Social Media and Irrational Fears

“You can never be too careful.”

“I just know something terrible would have happened.”

“It’s so much more dangerous out there now than when we were kids.”

Recently you probably saw the story of a mom who was shopping with her small children at IKEA, who is convinced that two men were following them around, waiting for a chance to snatch her children and take them back to their human trafficking ring. She and her children had no real interaction with these men and no reason to assume something as sinister as sex trafficking was going to happen, but she listened to this irrational fear inside and convinced herself of just that. Then like is all too common these days, she went to Facebook to share this “incident” and warn other mothers to be vigilant as she was. The post went viral, spreading fear and misinformation far and wide. 

Moms, are we parenting with a current of fear running through our veins? Are we spreading that fear like a virus to other moms with our words and with our Facebook shares? Are we actually living in a more dangerous world than when we were kids?

I want you to step back and ask yourself: if small children were frequently being snatched in the middle of stores and sold into human trafficking, wouldn’t this be all over the national news? Wouldn’t you see Amber Alerts for them? Wouldn’t the local police departments also speak up about it?  

Recently, I got an Amber Alert notification on my phone. It said: “9 month old abducted by sex offender.” I thought, “Whoa! It’s happening! That fear all these moms are talking about, a random child being abducted, and by a sex offender at that!” Only to open the app to see the full story, which was that a 9 month old was abducted by their non-custodial parent, who just so happens to also be a sex offender. Hmm. Still a horrible story, but no where near as sensational as the original notification implied. It did the trick, though. It got my attention. I had to wonder how many other people saw this alert but didn’t look further. So this idea that “these things are happening more and more” gets further validated in their mind. 

This video from Free Range Kids breaks down how the news media and viral stories on social media create a heightened sense of risk. This idea that danger lurks around every corner and our kids are just one distracted moment away from catastrophe.

Fortunately, there is a way for us to fight back against these irrational fears: STATISTICS!

Do you know how many children are abducted in a stereotypical stranger kidnapping?  According to the Polly Klass Foundation, it is about 100 children a year (and approximately half of those are returned home). Familiarize yourself with actual crime statistics to put things in perspective and rein those irrational thoughts back in.

Let’s address the fear the IKEA mom sensationalized: human trafficking. Human trafficking is a very real problem in our country right now, and I’m glad it is getting more attention. But you want to know who is at highest risk of being trafficked? Teenagers (often runaways). And you want to know how it happens? Through a grooming process, not through stranger kidnapping.

This site by the International Human Trafficking Institute debunks many of the myths about human trafficking. These myths include the idea that trafficking is an impulse crime and that middle class women and girls are the most vulnerable to it. The LA Times wrote a great piece about how sharing these stories on social media about alleged “near trafficking incidents” actually hurts the real victims of sex-trafficking.

Here’s what I’m asking you today. Stop sharing these stories on Facebook. Stop participating in this mom culture of fear-mongering. Stop living your life in fear and buying into these falsehoods. Share factual information with other moms (you can even share this blog post with them!) Spend your energy focusing on the real risks our kids face (i.e. improper car seat usage, childhood obesity, abuse and neglect.) If you want to do something about human trafficking, look into an organization such as End Slavery Now for how you can help.

Take a deep breath. Be aware of your surroundings when you are out with your kids and report real issues to the police, but don’t let misguided fears carry you to irrational places. 

9 Responses to Social Media and Irrational Fears

  1. Elizabeth Hall April 13, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    I really like this, thank you for writing this piece. I deleted Facebook a year ago simply over all the mom shaming, mom fear it throws at you. I don’t miss it. I still have Instagram and Snapchat, but I’m so happy I said goodbye to Facebook. I couldn’t control everything “news”/article wise I saw there and was just so tired of seeing so much negativity.

    • Julia
      Julia April 13, 2017 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks Elizabeth! Facebook can be overwhelmingly negative at times. I’ve considered quitting a time or two but would be cut off from all my moms group if I did that, so I’ve resisted so far!

    • Sarah April 13, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

      I did the same!! When I had Facebook I was consumed by all the negativity and horrible stories being shared. I don’t miss it at all! My husband saves the funny and cute videos for me 😉

  2. Tanya April 13, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    This is a good post! I have said for years that “bad things” likely aren’t happening more now than in the past its just that we have 24/7 news now so they report on every incident all over the world making us more of aware than in the past, but that doesn’t mean there are more incidents. It is good to be aware, but not to be living in fear. Knowing the facts is the way to go-thank you for the links!

    • Julia
      Julia April 13, 2017 at 11:28 am #

      Thanks Tanya! Glad you found it helpful.

  3. Sarah April 13, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    Thanks for writing this! Just the other day I told my husband I had a fear that someone would steal my boys while we were out. And it all steams from when I had Facebook and the horrible stories people would share. My husband told me, in not so many words, that I was being silly. He was right…but we won’t let him know that 😉

  4. Jay Aber April 13, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

    Yes! As a traffic engineer I can tell you that far and away the thing you should be most terrified of is getting into your car with your child. Again, the statistics don’t lie–you and your child are more likely to die or be seriously injured in a car crash than anything else in your life. So don’t be distracted while driving because you’re mulling over the extremely low probability scary events in your life and pay attention to the road!

  5. Angie April 21, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    Thank you for this interesting post. I believe as parents you do have to practice discernment, and I also believe fear and parenting do run hand in hand. As a first time mom, I am no expert in parenting, however I do appreciate the awareness of the unfortunate events that do occur in the world. With all due respect, I would disagree that statistics help to fight irrational fears, statistics are simply different points in time being analyzed. However the factor which I believe helps to bring awareness, is being educated, and as you stated reading the entire story instead of pointing out the headlines is important. I hope and pray my family or yours never goes through a tragedy, but I do think of those who have been through tragedy, and knows the pain of losing a child through a catastrophe. With this in mind, it it also important to bear sensitivity and respect to those who have experienced such events, and they will vouch, they are not interested in being the statistic mentioned. Last but not least, never question your parenting intuition. I enjoy this mama blog for the supportive stories and to know I am not alone in this crazy parenting world! Thank you for allowing me to share my perspective on reading this post.

  6. Missy April 22, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

    Yes to all of this. Thank you for writing some much needed common sense. Obviously, a good rule of thumb is to be aware of your surroundings but getting sucked into a vortex of fear is a whole other beast which we can thank the internet for. Love the point you make about being attentive to real dangers i.e. Is my kiddo buckled in correctly?