Being a parent is terrifying. Joan Didion’s famous line, as we talked about recently, is that once you have kids you are never not afraid. We are hostages to fortunes now, always worried that something could or will happen to our kids.
And it’s true, something could happen. We all know parents who have found this out. In fact, for generations, it was the norm that something would happen to one of our kids. So it’s natural that we’re concerned, that we’re hyper-aware, that we try to not take chances.
Halloween is a good opportunity, however, to look at the cost and the propensity all societies have to giving in to overblown fears. How many of us remember our parents checking our Halloween candy for razor blades? What was that all about? Turns out it began with a 1983 Dear Abby column speculating, “Somebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade.” (In fact the known case of a kid dying from poisoned Halloween candy is when one man laced a Pixy Stix with cyanide to purposely kill his own son for life insurance money.)
There are all sorts of urban legends and moral panics that parents can fall prey to. A more recent one you might have heard about is “dry drowning”—the idea that your kids can slowly swallow water during an afternoon in the pool, seem fine, then suddenly drop dead. Earnest and serious warnings go viral about this every summer. The good news though, according to emergency room doctors, is that this is basically not actually a thing (or anything close to what the parents online are talking about). The same goes for the fears about video games or profanity in music–these are not serious threats to our loved ones, they’re not going to corrupt them or bring down society. A theme in a book they read is not going to change their sexuality or gender identity, it’s just not how it works.
There is so much we should actually be worried about as parents. There is so much we can’t take for granted. What we don’t need to do is borrow suffering. We don’t need to exaggerate, we don’t need to fall prey to hysteria. Because not only is this unfair to our kids–sucking the fun out of Halloween–but it’s unfair to us…and counterproductive to boot. Because every phantom worry we have is drawing our attention from things that really do happen. It’s energy not spent checking seatbelts, it’s energy not spent talking to your teenagers about fentanyl (or showing them how to administer Narcan). And worse, sometimes the misinformation that gets us in a panic (the dangers of vaccines let’s say) leads us to make decisions that actually do make our kids (and other kids) less safe.
Have a Happy Halloween. Make sure you’re only scared by things that are real.