On the radio yesterday, I heard an ad that encouraged parents to donate Clorox disinfecting wipes to their local schools to “help stop the spread of germs.” The same day, I read that my parents’ local school district saw a tripling in the number of absences compared to a year ago, as parents chose to keep their children home to keep them from catching swine flu. I thought about those parents, who presumably went through grade school without dying from the spread of germs, and wondered why they’ve decided that their parents weren’t adequately protecting them by dousing them in hand sanitizer.
Last Friday, while visiting my parents in Rhode Island, I watched as five cars sat at the end of their street on a sunny and warm mid-afternoon. Minutes later, a school bus pulled up, and eight children stepped off. Six of them hopped into their parents’ waiting cars. None of the children live more than a 1/3-mile walk from the bus stop. Again, I thought about those parents, who presumably walked home from the bus stop or even directly from school, and wondered why they’ve decided that their parents weren’t adequately protecting them by acting as their personal chauffeur.
Much like the media-hyped fear of swine flu, the fear of child abduction presumably compels parents to drive their children to and from the bus stop, despite the fact that there is nearly a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that a child will be kidnapped in a given year. Coincidentally, the odds of dying in a fatal car crash in a given year are 1 in 6,600. Even the two children who didn’t jump into cars at the bus stop were greeted by their father, who waited at the bus stop to walk them home.
If the media exacerbated the odds of dying in a car crash the way they do dying of swine flu and being abducted, perhaps these same paranoid people wouldn’t live in sprawling exurban housing developments that are an hour’s drive from their workplaces.
Then again, if they lived closer to other people, came in close contact with others on public transit, and actually socialized with their neighbors on a daily basis, would these people be more paranoid about an epidemic or abduction, or less paranoid?