The World Isn't More Dangerous; You're More Paranoid
When I was growing up, other kids my age and I would play outside without our parents or guardians’ constant supervision. At the time, that was normal. We were told what to do if approached by a stranger. We’d walk home from school in groups. We didn’t have our phones on us because it was the nineties and early thousands and why would young kids need phones anyway. That was then.
How things work now is a very different story. News stories keep coming out about horrible parents who don’t keep their kids on a leash. (That was an exaggeration. Please do not start putting leashes on your kids.) You know what I’m talking about. “Kid Walks Home From School Without Adult! Shock Horror Gasp!” Those stories. As little as five-ten years ago, those stories wouldn’t be news. Giving kids some space wouldn’t be child abuse. Tracking your kid’s every movement would be considered crazy. So what changed? Quite a few things actually.
People now believe more than ever that the world is incredibly dangerous; everyone is out to harm their kid. While being protective of your kid is normal, letting it reach helicopter parent status isn’t healthy for you or your children. So where did the “helicopter parent” come from? One possible explanation lies in a communication theory that came out in the seventies: cultivation analysis.
Developed in the late sixties and into the seventies by researchers George Gerber and his colleague Lawrence Gross, cultivation analysis proposes that the more violent television people watch, the more violent and dangerous they think the world is.
According to the 2014 Nielsen Report, Americans watch, on average, five hours of television a day, or thirty-five hours a week. And that number goes up as people get older. That means the people watching the most television are the ones raising kids. And while cultivation analysis’ scope is limited to just television, the basic concept it presents can be applied to other media. Thanks to YouTube and Netflix being available on pretty much every device ever, people can watch whatever they want, whenever. Video game graphics have also increased in realism dramatically over the past ten years, and thanks to franchises like Call of Duty, violent games are now being played by a widespread audience numbered in the tens of millions.
So not only has the different kinds of media increased, but the amount of realism and availability has dramatically increased over the past forty years. And the news has changed too. In an effort to stay as sensationalized as possible, many news programs have become increasingly shoutcasty and make everything sound like the most horrible thing that could possibly happen.
I’m looking at you Fox and MSNBC.
So the media world of today is very different from how things were when cultivation analysis theory entered textbooks. But if the theory states that there is a positive relationship between the amount of violent media consumed and how violent people think the world is, then what does that mean for all the people consuming more violent media now than ever?
According to various FBI reports, Crime rates have actually been declining since the nineties. But an increased consumption of violent media (including news reports covering violent topics) has warped people’s perception into thinking the world is more dangerous than it is. Combine that with social media and cellphones making it possible for parents to always know where their kid is and where they are going and you have the helicopter parent.
That’s not to say that the world isn’t dangerous. But rather it is safer now than it was twenty plus years ago. You know, back when kids were allowed out of the house without their parents following them everywhere they went.