As a parent, I am scared of everything. A day does not pass by when I don't think about my toddler son's future. And not just the tangible, practical stuff like where he'll go to school and if he'll find a fulfilling career. What I actually worry about most is how he will exist in the world today, tomorrow, when he's a teenager, and beyond. I'm afraid for his emotional, mental, and physical health and safety. It seems, too, that I'm not the only parent who carries this burden. All you have to do is read through this new survey on parents' top fears for a sense of what I mean.
On Wednesday, security ranking-and-review site A Secure Life published its survey results on parents' worst fears and found that five worries topped the list. Most parents, it seems, are scared their kids would be hurt in an accident, attacked or hurt by someone else, feel unsafe in the world, be kidnapped or abducted, or be bullied. Out of those top five fears, 30 percent of American parents surveyed said they were most worried their kids would be hurt in an accident, making unintentional injury the most common fear above all, according to A Secure Life's study.
It's not surprising, though, that most parents are afraid their kid would become hurt or killed in an accident. In 2015, unintentional injury was the leading cause of death among children 1 to 14 years old, as well as teenagers, millennials, and adults up to 44 years old, according to the World Health Organization. When broken down, road traffic accidents were the most common cause of fatality that year among kids and young adults ages 5 to 24, while accidental drowning was the number one cause of death for 1- to 4-year-old children, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Accidental injury or death is one of my fears, but not the strongest one. Instead, I am more in line with the 25 percent of parents who told A Secure Life that they're scared someone will hurt or attack their kid. As a journalist, I am exposed to first-hand accounts of children being abused, assaulted, or killed by another person, be it a stranger or family member. As a legal assistant, my son's father is also exposed to similar stories daily. So it's hard to not let that fear seep in. Never mind that, according to the CDC, homicide was the third leading cause of death among children 1 to 4 years old, and fourth among kids 5 to 14 years old.
More so, kids and teenagers in the United States are 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in more than two dozen other countries, according to the Children's Defense Fund. This is disproportionately true for children of color: In 2010, Black youth were nearly five times and Latinx youth more than three times more likely to be killed by guns than their white counterparts, the Children's Defense Fund found.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, more parents worry that their children won't feel safe in the world than have fears about abduction or bullying combined. Twenty-three percent of parents surveyed reported feeling scared their kids will feel unsafe, while only 14 percent said they feared their child would be kidnapped and 8 percent feared their kid will be bullied, according to A Secure Life's findings.
To be honest, I can understand why parents would worry if their child didn't feel safe. You don't want your kid moving through the world fearing it. But, as A Secure Life noted, accidental injury and bullying are far greater threats to a child's safety.
For example, nearly 50 percent of students in the United States reported being bullied at school, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of that number, 9 percent of kids in grades 6 to 12 reported being cyberbullied; more than half were LGBTQ students, HHS found.
As for abduction, there were more than 20,500 cases of missing children last year, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. But only 7 percent were due to family or non-family abductions. The majority of missing children were endangered runaways.
So how do you protect your kids? You don't. I've come to accept that parenthood is a journey built on a foundation of fears. I can take the proper measures to make sure my son's car seat is installed correctly or that his hypothetical bullies are held accountable for their actions. But there are also so many things that are out of my and his father's control. No matter the number of safety precautions I take, I can't guarantee that I will stop an accident from happening that I didn't see coming.
I don't know anyone who would argue that it's unhealthy to worry. It's how you choose to let that worry inform your choices as a parent, though, that matters. For a while, I have let my fears suffocate my son's freedom, always hovering above him. But that only serves to hinder his growth. If nothing else, A Secure Life's findings have shown me that, instead of being fearful, I need to take more care in being cautious and let my son form his own relationship to the world.
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