest crime rates in decades, there has been a recent small explosion of news stories about parents running afoul of the law for letting their kids go off alone (“free range”) or leaving them unattended. My wife and I are not free range parents, but I have to admit that the free-rangers do have some statistics on their side. While there are tens of thousands of child abductions every year, the vast majority of them are by adults the child knows, not strangers. Stranger abductions are are very rare, numbering perhaps between 100 and 120 a year, and well over 90% of abductees are found and returned to their families. In the last three decades, only 3% of all child homicides occurred at the hands of a stranger. (Parents comprise about 63% of child homicides.) That translates to perhaps 3 to 4 stranger-abduction deaths per year.
2. School catastrophes.
I teach in a high school, so I can speak firsthand about the many catastrophe drills schools run every year: fire drills, tornado drills, earthquake drills, intruder drills, and the like. Because the law usually mandates doing each drill multiple times, it quickly adds up. These drills are important, but parents should also know that schools are relatively safe places for their kids. Tornadoes account for a grand total of fifteen school-related deaths (that includes faculty) in the last twenty years. Earthquakes were so small I couldn’t find data on them. And there hasn’t been a fire-related death in a school since the Eisenhower administration.
School shootings are not quite as rare; by one estimate they account for about 300 deaths over a 30 year period, or about 10 a year. Keep in mind, though, that this number includes elementary, middle school, high school, and college, and just four outlier events (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Red Lake, and Sandy Hook) account for about 25% of that total. Minus Sandy Hook, there have been 30 elementary fatalities in 30 years. Tragic, yes, but also statistically low; far more children are either injured or killed in the drive to and from school than they are in school.
3. The dangers of vaccines.
Whatever the loud minority of anti-vaccination people might say, the numbers are pretty straightforward. Multiple large studies have discredited any link between vaccines and autism. The evidence just isn’t there. By contrast, the diseases they protect against – measles, whooping cough, polio – have well-documented mortality rates among the unprotected. Even children who don’t die from these diseases may suffer from other long-term side effects, including physical damage to vital organs or the suppression of the immune system.
4. Poisoned Halloween candy.
There are precisely zero recorded accounts of strangers poisoning or otherwise harming kids by way of Halloween candy.
1. Improper car restraints.
Although there is some public consciousness about the importance of child car restraints, American parents
have a surprising tendency to ignore the guidelines, despite the fact that they pertain to children in a vehicle potentially hurtling down an interstate at 60 or 70 miles an hour. Traffic accidents are the top cause of death for children worldwide; in the U.S., accidents account for several hundred annual child deaths and 180,000 injuries annually. Repeated studies indicate that a proper car seat can lower the mortality rate by as much as 71%. That means having a properly installed car seat or booster seat, and a seat appropriate for the child’s age (and preferably one that isn’t expired). It also means having a kid properly situated: facing the optimal direction, with the chest clips properly placed, straps tightened appropriately, and no bulky coats.
Trampolines are great fun, but they are also one of the most dangerous pastimes for children. While mortality rates on trampolines are relatively low (less than one death per year), some one million Americans wind up in the emergency room every year because of trampolines, with nearly 93% of them being children. Broken bones account for over 300,000 of those visits alone, and some 95% of those fractures occur on home trampolines. Other injuries include spinal damage, concussions, and other injuries that can have lifelong impact on children. Many of the injuries result from multiple kids playing on the trampoline at once, but single users also face risks, especially those who attempt stunts or tricks on the trampoline. Statistically, padded safety nets somewhat reduce but do not eliminate the risks, especially when multiple users are involved.
The cousin of the trampoline, the bounce house, also is a safety risk, accounting for some 17,000 injuries a year, largely due to the volume of kids who use such structures simultaneously.
3. Age-inappropriate sports activities.
Child sports have lots of virtues: they can help build body awareness, increase self-esteem, and cultivate active lifestyle habits. The problem is when the sporting activity is excessive or dangerous relative to the age of the child. On a casual level, for example, playground injuries account for about 200,000 visits to the ER each year, often by younger children playing on equipment designed for older children.
Among organized sports, some 1.3 million kids visit the ER each year, and experts suspect the actual injury rate is far higher, since urgent care and regular doctors are not included in that number. Football and basketball dwarf other sports in their injury rates, with each accounting for around 390,000 or so injuries a year. The impact of those injuries can linger into early adulthood or even later, such as with concussions. The research indicates that many problems come from kids who are excessively active relative to their age, with injury rates climbing significantly when the number of hours a week spent on competitive sports exceeds the age number of the child (i.e. a seven-year-old competing for eight hours a week). Preventative stretching and other safety measures are also important.
4. Furniture-related injuries.
Furniture that is either improperly secured or is age-inappropriate ranks among the more common types of injuries to children. Injuries from falling TVs, for example, have increased in recent decades and now account for about 3,000 child injuries and a dozen or so deaths a year. (The good news: the lighter weight of LCD TVs compared to old tube TVs reduces the force of such a fall, although no parent probably wants a plugged-in electronic device toppling on their child either way.) Unstable furniture, which includes TVs, sends about 25,000 to the ER each year and results in about 25 deaths. Another 10,000 kids are injured in crib-related injuries, including many instances where kids are too large for the crib.
What do you think are some of the biggest risks?Category: Featured