Scaring our kids to death

Scaring our kids to death

Are we scaring our kids to death? Peggy Noonan thins we are. She says that while in previous days kids endured duck-and-cover drills and worries about Soviet invasion of Cuba or the WW2-Japanese invading California, but the fear was never as pervasive as it is now.

Every TV channel has death and violence on it. School reading lists are full of horror stories or stories of teen angst or divorce or suicide. The most popular video games are all about killing and maiming in the most graphic ways possible. The news media are full of sensationalistic depictions of mass murders and car bombings and threats to our very health. Even antismoking campaigns are using graphic visual imagery to scare kids away from picking up the habits.

But is it working? Or is it just desensitizing them to violence and fear?

I recall back in 1999 after the Columbine shootings, our youth ministry sat down with our teens to discuss it and one girl didn’t understand what all the hubbub was about. “I’m sorry about it and all, but what does it have to do with me,” she asked. “It doesn’t affect me.”

And for those who are not desensitized, are we making them neurotic?

Adults have earnest discussions about how more and more of our children are being prescribed antidepressants and antianxiety drugs. What do you think—could there be a connection here?

Why are we frightening our kids like this, with such insensitivity? Part of it is self-indulgence, part of it is profit, but not all of it is malevolent. Some of it is just mindless. Adults forget to think about kids. They forget what it’s like to be a kid.

ABC’s John Stossel is a person in media who knows. He did a piece recently on the public-service announcements warning about child abduction. He asked some children if the warnings worried them. Yes, they said. One little boy told him he worries every night “because I’m asleep and I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

Why are our children so frightened? Why are we frightening them so much?

And we are doing this, I think, for three reasons.

One is politics—our political views, our cultural views, so need to be expressed and are, God knows, so much more important than the peace of a child. Another is money—there’s money in the sickness that is sold to us. Everyone who works at a TV network knew ratings would go up when the Cho tapes broke.

But another reason is that, for all our protestations about how sensitive we are, how interested in justice, how interested in the children, we are not. We are interested in politics. We are interested in money. We are interested in ourselves.

What kind of world will we have when all the adults grew up either desensitized to violence or fearful of their own shadows?

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