Standing Up for Independent Parenting

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Don't you know that hiding under a rock is the best way to avoid being hit by a meteorite?" (Image via Pixabay)
Over at Let Grow, where "free range parent" Lenore Skenazy has set up shop, is some advice for parents who wish to counteract today's widespread pressure to adopt a hypervigilant parenting style. Professor Barbara Sarnecka of the University of California-Irvine recommends three broad strategies: comparing commonly-exaggerated risks to other de minimis risks, shifting the focus of the discussion from avoiding risk to fostering independence, and reminding adults of relevant positive experiences from their own childhoods.

I think each strategy can be a valuable part of helping others re-calibrate how they assess risks, reconsider the propriety of doing so for others, or both. Sarnecka's discussion of the first tactic was on the money, and will probably also make anyone weary of a constant stream of ninnyish advice smile a little:
When you drove here today and you parked your car, did you choose your parking space based on the possibility that there could be snipers on the roofs of the buildings around you? Did you say, "Well if I park here, snipers on that building could get me ... but if I park here, the awning will shield me from snipers over there ..."

Probably not, right? Now, could you really be 100% sure that there weren't snipers on the buildings? No, because it's not impossible. But it's SO unlikely that you just don't worry about it. You would be nuts to plan your parking around it. [bold in original]
Many parents today are scolded or even faced with legal trouble for doing such once-commonplace things as leaving a child in a car for a short time, and this problem is worsening. It will take many of us standing up for ourselves when the opportunity arises for this to begin to change.

-- CAV


jacobeking said...


This reminds me of my biggest beef with many risk decisions in my professional field. Most people find it much easier to quantify severity than probability, so they focus on the severity (or result) of some possible chain of events rather than being equally attentive to the probability of said chain occurring all the way to the end.

You can thank globalized 24-hour news for ruining any reasonable sense of probability the average man had for what are actually extremely unlikely events (e.g., murders, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, etc.)


Gus Van Horn said...


Either the blog post or a story it links to made this very connection (i.e., the 24-hour news cycle).

I think that's part of the problem, but there's also a kind of argumentation/way of looking at things that is very common in our culture today that also contributes. There's a focus on the negative at the expense of the positive, as Alex Epstein points out especially regarding fossil fuel use. Regarding risk, you see these bad outcomes get all the attention, but nobody considers what, in practical terms all these precautions would mean, and whether they are worth it.

That's what's so good about the sniper example. People who spend lots of time worrying about child abduction need some psychological distance from the problem to see that putting a bunch of effort into fending off an extremely unlikely event has negative impacts of its own. Looking at a different problem might help them see what's wrong with their own thinking.