Don’t Be Scared! You Won’t Be Attacked By A Shark

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When my children were little, they went to an elementary school about a quarter-mile from our house. As short of a distance as that is, do you think I let them walk to and from school?


I noticed that I wasn’t the only one in my neighborhood who drove their kids to and from school. In fact, it seemed that most parents were doing the same as me.

Why? Because we didn’t want our kids to get abducted, obviously.

To be clear, we chose to remove the chance for our kids to experience walking to and from school with friends freely (and get a bit of exercise) in order to eliminate the risk of abduction.

Let’s look at some stats:

  • In 2010, there were 200,000 child abductions in the U.S. Yikes, that’s a big number.
  • Only around 100 of those are perpetrated by strangers. The rest are parental abductions, where one parent of a split couple takes their own child unlawfully.
  • The prevalence of child obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents.

So, I protected my kids from being one of the 100 people abducted each year by putting them at risk of being one of almost 14 million children who are obese (due in part, I’d argue, to a lack of exercise).

Based on the numbers, I made a poor decision.

We do this all the time. Fear of flying, fear of swimming in the ocean to avoid shark attack, and avoiding travel to foreign countries to avoid terrorist violence.

This has a science-y name—the availability heuristic.

This tendency to believe that things readily available in our memory are important—it’s not necessarily bad. In fact, it can be a nice shortcut when trying to make a quick decision. We just need to temper its use with the understanding that it is not super reliable.

The importance of information has been amped up by the constant news coverage and the sensationalistic nature of most TV news.

Some quick examples from 2018:

  • 40,000 deaths in motor vehicles in the U.S. 1 airline fatality.
  • 36,000 deaths due to falling down. 4 deaths due to shark attack.

I’ll bet most who avoid air travel and swimming in the ocean get in cars and walk down the street.

Let your kids walk to school. It’s fine.

Also, don’t worry about poisoned or tainted Halloween candy. It has never happened.

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