Green Room

New Childhood Fears

posted at 11:35 am on April 20, 2009 by

Remember when you were a kid, and your biggest fears were the monster in the closet, and getting picked on at school because your parents wouldn’t let you get the cool jeans that everyone else had? And the interminable wait for your dad to get home and find out you broke a water balloon in the house?

Ok, I was pretty scared of being nuked by the Russians, but that was a reasonably abstract fear. Nothing I would’ve listed in my top five.

Kids today? Not so much.

A study on more than 1,000 children and adolescents in grades 2 through 12 found that some of the 20 most common fears include “terrorist attacks,” “having to fight in a war,” “drive-by shootings,” “tornadoes/hurricanes” and “drowning/swimming in deep water,” based on self-reports of how scary each of 98 events or concepts seems. The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Counseling and Development.

Drowning would be fairly universal, I guess. But terrorist attacks? Drive-by shootings? Yikes.

Here’s the breakdown of top fears by age:

Ages 7-10
1. Being kidnapped
2. Myself dying
3. AIDS
4. Not being able to breathe
5. Being threatened with a gun

Ages 11-14
1. AIDS
2. Not being able to breathe
3. Being kidnapped
4. Being raped
5. Being threatened with a gun

Ages 15-18
1. AIDS
2. Being raped
3. Not being able to breathe
4. Being threatened with a gun
5. Myself dying

Seven year olds are afraid of getting AIDS? 11 year olds are afraid of being raped? What in the world?

You tell me. Was I just raised very naive and sheltered? Are kids today overly paranoid? Or are these fears legitimate? And what was your biggest fear when you were a kid?

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Scary, ain’t it?

One of my kids a few years back brought home two pamphlets from school. The first had to do with AIDS prevention…a fifth grader…and the second had to do with what to do in our town if there was a terrorist attack on the schools.

OK…AIDS…a fifth grader? I’m OK with a little heads up on that one…sharing needless, or other things…but fifth grade? Was a time when fifth-graders had more important things to do with their time. Stamp collecting, baseball cards…

Scaring the hell out of kids with a “what to do when terrorists strike” pamphlet? In a town of 25,000, in the middle of the farm belt? Produced with State funding, by the local school board?

I find that there is just no common sense going around in our education system anymore…and the kids are taking the brunt of it.

Add to that, televised “news” or what passes for news…and let’s convince the kids that “George W. By-God Bush is going to sneak into their bedrooms in the middle of the night and have then wake up in Fallujah or Baghram, or Gitmo” while we are at it.

Want to have kids who are capable of dealing with the real world?

Stop the barrage of negative nasty stuff being thrown at them without so much as a meager attempt at a comforting explanation.

Let the kids learn how to gig frogs, read a real book, not this Harry Potter tripe, teach them how to make a fishing pole out of an old piece of cane, let the kids play with dolls, or cars and trucks, army men, in the back yard, let them get muddy, build a soap-box racer, or maybe just learn how to validate Lamaitre’s theory on the origin of the universe, or maybe expand on the notion of the cosmic constant…

[OK, that last one...my kids are gifted.]

But we are forcing our kids to be adults long long before most of the adults have learned to be adults.

No wonder they are developing inappropriate fears.

coldwarrior on April 20, 2009 at 12:16 PM

Oh, my biggest fear? Depends on the age. First it was yucky girls….then it became a fear of the Dad’s of some of those no longer yucky girls.

coldwarrior on April 20, 2009 at 12:23 PM

Greatest Childhood fear : Moving from the kids table to the adult table at Christmas.

Fuquay Steve on April 20, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Kids consume the same media that all of us do. Back in the day when news and commentary was fed to us through daily newspapers it was easier to live in ignorance of what actually goes on. There was also less crazy sh*t going on. But now, at 11 they’re online, using the same internet everyone else does, watching the same TV.

ernesto on April 20, 2009 at 12:42 PM

“drowning/swimming in deep water,”

Still scares the crap out of me. It was the only thing I had a fear of as a kid, to the point where I wouldn’t go out in the ocean past where I could stand until I was 15, and then only on a boogie board.

BadgerHawk on April 20, 2009 at 12:44 PM

Turn off the television, turn off the computer and take them out of your children’s bedrooms. Send them outside (into the backyard if the front is too scary) to play. Hand them a book instead of a remote control. Talk to them about their day. Talk to them about what you believe and why and if that differs from what they hear at school, explain to them why their teachers and the other students are wrong.

mchristian on April 20, 2009 at 12:46 PM

Maybe they’re afraid because no one is telling them that they can avoid AIDS by avoiding anal sex, promiscuous sex and IV drugs.

It’s not something that just happens to you – like monsters under the bed. You do something that increases the chances you’ll get it. Sort of like smoking …..

wtis02575 on April 20, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Wow. I would have thought #1 would’ve been global warming global cooling climate change.

eforhan on April 20, 2009 at 12:51 PM

With all the propaganda out there, I’m surprised Global Warming didn’t make the list.

MarkTheGreat on April 20, 2009 at 12:51 PM

I was afraid of sharks.

Sharks with friggin laser beams.

No seriously, sharks. My Dad got me one of those tapes with ocean sounds on it for Christmas one year. Son of B*tch dubbed in the music from Jaws about 20 minutes into it.

trubble on April 20, 2009 at 12:51 PM

I’m not surprised…here in Michigan they start pushing this stuff in public schools even earlier. As 3rd graders the get AIDS lessons and handouts. I was able to review the curriculum ahead of time and I actually opted my kids out that day because it was ridiculous. They could teach them the exact same lesson (what a third grader needs to know) about washing your hands and not touching another persons blood, etc. that will protect them from a whole variety of diseases and is just plain good sense – but they have to follow somebody’s agenda and plaster AIDS across every paper in 3 inch high letters. They don’t teach them what it is, of course…just that they should be scared of it.

Sideout on April 20, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Dang, eforhan beat me by seconds.

MarkTheGreat on April 20, 2009 at 12:53 PM

After my brother (13 years my senior) got his beast of a girlfriend pregnant, I spent my childhood avoiding girls for fear of knocking them up. I also remember fearing dogs.

I never really feared being kidnapped…well, not until someone actually tried it when I was about 11. Thankfully, I knew my city very well and managed to lose the creeps that had been following me for about 15 minutes. When one of them jumped out and chased after me, I cut through about 20 yards at probably 25 miles an hour. Never saw them again, but watched all grey 1980s Toyota Corollas like a hawk for many years afterwards.

MadisonConservative on April 20, 2009 at 12:54 PM

My 11 year old was due for a “mandatory” AIDS class that was “focused on prevention”? WHAT?

So I had him “opted-out”. He was only 2 of kids who didn’t attend.

Not for nothing, but by 11 year old doesn’t have to know about “prevention” of AIDS, given that he is not prone to unprotected sex and doesn’t shoot up heroin………

11 year olds are frightened by AIDS because the FEAR mongers in the public schools system force this information upon them.

SAD………….Isn’t it?

Alan Davidson

Opposite Day on April 20, 2009 at 12:55 PM

My 13 year old stepdaughter “Abbey” (not real) has a facebook account that I monitor. Some guy posted a video that had her in it. It was her and two boys just walking around. At one point, this boy points the camera at “Abbey” and the other boy and says “You should rape Abbey and tape it. Just push her to the ground now and rip off all her clothes”

Needless to say, her father blew a gasket. This was on Friday so I have no idea how we’re going to handle it short of strangling the kid. Obviously, we’ll have to find a better way of dealing with him.

So yes, young girls should be afraid of getting raped, especially when the young boys have no problems saying it to their faces.

By the way, thank god for facebook or else I would never have known this happened. Our first instinct was to make her delete the account, but I decided against it. I want to see what all her friends are saying and posting.

CookeyD on April 20, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Seven year olds are afraid of getting AIDS?

It’s almost as if they are being taught that it is completely out of their control, just a random event.

Did you notice that “being threatened with a gun” is on all the lists? There is something kind of funky about that.
Where is “getting in a car accident”?

Count to 10 on April 20, 2009 at 12:57 PM

Oh, my biggest fear? Depends on the age. First it was yucky girls….then it became a fear of the Dad’s of some of those no longer yucky girls.

coldwarrior on April 20, 2009 at 12:23 PM

And then it becomes those suspicious boys trying to steal your precious baby girls from their Dad.

And then it becomes, “When are you two ever going to give me any grandkids?”

And then it becomes the fear of beautiful women giving you a heart attack.

And then it becomes something else, but I’m too old to remember.

Loxodonta on April 20, 2009 at 1:07 PM

Should we tell them about about drug resistant bacteria and hepatitis 3. There was a time not long ago in human history when towns were hit with a polio scare. Families would get their young children out of town, quickly. I would challenge everyone that remarks on this thread to go to some old family graveyards and look a the tombstones for the childhood population. Diabetes today is treatable………in my grandfather’s lifetime it was something that people died of when it was contracted.

SC.Charlie on April 20, 2009 at 1:14 PM

Everyone has AIDS!
AIDS AIDS AIDS!
AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS!
Everyone has AIDS!

And so this is the end of our story
And everyone is dead from AIDS
It took from me my best friend
My only true pal
My only bright star (he died of AIDS)

Well I’m gonna march on Washington
Lead the fight and charge the brigades
There’s a hero inside of all of us
I’ll make them see everyone has AIDS

My father (AIDS!)
My sister (AIDS!)
My uncle and my cousin and her best friend (AIDS AIDS AIDS!)
The gays and the straights
And the white and the spades

Everyone has AIDS!
My grandma and my dog ‘ol blue (AIDS AIDS AIDS)
The pope has got it and so do you (AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS)
C’mon everybody we got quilting to do (AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS)
We gotta break down these baricades, everyone has
AIDS! x 20

Darksbane on April 20, 2009 at 1:22 PM

When I was a young child, actually, up until I was 14 or so, my biggest fear was that some sort of freaky cosmic event would blow away our atmosphere at night, and that I wouldn’t know we didn’t have any air left – because you can see through the sky at night. Why yes, I read a ton of sci fi. :D I also went through a phase where I was afraid to fall asleep, because I didn’t understand how my body kept breathing when asleep. If I could control my breathing while awake, what controlled it when I was asleep? Strange, abstract, off-the-wall fears driven by an over-active imagination, not caused by AIDS or Guns R Evil classes in school.

My daughter’s greatest fear at the age of 6 is that I’ll force her to eat asperagus. Children should be aware of dangers in the world, but not fearful. I intend to inform our kids about how to handle scary situations, and how to turn that fear into the courage to face what’s before them. Oh, and opting out of any fishy classes provided by the school about subjects I’d rather broach on my own time.

Anna on April 20, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Dogs, my Uncle Angelo’s black leather gloves, Sister Mary Petra, Miss Rosie at nursery school, the complete dark….

qestout on April 20, 2009 at 2:18 PM

Seven year olds are afraid of getting AIDS? …What in the world?

Because the only way to make the majority of AIDS victims heroes in the eyes of children, instead of people suffering the consequences of their risky behavior, is either to downplay or ignore the roll of the behavior when discussing AIDS, or to present the behavior as completely normal and just a part of every-day unavoidable life. E.g. everybody could get AIDS, even YOU!

And BTW, where is “death of parents” in this survey?

29Victor on April 20, 2009 at 2:23 PM

I think this might just be a function of how the study was done.

It sounds like they gave the kids a list of horrible things that might happen to them and then the kids had to rank them.

based on self-reports of how scary each of 98 events or concepts seems.

So if a kid was left to his own devices, he might very well say my neighbor’s pit bull, or my night light going out. But if the list he’s given has things like AIDS and terrorists on it and he has an even passing knowledge of what these things are he would probably choose them over other more innocent fears.

benji on April 20, 2009 at 2:31 PM

Thank you, GOP.

radiofreevillage on April 20, 2009 at 2:39 PM

And BTW, where is “death of parents” in this survey?

29Victor on April 20, 2009 at 2:23 PM

Because in our new Utopian society, who needs parents? The state provides all…from womb petri dish to tomb cryrogenic sustainment container.

coldwarrior on April 20, 2009 at 2:44 PM

benji on April 20, 2009 at 2:31 PM

I agree.

qestout on April 20, 2009 at 2:51 PM

Im still pretty sure Acid Rain is going to kill my family. Thanks public education!

daesleeper on April 20, 2009 at 2:52 PM

As a kid I did not experience any of these 5 fears.

Being born in 51 I recall feeling safe as a child. I also had a sort of abstract fear of war with russia or china. I had a fear of heights. a fear of fights with the bullies but foght them anyway so I did not have to fear them. as a teenager I had a fear of my girlfriends pregnancy (shotgun wedding). I cannot remember any other childhood fears, these seem trivial now.

I have to wonder how much of these 5 fears come from training? It would be a horrible person putting paronia into a childs thoughts.

I was told of kidnapping and rape and to watch out for strangers, I was not taught to fear them.

allrsn on April 20, 2009 at 3:02 PM

we taught our children to be afraid of strangers because we live in a really small town. we wanted them to be aware that not everyone was kin to them or one of daddy’s clients.

my daughter was afraid of (and probably still is) bugs.

i was afraid of not living up to my parents’ expectations.

kelley in virginia on April 20, 2009 at 4:30 PM

I have to wonder how much of these 5 fears come from training? It would be a horrible person putting paronia into a childs thoughts.

I was told of kidnapping and rape and to watch out for strangers, I was not taught to fear them. – allrsn on April 20, 2009 at 3:02 PM

We are all exposed to the endless 24/7 news cycle. Missing and murdered children/teenagers are hot topics. The list to myself seems endless. And, today children grow up drinking milk from cartons of missing children.

SC.Charlie on April 20, 2009 at 4:35 PM

A lot of this comes from the way teachers, and popular culture, labor to “raise consciousness” about various horrors. That would tend to explain the high ranking given to AIDS, which is a far less immediate concern for most kids than a variety of other medical problems, but gets a lot of energetic public relations work from the media.

Part of it comes from the sea of information kids are swimming in. The kind of thing you used to hear second- or third-hand from your best friends, told around a flashlight in a tent made from bedsheets, is now linked right on the MySpace home page of the average seven-year-old. It was one thing to whisper about terrible crimes and accidents, knowing that half of everything your friends told you was nonsense. It’s another thing to see it presented in clinical detail, with exact dates, times, and .JPG images.

I think some of the sense of grimly resigned fear gripping the young comes from the sense that nobody is doing anything about all these dreadful crimes and tragedies. When I was a pre-teen, I had the comforting impression that bad guys were punished, and not necessarily by the cops. Most of us had fathers who read about crimes against children, and loudly pronounced that anyone who did such a thing to their little boy or girl would be lucky if the police got to him first. We found that comforting. Today’s atomized, rootless children, raised so often in single-parent homes by busy mothers they rarely get to see, might be lacking that sense of a mighty clan standing ready to avenge any harm done to them. Even seven-year-olds can read the news and conclude the government is most likely going to show up long after the crime is done, and most of the drama will take place in the courtroom, after the victim is a sad memory.

My impression as a child is that, if anyone had threatened me, the drama would have taken place immediately, courtesy of my enraged father. It may not have been a completely realistic feeling, but it certainly was comforting. In the America of 2009, there is nothing particularly comforting about the vast, incompetent total state, for either adults or children.

Doctor Zero on April 20, 2009 at 5:06 PM

But now, at 11 they’re online, using the same internet everyone else does, watching the same TV.

Commenting on blogs. :)

aengus on April 21, 2009 at 11:04 AM