Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"America is experiencing a bizarre disconnect between real and perceived danger when it comes to kids. But why?"

Breakthrough Study Explains Why We Arrest Moms for Putting Kids in Nearly Non-Existent 'Danger' - Hit & Run : " Why are we arresting moms for putting their kids in "danger" for doing the things our own moms did without anyone batting an eye, like letting us walk to school, or play outside, or wait at home a short while? Recall that just recently a mom was arrested for letting her kids, 8 and 9, wait at the condo for under an hour while she went to pick up dinner. 

Well, a new study by researchers at the University of California-Irvine may have figured it out. "Our fears of leaving children alone have become systematically exaggerated in recent decades—not because the practice has become more dangerous, but because it has become socially unacceptable," as the university put it in a news release. In other words, the only socially acceptable mom has become a mom who never takes her eyes off her kids. With that in mind, whenever we see an unsupervised child, we automatically assume the child has a bad mom. And once we are harshly judging that mom, our minds unconsciously judge her "crime" extra harshly, too. We believe it to be more dangerous than it actually is. So it's a feedback loop: unsupervised kids have terrible moms, terrible moms endanger their kids...

But our perceptions have nothing to do with the world actually becoming more dangerous (crime is at a 50-year low), or even the legitimate fear of children getting overheated in a car (moms get yelled at for leaving their children for the few seconds it takes to return a grocery cart). Instead, our perceptions have everything to do with our seriously screwed up "moral intuition."

Cops seeing kids at the park think the mom is negligent. Child Protective Services represenatives over-estimate the danger to latchkey kids. The result is arrested parents, and arrested development of the kids. "People are very attached to the idea that they are rational beings," says Sarnecka. But as the study shows, they aren't. They are swayed by unconscious judgments. "It would be really great if people could be rational about their irrationality." Until that happens, we cannot have open-ended laws that defer to an authority's spidey sense. Instead, we must insist that a child be in provable danger of immediate, indisputable, statistically likely and egregious harm before parents be judged negligent. Because otherwise they'll just be judged, period—especially the moms, and especially the moms with fewer resources. And that harsh judgment will suffice for a verdict of guilty."

Former Latch-Key Kids Who Are Now Parents, Unite! - Hit & Run : ""People don't only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral," the researchers write. "They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous. That is, people overestimate the actual danger to children who are left alone by their parents, in order to better support or justify their moral condemnation of parents who do so." The result is a feedback loop that increases the legal and social penalties for leaving kids alone and reinforces the belief that even the briefest parental absence amounts to child abuse. These beliefs don't just affect busybodies. They lead police, prosecutors, judges and jurors to overestimate risks...

While not exactly new, this trend has been intensifying over the past two decades or so, lurching from isolated scares about poisoned Halloween candy in the 1970s and child abduction in the 1980s to a generalized calculus that places perceived harm to children at the center of seemingly every discussion. The tendency is ubiquitous enough to be fair game for parody. On The Simpsons, for instance, one character routinely asks at any public gathering, "What about the children?" In that nearly 20-year-old story, I pointed to parenting styles and social obsessions prevalent among baby boomers as informing the bizarre mismatch in kids' better-and-better situations and parents' greater-and-greater anxiety about the safety and well-being of their offspring. Read the whole thing for the detailed causes, though a short list includes a decrease in the number of children per family, an increase in the personal and social investment in children, a warped understanding both of how trauma affects kids and how widespread trauma really is, and a media-informed desire to give your kid an advantage in all sorts of activities. Snowflakes aren't born, they're made. And now we have entered a phase where our overactive imaginations about threats to children have been institutionalized into really bad legal, educational, and social-work systems."

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