A recent flurry of media activity here, here, and here on the subject of parents getting in trouble with police has brought an interesting question to mind: Is it reality, or just stories on the fringes being reported?
Let me delve into what I mean. We’ve all seen those stories on the news of babies left in hot cars and accidentally killed by heat stroke when parents change their routines and forget about the baby. Or how about the all-too-familiar stories of the abduction, rape, and murder of a youngster who was innocently playing at the park and mom turned around for 5 minutes and when she turned back around her kiddo was nowhere to be found.
These stories strike terror into my heart, and probably into the collective hearts of all parents.
This is why they make such great news. They’re graphic, they excite deep and profound emotions, and the average viewer actually cares about these types of stories. This is why news agencies have been running them on high speed for decades.
So, when we read all these recent opinion columns about how our communities are full of “Bad Samaritans” who all prefer to call the police rather than actually help a kid find his way home from Family Dollar, or talk to the mom who let her daughter play at the park while she worked across the street at McDonald’s, or, my favorite, the bystander who videotaped the boy left in a car for five minutes on a 50-degree day and then called the cops instead of talking to his mom, how representative are these stories, really?
The examples listed above actually happened, but these are only three stories out of how many? How often are kids actually left in the car for five minutes while dad runs in to pay for gas and grab some gum while keeping tabs on them through the store window the whole time? We can’t know how many of these occurrences go unreported and how many Good Samaritans don’t call the police on parents everyday.
Are we really living in a culture where strangers would all call the authorities on us on a whim, or are these just the stories making headlines because they strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere?
Parents are just as terrified to leave their kids in the car for five minutes because of Nosy Suzy, who might have her arrested and thrown in jail for six months, as they are of the incredibly unlikely chance that their kid will be abducted. After all, we’re safer now from stranger abductions than we were 40 years ago. But you wouldn’t know that from the news.