Paranoid Parenting

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If you’re a typical parent you may worry about your kids … a lot. You may feel overwhelmed at times with so many fearful messages that the world is an unfriendly place for children. Maybe you feel justified in your worrying. But are you?

What We Worry About

Teresa Martin, mother of three children under age 10, says there isn’t an area she doesn’t worry about. “I worry about whether they know enough to protect themselves, or if they know too much.” She is especially anxious about home invasion: “I lay awake at night planning, strategizing how I’ll sacrifice myself to save them from harm.”

Angie Sutton nervously laughs that it would be easier to name concerns that do not cause her to lose sleep. Since she has teens, “all the early sex worries are creeping in” and she fears her kids “will get slipped some kind of a drug at a party.”

Christie Barnes, a mother of four and author of “The Paranoid Parents Guide,” says far too often as parents we overestimate the potential for rare dangers and underestimate the potential for commons ones.

Based on statistics, the top five common dangers are: car accidents, homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger), abuse, suicide and drowning.

Why So Paranoid?

“We live in a world where there is no such thing as a safe place anymore. It feels like an overwhelming and impossible feat to keep our kids safe,” says Martin.

Barnes says parents fixate on horrific and atypical events in the news without considering the odds it will happen to their families. She would like to see statistics scrolling at the bottom of the TV screen indicating the actual likelihood of any given tragedy occurring. The problem is when we’re focused on the wrong dangers, we may be distracted from those that truly matter.

We sometimes get a distorted picture of the world because of a fear-based culture reinforcing overspending, overprotecting, overparenting and overworrying behaviors.

We worry about the wrong things because we are tuned into fear, not facts. Constant fear creates fearful children. “Parents need to focus on what really does happen and not what could happen but probably won’t,” says Barnes. Parenting is a tough gig, and when we’re fatigued, we’re more vulnerable to worry. “Stress management is as important as worry management,” she says.

Worrying Doesn’t Benefit You or Them

When we worry too much, we may cause our kids to feel uncertain and dependent. Remember that worries are not safety shields.

“If you worry ‘enough,’ your child will not be protected by an invisible force field,” says Barnes. Worry in itself is passive and does nothing to solve the problem, and worrying more doesn’t mean you love your child more. “We’re kind of fooling ourselves to think that all this research and all this worry we’re doing is actually love,” she says.

She also reminds parents that worrying can come across as nagging, which can sour your relationship with your child.

Less Paranoid Parenting

“The Paranoid Parents Guide” encourages parents to practice what Barnes terms “positive parenting” since “parenting is stressful enough without confusion about doing the right thing.” Consider these tips culled from her guide.

Face the facts.
There is a lot to smile about. Crime, homicide, abuse and kidnapping are down. Be aware that abuse is a greater threat from family and friends than strangers. When we are tuned into facts, not fear, we teach our kids to not be afraid of the world, which is a boon for them now and in the long run.

Don’t be so overprotective.
Barnes says overprotecting ultimately harms kids by making them less resilient. We don’t want to teach them to be helpless or too dependent.

Insist on helmets and seat belts.
Although it sounds like simple advice, Barnes says it’s the best way to reduce the chance of your kids’ death by 90 percent and the chance of serious injury by 78 percent.

Michele Ranard has a husband, two children and a master’s in counseling.

According to a recent survey by the Mayo Clinic, the top five worries for parents are:

1. Kidnapping
2. School snipers
3. Terrorists
4. Dangerous strangers
5. Drugs