Children can sense our fear

Parenting today is harder than it was 30 years ago.

In fact, things we did as parents would be considered irresponsible today. No car seats, left the sleeping baby alone to run into the store, and our kids were unsupervised much of the day. They went barefoot, ran with sticks, built unsafe forts in the woods and ran around with unvetted neighborhood kids. They were lured into the bushes by big, fat, juicy berries and grabbed by thorny vines. If you drove through any neighborhood, you saw kids outdoors. Lots of them.

Today parents fear many things — child molesters, poison oak, spiders and wild animals. Kids are kept safe by signing them up for organized activities and ensuring constant supervision. But what are we protecting them from?

Child abductors: There are about 100 child abductions by strangers every year. With 75 million children, the chances of your child being abducted are 1 in 750,000. The chance a stranger will solicit your child sexually on the Internet is 1 in 25. Better to play outside or on the computer?

Bees, spiders and snakes: There are 40 deaths (adults and children) in the U.S. each year from bees, wasps, yellow jackets and other venomous insects. Over four years, there were zero deaths from spider bites. There are five deaths from snake bites each year but nearly all are adult men. That makes 45 deaths from these dangerous little critters, with a 1 in 7,000,000 chance of it happening to your child.

Cougars, bears and wolves. There were zero deaths from cougar attacks, zero deaths from bear attacks and zero wolf attacks in 2013.

Poison oak and falling down. No known deaths from poison oak, but 140 children die each year from falls. Not sure where they're falling from, or whether it's indoors or outdoors, but that amounts to a 1 in 500,000 chance.

All of these are tragic for the actual victims and their families. But should you worry? The combined chance that sending a child outside to play will result in abduction or death: 260 incidents per year (including all those falls) or a 1 in 300,000 chance. Compare this to childhood deaths from car accidents at nearly 1,500 per year.

Why the fear? Let's thank the media for its saturation coverage of every bad thing that happens to a child. We believe crime is up, but FBI statistics show every category of violent crime declining year after year.

Sadly, we communicate our fears to our kids. Fear of strangers. Fear of nature. Fear of bugs. Richard Louv, who wrote "Last Child in the Woods," coined the term "nature deficit disorder" to describe the many ways lack of unsupervised time in nature is depriving our kids — intellectually, emotionally, physically.

Compare the risks of going out into nature with the risks of staying home, going for a ride in the car or childhood obesity, and nature fares pretty well.

Linda Hugle lives in Wimer.

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