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Yes, You Can Be Too Careful: Small Steps Toward Better Parenting


“Well, it could happen.”

As I’ve written before in the context of discussions about homeland security, this is one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language. The fear of harm from terrorism in the aftermath of September 11 has been used to justify the creation of a massive, wasteful, ineffective, and invasive “homeland security” infrastructure that expends enormous resources to reduce the probability of terrorism-related injury from almost zero to just a little bit closer to zero. In matters of national security policy, we aren’t very good at assessing and dealing with real risks. In matters of day-to-day life—like parenting—we aren’t very good at it, either.

The extremes to which parents go to protect their children from incredibly unlikely dangers provide a case in point. The same sort of “every child or wheelchair-bound leukemia patient is a potential terrorist” thinking that helps us not only tolerate but embrace what Bruce Schneier calls “security theater” at airports also gives us fear-fueled helicopter parenting motivated by a shivering conviction that everyone is a potential child molester and every hard surface a potential source of of brain damage.

This thinking is fueled by spectacular news stories about heartbreaking tragedies. Something becomes newsworthy because it is out-of-the-ordinary, and yet a lot of people form their views about the probable risks they face by watching TV news and reading newspapers.

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Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.
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