by Leslie Morgan Steiner
It’s among the worst things that can happen to a family: serious injury or death of a child. No good parent WANTS a child to get hurt. Almost everyone I know considers children’s safety one of the foremost obligations of parenthood.
So…Can you name the top causes of death and injury during childhood?
If you can’t, don’t feel badly. Most parents are with you. Maybe parents don’t want to face the real risks, writer Lisa Belkin argued recently in The New York Times’ “Keeping Kids Safe From the Wrong Dangers ”. Maybe parental brains are terrible at calculating risks.
Talking about deadly risks to our beloveds IS devastating, of course. But to me, facing an actual death or serious injury, and the fact that you might have prevented the trauma, seems far more disturbing. I figure if you know the facts, you can improve your chances of avoiding the risks. So here are the top five causes of injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control :
1) Car accidents
2) Homicide (usually involving a person the child knows or is related to)
3) Child Abuse
For children under five, according to Safe Kids USA , the top three preventable injuries are: car accidents, head injuries, and accidental drownings.
Many of these injuries and deaths are preventable. Mandating that kids under your care use seatbelts, car seats and bike helmets, talking about pool safety and making sure you or other adults always supervise kids swimming, childproofing your house, paying attention to problems the children under your purview face -- these all decrease the risk of serious harm to a population that cannot protect itself.
By contrast, here are the top five risks parents worry the most about (according to Mayo Clinic surveys):
2) School snipers
4) Dangerous strangers
The good news is actual risks to children are decreasing in the United States. The bad news? The irrational parental fears are simultaneously increasing. “Parents are just bad at risk assessment,” explains to Christie Barnes in Belkin’s article. Barnes is a mother of four and the author of the book and very useful website, “The Paranoid Parents Guide ”. “We are constantly overestimating rare dangers and underestimating common ones.”
Several times during the back-to-school joy and chaos, I’ve found myself on school grounds whiling away sunny afternoons waiting for my three wonderfully scatterbrained kids to collect their backpacks, homework and misplaced textbooks. I love watching other parents and caregivers who’ve just joyfully picked up their kids amid the Indian summer glow.
The idyllic scenes become less rosy as I watch the cars drive off with kindergarteners in the front seat, first graders unbuckled in back, or parents reaching for their cell phones as they coast down the school driveway, still overrun with 600 kids who’ve just gotten out of school. These are the same parents who feed their children only organic vegetables. The ones leading the drive to reform the school’s juice policy. The loudest voices calling for a ban on cell phones because of cancer risks. I want to tell them to put that kindergartener in the back seat. I long to jump on their car roofs and rant about why seatbelts and carseats save lives. At the very least, I’d like to ask them to wait until they are past the playground before dialing their cell phones. Because that’s what I can do to prevent real risks to kids…and to help demystify the unfounded ones.