After the Manchester terror attack, our screens had an endless loop of images of panic, followed by heartrending images of parents frantically searching for their children. Some will never see them again.
Even though some of the children killed are a similar age to ours, our children have no idea the attack happened. We are careful never to leave the news on in the background, nor to discuss such things in front of them. They deserve to have their innocence protected at their age. Their school is similarly sensitive.
If we slip out of the media driven mindset, where the greatest threats to children are terrorists and paedophiles, we find the reality is different. Research shows that the greatest risks to children are car crashes, drowning, suffocation, burns and poisoning – in that order.
Not using the phone when driving, teaching kids to swim, putting the dishwasher tablets out of reach and making blind cords safe would be far more effective actions than worrying too much about the thankfully statistically small risk of terrorism. Yet there is something uniquely horrible about such murder, directed at children.
There i also something profoundly disgusting about the insidious behaviour of paedophiles, who often befriend children before they abuse them, preying perversely on their innocence and trust. It is right that adults are vigilant about these threats, as well as doing more mundane things, like putting medicine out of reach.
What if we cast aside our adult minds entirely, and ask children what they find most terrifying about the world? I asked our kids this recently when they were considering their first walk to the shop alone, “What scares you most about being on the street without an adult?” The answer was simple: “dogs”. They aren’t afraid of dogs per se, but an unhealthy culture has developed where we live for dogs to be left off the lead and out of control. They then run up to children, who cannot know whether the dog is about to attack or wants to play. Owners just brush this off as the dog “saying hello” but the fear for children is real.
It is actually a criminal offence to have a dog out of control which causes a person to fear they might be bitten, but few owners seem to realise the fear dogs can instill in small children. Yet the children’s fear of dogs is actually more rational than the adults’ fear of terrorism: 13 children were killed by dogs in the UK from 2006 to 2016. No children were killed by terrorists in that period.
Ours is an age of anxiety, where tragedies are writ large, yet the reality that we live longer, safer, more prosperous, healthier lives than ever before in human history is largely ignored. The media has much to answer for in creating this climate of fear. However, stories such as “millions of people have perfectly safe car journeys” aren’t news, whereas tragic stories are. The terrorists need the media to disseminate their terror for them, which it does all too enthusiastically at times.
It’s a beautiful day today. After school. I’m going to take the kids to the beach. This summer, I’m going to write my own, personal news headlines: Kids enjoy splashing in the sea. Happy Bank Holiday had by all. Fun had at barbeque with friends. Kids declare summer holidays “best ever”.
For the world is more beautiful than we are led to believe. Terrorists want us to live in terror. We must cheerfully refuse their offer of fear.