When I was a new parent, I worried about the headlines: human trafficking, school shootings, gang violence. I even started a podcast where I interview experts ranging from paramedics, to retired CIA agents, to suicide counselors about how to keep children safe. What I learned was that I worried about the wrong things.
Scary, splashy, sensational stories make the news because they’re rare. Parents worry too much about the wrong things. I spent a lot of time and energy worrying about these issues, when I could have—when I should have—been worrying about more common and important concerns. For example:
Parenting Concerns: What I Should’ve Worried About
I Worried About Stranger Abductions…
…when I should have been watching people closer to home. A parent’s biggest boogeyman nightmare might be that stranger who abducts children, but FBI statistics show that only about 100 cases per year happen in the USA. It’s a horrible and tragic experience for those hundred families, but the occurrence is vanishingly rare, representing just 0.1% of missing children, and less than one one-millionth of a percent of children overall. The greater danger, overwhelmingly, is that the people who most often victimize children are not strangers—usually, the victim and their families know the perpetrator.
An SVU captain I interviewed for my podcast confirmed this. I intended to interview her about how a stranger might lure a child, but she refused to talk about it because she encountered the situation so rarely. Instead, she talked about how to watch the coaches, uncles, boyfriends, tutors, and all those other adults who get close enough when we let our guards down. And then she talked about how to listen to our teens for signs something’s going on.
I Worried About Password and Network Security…
…when I should have looked at how I freely gave away personal information. Of course we should keep our home computer networks safe, our passwords strong, and our laptop cameras on lockdown. Hacking does happen, and it can hurt our pocketbooks and our peace of mind. But that’s not typically where the bad guys get our information.
Most of the time, we give away our personal information. That “Proud Wife of a Deployed Soldier” bumper sticker tells bad guys your husband’s out of town. Yard signs celebrating our kids give details we should keep private. Even those date night photos we share on Facebook advertise our kids are home alone.
I Worried About Who My Kids Would Become…
…when I should have paid attention to who they were in those moments. So often I got into big conflicts with my oldest over something that wasn’t a big deal at the time. Instead, it was about some behavior or habit I worried would cause problems for him as an adult.
By worrying about his future, I lost focus on the most important thing—being present for the child in front of me. A lot of research, the most recent out of Harvard in 2019, found that a loving, warm relationship between a child and their parents is among the most important factors for adult success. I argued about small details and missed chances to build a warmer bond.
Don’t get me wrong. As a family, we lucked out. Even with my eye off the ball, or really on the wrong ball, my oldest made it through his teenage years with what I figure is the average amount of parental panic and trouble. Still, if I could do it over again, I’m sure my focus would be different now that I’ve learned what dangers to look out for and where to place my worry when raising teens.