In the wake of the shootings at the Aurora, CO, movie theater last week, many of us are likely drawing inward and seeing the world outside a little differently. When an event like this happens, it’s easy to see threats everywhere in our surroundings. The news media help reinforce this perception, with their emphasis on violence and conflict. The expression “if it bleeds, it leads” describes the content of most nights’ newscasts. And even if we change the channel, we likely still see mayhem in one form or another: screaming and hair-pulling on reality shows, or kidnappings and murders on CSI.
Why do the media focus so much attention on the frightening and disturbing? Because it keeps us watching. When we feel threatened or uncertain, we want answers, so we stay tuned. More viewers means more revenue from advertisers, which keeps the media in business.
Parents can be especially vulnerable to the exaggerated depictions of violence in media. You want to protect your children by any means, and the world seems like an awfully scary and dangerous place as it’s seen on our screens. It’s difficult to maintain a rational perspective, especially in the aftermath of a violent event like last week’s shooting.
In his book The Science of Fear, journalist Daniel Gardner provides a fact-filled and oddly comforting reality check about which of our fears are reasonable, and which are rooted in hype and misinformation. He shows us how the media manipulate us into thinking our everyday lives are full of risk, when in fact people living in countries like the US and Canada are safer, healthier, and at less risk than any previous generation in human history.
Parents want to raise happy, confident children. But if you let the media convince you that the world is a much more dangerous place than it actually is, kids will likely pick up on that and become anxious themselves. Moreover, our fears can become crippling, preventing us from living life to its fullest and encouraging our children to do so as well. It can be very difficult to have a rational response to the media’s irrational messages of risk and fear, but it’s certainly worth trying for children’s sake.