Do Overly Fretful Parents Need to be Shot (a Guest Post of Sorts)?

Last year, I wrote a short blog post called Screw up Your Kid: Teach Him to Fear the World. It was directed at hyper-vigiliant parents who live in constant fear that their child will be hurt by the innumerable negative forces in the world. The thrust of the article was that scare tactics are simply poor parenting.

Recently, a friend sent me an article about parenting groups urging car manufacturers to have alarms in their cars which notified drivers if their was a child left in the car. Apparently, 41 children have died this year from hot cars. I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, but my initial thought was, “Wow, 41? Maybe an alarm isn’t a bad idea. I don’t like children; I kind of loathe them, actually, but do I really want them dead? Not really.” Then I realized how many children are hurt or killed by pretty much everything else bad that is out there, and 41 suddenly didn’t seem all that many.

Before I had a chance to comment on that issue here, another friend had responded to the article via email and captured the very essence of the problem better than I ever could. I present that to you here:

I picture myself in the year 2030 driving around in my 2015 Honda with the radio blaring to drown out the sound of the malfunctioning child alarm.

Millions of children are in cars every day without incident. I consider 40 casualties an acceptable percentage and an illustration of Darwinism at work. If you are dumb/careless enough to cook your child in a car, your child is more than likely predisposed to that level of stupidity/carelessness, be it from genetics or learned behavior. If one is of the mind to do such a thing, then it is very likely that other risky behavior is also present with the parent unaware of the danger. If this child is saved by this alarm, what are the odds of this child later being fried by the exposed wiring in the house, bleached by the draino next to the olive oil, crushed by the unsecured bookshelf filled with old Oprah magazines? Let’s stop supporting the propagation of stupid.

I am a parent of a four year-old. I have visions of tragedy all day. I see the accident, before it happens, and fix the situation or remove the child from the situation before tragedy strikes. This parental behavior is what keeps my child’s blood on the inside (usually). I am not unique, this is done by most. Parents should have that internal alarm and the vigilance to keep listening for it.

If this does pass, I have a Safety Box for children that I would like to sell to parents. It is made out of the same material as the black box on an aircraft. After birth, you put your child in the box and seal it up. There is an 18 year supply of fiber/protein paste in the box and battery operated filters for air and water. The parents can put the box into storage at my facility for 18 years while they continue to party like rock stars and do what ever they want. On the 18th birthday, we open the box, and voila… a perfect, well adjusted child, prepared to meet the challenges of the outside world. Perhaps they will meet someone special and together they can purchase a Safety Box of their own.

Well said. What needs to be added is that these parents who are promoting the delusion that true safety can be achieved by car alarms and strollers built like tanks are the same ones who want GPS chips surgically placed under their children’s skin. Yes, the parent would then know at all times where their child was, but with an important question: at what cost? The answer is simple: fear. For every “safety” precaution you add into a child’s life, you indirectly install not the concept that the world could be dangerous and therefore should be respected; rather, that it is worthy of fear and anxiety.

You can tell me I’m clueless because I don’t have nor want children and wouldn’t bat an eyelash if the entire world went sterile and we lived in a Children of Men society. That’s fine if you think my lack of direct experience does not afford me an opinion on this score. But let me offer this: instead of standing with a picket sign in front of a Ford dealership demanding alarms for dangerously hot weather in the car, go spend a few hours with your kid teaching the art of holding a baseball glove correctly so the ball can’t hit you in the face. That sounds like a lot more fun for both you and your child. That’s what my dad did for me, and it worked out pretty well.

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13 Responses to “Do Overly Fretful Parents Need to be Shot (a Guest Post of Sorts)?”

  1. Carol (Mom): Timmy, I want you to wait in the car while mommy runs in to the grocery store. I won’t be more than a few minutes, okay?

    Timmy: Okay, mommy.

    Carol enters store, and within a few minutes has picked up the half dozen items she needs.

    Betty: Oh my God! Carol, is that you?

    Carol: What? Who? Oh! Betty! I haven’t seen you in ages, how have you been?

    Betty: Well, not so great to tell you the truth. Roger and I split up about two months ago. We haven’t gotten divorced yet, just separated. Still trying to figure out what to do with the kids. I started seeing a psychologist to help me work through the things, but the guy kinda creeps me out. He has a weird young face, like he’s been getting botox since he was 20, or is some sort of wax museum golem come to life.

    Yadda yadda yadda…

    Carol: Well, it was great seeing you again Betty, but I really should get going. We should meet up for lunch some time. See you soon!

    Carol goes to the check out line, pays for her items and leaves. When she gets out to her car, she sees a police officer and a small crowd around it.

    Carol: What’s going on?

    Officer: Is this your car, ma’am?

    Carol: Yes. Why? Is there a – OH MY GOD! TIMMY! Is he-

    Officer: I’m sorry. He died from heat stroke. It’s only 88 outside, but an enclosed space like that, sitting in the sun can reach temperatures of 125 degrees.

    Carol: Oh my God, I didn’t know!

    Officer: You didn’t know it was dangerous to leave your child in a car sitting in the sun for an hour?

    Carol: Er…no. Of course I knew that. I uh…meant that I didn’t know he was in there at all! He must have snuck in when I was getting ready to go to the store. If only there were an alarm on my car to tell me a child was inside of it!

    Officer: Yes, I suppose that would have alerted you to your child’s presence.

    Carol: I’m now going to dedicate my life to adding these alarms to cars!

    Officer: Are you sure you didn’t just intentionally leave your kid in the car, thinking you’d only be gone a few minutes, get distracted and end up taking far longer than you anticipated?

    Carol: No, never! My child is always at the front of my mind. I’d never do that. …Why do you ask?

    Officer: You only have one grocery bag. With that few items, you should have been in and out before the car could have heated up enough to kill your child.

    Carol: Oh…fuck.

    Officer: Yeah, you’re going to jail.

    [Meanwhile in the store.]

    Rob: Betty?

    Betty: Dr. Dobrenski?

    Rob: Hi, fancy running in to you here. Oh look, we picked up the exact same cereal. Isn’t that, ugh, you know what, screw it- My face is not creepy! I just naturally look really young! I’ve never had botox and I’m not made of wax!

    Betty: Dr. Dobresnki, calm down! What’s going on? Why are you even out here?

    Rob: This is where I shop! And I’ll be asking the questions, missy!

    Betty: You shop for groceries in Great Neck? I thought you lived in the city.

    Rob: Um…I come here for the tomatoes. Great tomatoes, can’t beat ’em!

    Betty: Are…are you stalking me, doctor?

    Rob: What?! Preposterous!

    Officer: Dr. Rob?

    Rob: Yes?

    Officer: You’re going to jail.

    Rob: Oh…fuck.

    Betty: Thank you, officer! I was so scared. I thought he was going to hurt me!

    Officer: Always a pleasure, never a chore.


  2. Dan Murphy says:

    I’m glad I’m the one of the first ones to respond because there’s a crucial counterpoint to be made here. I’ve been reading ShrinkTalk for a couple years and sometimes I find the posts to be in poor taste, but rarely do I find them fundamentally ignorant of the relevant psychological principles that underly your point, as is the case with the post above.

    Below is an article by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post. It won the Pulitzer last year. Long story short, it appears there are underlying mechanisms in attention and memory that make it possible for anyone, even a loving and devoted parent, to commit the ostensibly neglectful, infanticidal act of forgetting a child in a hot car. There are two victims with infant hyperthermia: the child and the surviving adult.

    I think once you read the article, you’ll find that “Darwinism at work” is a perverse way to put it.

  3. Tom says:

    “Darwinism at work” isnt perverse at all, since it’s not a conscious thing. Heat isn’t evil, any more than the parent that left the kid there – due stupidity or simple and honest mistake. Even if it is perverse, labelling it perverse doesnt change a thing. Human beings die. Deal with it.

    Are there underlying mechanisms in attention and memory that make this possible? Sure, why not. Im not a neurosurgeon or a psychologist, so im not even going to go there. Im going to go with the fact that this would be the same if it was, say, bike helmet laws. Or second-hand smoke. Or pederasts. Or kidnappers. Should we have alarms for all of those? cause i can keep going.

    I think the point that Rob is trying to make is that it’s both impossible and counterproductive to try to shield your kid from every single possible fatal outcome. It’s simply not possible AND you’re crippling your kid on the side.

    My dad used to say “shit happens”, and there’s a subtle wisdom to that. Death and accidents are a part of life, and whether you like it or not, part of being alive is accepting the fact that you will die. It might come early, unnanounced, unprovoked, might be unfair, might be someone’s fault, it might not, it might be from standing too close to someone who may or may not have smoked a cigarrette at some point last week, it might be that all that diet coke gave him brain cancer, it might be anything. It’s pointless to fret about this, and your kid needs to get this as well as you do.

    Im not saying you should put your kid in harm’s way, im saying you should realize that it’s inevitable. I know its tragic, and trust me, i wish this fate on nobody. I’ve seen firsthand how tough it is for a parent to loose a child, but I insist: however stressful and sad it its, it’s part of life.

    Im SURE The You-left-your-kid-in-the-car,-fuckface alarm would save lives, just as 50 other alarm systems one could come up to trying to shortcircuit the randomness of life, but it’s no way to live.

    It might sound extreme, but i dont think your job is to mantain this kid alive at all costs. Your job is to raise this kid in a loving, joyful enviroment; accidents be damned. Teaching him what to do when an accident does happen (hopefully by himself; believe it or not he will at some point have to breathe without your supervision) is as far as you can or should go.

    The irony of it is that a lot of these overly anxious and paranoid parents really are missing out on their kids by spending every waking hour worrying about what MIGHT happen to them.

    And it’s just a tad narcisisstic, isnt it?

  4. Rob Dobrenski says:

    Dan, very fair points. But Tom hit it out of the park.

  5. Greg says:

    I think a critical difference that many parents fail to realize, is between living and being alive.

    To stay alive, absolutely, one can take endless precautions, cutting oneself off from every known and suspected harm.

    But the point of living isn’t to keep on living, as we are not ficus plants. The point of living is to experience and appreciate – to truly “live”.

    Whats the point of being alive, if you’re not really living?

    (yes, I recognize that whether you’re truly “living” is a subjective standard, but that doesn’t fit well in pithy phrasing. The point is that it’s silly to take safety to such an extreme level as to have sacrificed all the things that made life enjoyable and worthwhile.)

  6. Mama says:

    how different is this from the annoying little “ding, ding, ding” of every car’s seatbelt reminder? or alternately, how different is it than the weight sensors that enable the airbag when someone is in the seat? we even prevent people from locking their cars when the trunk is ajar.

    overboard? perhaps, but in the long list of safety enhancements, why not add it to the list and get to it when they get to it – sell it as an enhancement if people want it.

    clearly there’s a lot of fretful parents out there that would totally be into it….

  7. An_Irish_Brit says:

    What I’d like to know is, when did it become acceptable to leave a child locked in a car full stop?! Good God. In my book – safety technology or not – that’s tantamount to leaving a child home alone. I’m quite sure if someone suggested it was okay to leave a child strapped to a sofa, whilst the parents left the family home to ‘pop to the shops,’ people would be furious. What is it about a car that makes things any different? Because it’s not hidden? Because people see it as just ‘sweet, average law-abiding mum’ who’s “only gonna’ be 5 minutes, no harm done”? Well, I call bullshit on it all. It is no different if it’s a car.

    Also, the way I look at it, children are not only a parents responsibility, they’re everyone’s and that’s what living in a civilised society should dictate. It’s sad that we’ve moved so far away from tribalism that we think that an unsupervised child is only that child’s parents’ responsibility. Sad that people are so scared to approach a child these days for fear of being accused of having unscruplious intentions.

    So, Rob, as far as I’m concerned, you DO have children. Many, many children. Sorry about that…

    *waits for Rob to recover himself, then continues*

    Sadly, an alarm isn’t the answer to this problem. The solution for this is the same as it is for every problem: common sense and education. At the end of the day, no safety precaution in the world will ever be idiot proof. I don’t know about America, but we call it the ‘nanny state’ over here, where the government swoops in an takes a heavy handed approach to reduce harm, kinda’ like what would happen if alarms became mandatory. Trouble is, dictating what everyone does ends up curtailing activies of people who don’t need the restrictions in the first place. In my opinion, it really should be society’s collective efforts that change and shape our culture. It’s be so easy if everyone played their part: 1), Perfect temperature or not, phone the police (it’s called social responsibility). 2), Challenge the parent when they return (it’s called education). And if it’s a hot day, break the fucking window (it’s called preventing death). I’d bloody do all of it. And they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on…

    …which is why I carry a house brick with me at all times. Not for the car window though, for the education part. What? How else am I supposed to get the idiots to listen? 😉

    Aaaaaaand if we reeeeeeally got together as a society, maybe I would meet someone with another house brick. Theeeeeeen we could solve this problems at source — by replacing the letters ‘educ’ in education with the letters ‘castr’…

    [Not eeeeetirely sure, but I think I may have just taken the heat off you with Dan for the ‘poor taste’ stuff, Rob. It all went a bit ‘Lord of the Flies’ for me in that last paragraph. I think your ‘sterile’ comment must have influenced that disgraceful little add on. Be gentle with me, Dan.]

  8. Donika says:

    Someone kept recommending this documentary “Babies” to me, and I kept tuning them out since I’m about as enthused about kids as you are. Having finally caved and watched it, I say give it a go. It only fortifies your perspective, but might escalate your stabbing impulse by quite a few degrees.

  9. Shay says:

    I despise crumb snatchers and curtain climbers, too.

  10. Catherine says:

    The world may or may not be a better place because of this, but I think that focusing the energy of creating yet another safety feature for a car is far less useful than for parents/couples to focus on what will help the child most… Having parents who love each other and themselves enough to instill that value in their child.

    Tragedy sucks. Trauma runs. At the end of the day, having the internal resources to deal with the big bad world is something that no alarm can create.

  11. Joe says:

    This actually happened to a guy who was an assistant coach on my college team. Apparently, its mostly caused by severe sleep debt on the part of the parents. One day, they just forget to stop at day care and go straight to work. Its such a statistically insignificant number that alarms are a ridiculous idea, but there is a pattern to it.

  12. Felli says:

    rock on! This is a great blog and I couldn’t have said it better!

  13. Cathryn says:

    When do you hear a car alarm and think “OH SHIT SOMEONE’S CAR IS BEING ROBBED”

    basically never, they are just annoying urban sounds now.

    good article rob