Watching The Office on NBC last night, there were lots of commercials about the Thursday night news, highlights of which included discussions of the dangers that your kids will face on Halloween. This morning, in reading the WSJ, there was another article, albeit with a different tack, on the “dangers” presented by Halloween. This reminded me of last night’s commercials, so I hopped on KSL to check out what the dangers were that so pervaded last night’s news commercials.
KSL’s first paragraph points out that “Before your kids head out the door, there are some serious dangers you need to be aware of,” and the rest of the article proceeds to warn parents of the dangers presented by modern Halloweens.
KSL’s Biggest Halloween Dangers:
- Auto-pedestrian accidents
- Flaming costumes
- Sex offenders
- Poison/contaminated/dangerous candy
While most of these things would be scary if they happened to any child, but especially yours, the reality is that these things rarely happen. The problem, as Lenore Skenazy points out in the WSJ article, is that “Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.” She then spends some time debunking (with actual research!) popular Halloween myths.
Once your kids come back with a bag full of candy, doctors say you should carefully examine each piece. Also be aware of any allergies your children may have.
If you want to have your child’s candy X-rayed, Hill Air Force Base will do it for you. As part of the base’s annual Pumpkin Patrol on Halloween night, parents can bring their child’s candy to the Youth Center, Building 883 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for the X-ray.
Take “stranger danger,” the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.
That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy.
I’m pretty sure that you shooting electromagnetic-radiation into your kid’s candy is going to pose a much greater threat to their health than your neighbors are.
“We don’t wear masks. We’ll do everything but masks,” Eleni [Billick] says, “and we’ll take lights and reflectors and just walk around before it gets dark.
Jack-o’-lanterns lit up with candles can quickly send a costume up in flames. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says costumes should be flame-resistant, which means they should self-extinguish. Still, many are not.
Parents are warned annually not to let their children wear costumes that are too tight—those could seriously restrict breathing! But not too loose either—kids could trip! Fall! Die!
Treating parents like idiots who couldn’t possibly notice that their kid is turning blue or falling on his face might seem like a losing proposition, but it caught on too.
Halloween taught marketers that parents are willing to be warned about anything, no matter how preposterous, and then they’re willing to be sold whatever solutions the market can come up with. Face paint so no mask will obscure a child’s vision. Purell, so no child touches a germ.
Sandy police say you can never be too careful when your children are running door to door. They say you should check for registered sex offenders in your neighborhood.
“If you’re going to send your kids out and pretty much allow them to knock on door to door, it’s pretty wise to know exactly whose homes they’re going to,” says Sandy police Sgt. Troy Arnold.
And now comes the latest Halloween terror: Across the country, cities and states are passing waves of laws preventing registered sex offenders from leaving their homes—or sometimes even turning on their lights—on Halloween.
The reason? Same old same old: safety. As a panel of “experts” on the “Today” show warned viewers recently: Don’t let your children trick-or-treat without you “any earlier than [age] 13, because people put on masks, they put on disguises, and there are still people who do bad things.”
Perhaps there are. But Elizabeth Letourneau, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, studied crime statistics from 30 states and found, “There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation.”
In fact, she says, “We almost called this paper, ‘Halloween: The Safest Day of the Year,’ because it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day.”
Why is it so safe? Because despite our mounting fears and apoplectic media, it is still the day that many of us, of all ages, go outside. We knock on doors. We meet each other. And all that giving and taking and trick-or-treating is building the very thing that keeps us safe: community.
It seems like the Sandy police department’s resources would be better spent educating parents on real dangers, rather than issuing warnings calculated to turn neighbor against neighbor.
There are a lot of real dangers in society; there always have been. For some reason, however, it seems like we’re always hearing about new things that we should be worried about. Maybe it’s modern society’s prevalence of media, or maybe it’s the ease with which we can share information with each other. Whatever it is, it isn’t healthy.
I recently read an article referenced on the security blog I follow. It detailed the results of a recent study that found the top five fears that parents have for their children. They were: (1) Kidnapping, (2) School snipers, (3) Terrorists, (4) Dangerous strangers, (5) Drugs. These all are scary things; the problem is that they’re not real risks. The top five dangers that your kids actually face? (1) Car accidents, (2) Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger), (3) Abuse, (4) Suicide, (5) Drowning.
Christie Barnes, author of The Paranoid Parents Guide, explained these results.
Barnes says parents fixate on rare events because they internalize horrific stories they hear on the news or from a friend without stopping to think about the odds the same thing could happen to their children.
“I’d love it if every news story came with a little warning at the bottom that said, ‘Even though this is very tragic, this is 1 in 10 million, 1 in a million or 1 in 20’, ” says Barnes.
While issuing unnecessary warnings may boost ratings, legitimate news sources would actually provide a much better service to the community by educating parents about dangers their children actually face, as well as the ones they don’t, rather than fear-mongering.
Ms. Skenazy summed things up nicely in the conclusion of her article: “We can kill off Halloween, or we can accept that it isn’t dangerous and give it back to the kids. Then maybe we can start giving them back the rest of their childhoods, too.”