Are Americans addicted to fear? In some ways, yes. Here’s one story about why we are: A cute, athletic teen was running near her home. She noticed a car following a short distance behind her. As she paused to look at the car, three scary looking men got out and started after her. She ran around a corner and hid, then went to a neighbors and called 911. The police apprehended the men – all registered sex offenders. How often does this type of event happen? Not nearly as much as the media would have us believe. Bear with me for a moment and read to the end to find out if this story is true or not.
When we hear a story like the one above, we extrapolate to all the dangerous things that could happen to our children or our loved ones. James Breckenridge, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, says that… “negative information is stickier because the brain pays more attention to anything that appears threatening.” What we don’t focus on are all the safe children. From a positive view of this situation, this young woman knew what to do. She was aware of her surroundings and she immediately sought help. Carrying a cell phone is an extra precaution.
“If it bleeds, it leads” headlines encourage us to believe that we live in a much more dangerous world than ever before. In our current “Culture of Fear,” as the author Barry Glassner states, the average person believes crime has increased in the U.S., while it actually plunged in the 1990s and is today about where it was in the 1970s.
The new brain science demonstrates that the brain’s neural pathways are stimulated by repeated emotions. The more we feel afraid, stressed, or sad, the more susceptible we become to those states. Over time these feelings become habituated. Much like the alcoholic who can’t stop drinking, the news or drama/trauma junkie, gets a sort of high.
What’s the solution for individuals harmed by sexual or other types of abuse? Healing needs to happen with counseling, supportive people, a safe place to live and a chance to be who they wish to become. As I know, that’s a process.
What’s the solution for our society? Break the cycle of media fear that we have become addicted to with awareness and retraining our attention to seek out the positive. Consider – most people are good, will help their neighbors, are kind. Teach children to know how to be safe by paying attention to their “oh-oh” intuition and learn safety skills like yelling, running, using their cell to call a parent or 911, and let them do more. Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, says “as kids’ freedom has been going down, their anxiety has been shooting up.” We don’t want our kids to be afraid of everyone. And, please let your children play out in the streets of your neighborhood, in safe ways.
The above story is true and happened to a young teen in Stanislaus County.
I had an experience of being molested by a stranger in my neighborhood. Parents, back then, didn’t think to teach their children about “stranger danger.” This was a one time occurrence, thankfully. What research shows though, is that most children are hurt not by strangers, but by people they know.
In the 60s we weren’t taught about how to protect ourselves. Fear serves a purpose when it’s protective without limiting our ability to trust and connect. Our greatest power is CHOICE and awareness is the first step.
Note: This article was originally written in 2009. I’ve updated a few items and want to add that in the years after 2009 we have become more aware of sex trafficking and have taken more action to protect children that are being trafficked. Without Permission is dedicated to ending sex trafficking and they help victims in many ways to become survivors.