This morning as I was attempting to get my kids ready for school my six-year old put on a solid show of resistance. To be fair she feels crappy because she has a sore throat and didn’t want to go to school. She was also refusing cough syrup or anything to drink. As I have written before she is resistant to those things that might help her. She is adventurous and risk-seeking, but she is afraid of getting a needle or having a band aid removed. This from the girl who broke her arm in the fall and had to have pins inserted. She handled this experience very well and with limited complaints. She seems to be afraid of the little things (a needle prick, medicine that might taste bad or food she might not like for that matter).
She is not so different from many adults. Here in Canada our government is introducing new legislation and powers to apparently protect us against the remote risk of terrorism. The radio this morning was full of stories about the rise in gang-related shootings – not killings or even people being shot, just guns being fired. In Ontario our provincial govt is preparing to update the health curriculum, which includes sex-ed. This has given rise to a group of parents and others who are afraid that the government is going to be teaching kids to have sex in grade 1, lower the age of consent or convert kids to the “gay lifestyle” – as if such a thing were possible. We regularly hear stories about parents being charged by police for letting their kids out of the house unaccompanied by adults. Typically the police are called by some other adult who sees kids out on their own and fears for their safety. And then we have the growth of the anti- vaccine movement which has resulted in the return of diseases that were pretty well eradicated in North America because some parents are afraid that their child could suffer a side-effect as a result of the vaccine.
How Did We Get Here?
Media certainly has a significant role to play in shaping our perspectives of the world around us and media thrives on conflict. More significantly I think is the role of word of mouth. Of course with social media, word of mouth has expanded significantly. We read websites and blogs, tweets and opinion pieces. We have busy lives and it is a challenge to determine the validity of what we are reading. If the person writing seems credible we will buy the story. We often don’t have time to seek out the science, or perhaps we believe that what we have read is based on fact.
Many post-secondary institutions offer resources on how to determine the credibility of a source. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab offers these questions to help determine the validity of the information presented.
- Who is the Author?
- How recent is the source?
- What is the author’s purpose?
These questions go to expertise, timeliness and author bias.
Does the author know what they are talking about? Are they a recognized expert or have some training that suggests that they have done some research into the subject, or are they someone repeating what they thought they heard someone say?
Who has the time to research the author of a piece of information? This is one of the challenges behind the anti-vaccine advocates. They point to a now discredited study conducted by an actual MD and published in The Lancet – who has now lost his license. He was an expert wasn’t he? There are numerous scientific sources that challenge the findings of that study. The Centre for Disease Control in the US has information refuting the link between vaccines and autism as does the coalition of health organizations Immunize Canada among many others. Of course they are up against the likes of Jenny McCarthy and politicians looking for votes from concerned parents.
Source timeliness is also applicable here since some parents may be referring to that discredited and demonstrably false study about vaccinations when they are making their decisions about whether to immunize their child. The study itself dates from 1998 and all other studies since have refuted the findings. If I were to only refer to the original study, I would miss out on all the other research and counter evidence.
This study is also a good example of author bias. Andrew Wakefield, the former physician who conducted this study, was found to have been dishonest in his motives for conducting the study. He was paid specifically to link the MMR vaccine to autism. The motives of the person providing the information are often challenging to determine, especially in cases like this where a physician – someone we should be able to trust – does research that is published in a reputable peer-reviewed medical journal. How were we to know he was being paid to generate the kind of results that he did?
Fear-Based Decision Making
Our number one job as parents is to keep our kids safe and raise them up to adulthood. We read studies telling us our kids will get sick if we stick them with a needle. We hear that our kids might learn something about sex before we are ready to talk to them about it, usually because we don’t know how to talk with them about it. We hear and read about shootings and crime through media. We learn about terrorist acts like the shootings in Paris or in my own city of Ottawa last October. What are we as parents to do?
We look for ways to keep our kids safe. We demand that our governments do something to protect us from terrorism and random violence on the streets, even though our chances of getting injured or killed in the bathtub or in a car accident outweigh our chances of being shot in the street in North America – even in the US, where the risk these days seems to be getting shot by your own kid. Some opt out of immunizing children, even though that puts kids at risk of contracting diseases like measles and polio. Some fight against sex-ed in the mis-informed belief that it will increase the likelihood of our kids having sex, getting pregnant or discovering that they are lesbian, gay or trans*.Our fears can overwhelm us and colour our perspective of the world around us. We start to see danger in every corner.Click To Tweet
Our fears can overwhelm us and colour our perspective of the world around us. We start to see danger in every corner. Then we start to buy what others are selling us that correspond to our perception that the world is a dangerous place.
We don’t actually need to live in fear.
- The world is less violent now than at any time in human history.
- Vaccines do not cause Autism.
- Sexual health education does not cause kids to have sex sooner, it actually delays sexual involvement.
- The risk of death by terrorist attack is significantly less than the risk of being killed by lightning.
- The majority of abducted children are abducted by family members, not by strangers
Those of us living in North America live in a very safe world. It is safe to let our kids play outside. It is safer to vaccinate our kids than risk the diseases the vaccines protect against. It is safe to go outside without fear of being shot by a stranger or killed in a terrorist attack. We can also help our kids to feel safe by letting them live their lives and have adventures. We can immunize them and let them know that this helps to keep them safe from disease. We can teach them about their own bodies and not be afraid that they will start having sex before they are ready.
Part of our role in keeping our kids safe is helping them to understand the world around them and helping them to understand that it is not a scary place. In order to do that we need to recognize and name our fears. Then we can begin to address them and decide whether they are well-founded and how to help our children feel safe.