I love this piece from On Parenting, written by the terrific Jessica Leahy. In it, she discusses how parents often overestimate the risk of something terrible happening to their children based on how outrageous current media coverage of that thing happens to be. She stresses the importance of teaching parents to evaluate risk.
I often talk to parents about this, especially after something outrageous but highly unlikely, like a school shooting, occurs. When parents overestimate risk, they tend to go to great lengths to protect their children. But if a threat is low-risk, such efforts may be counterproductive. For example, consider a parent who in the wake of a school shooting decides to bar her children from all after-school activities, insisting that they return straight home after school. This significantly limits her children’s lives and keeps them from accessing things that might bring them satisfaction and validation. Further, children, even teenagers, often look to their parents for how to respond in a scary situation. If kids see their parents “freaking out,” they too will “freak out.”
This is why the classic CBT strategy of considering the evidence is super-important. Before you panic (and make your kids panic) about an outrageous threat, consider the evidence (and I mean real, actual facts and figures) regarding how likely that threat is to affect your kids. If there’s little to no evidence of an imminent threat, no need to take dramatic action!