When we become moms, we tend to worry more about the dangers of the world and how this might affect our children. We pay more attention to all the bad news and convince ourselves that our society is scarier than ever… And now there’s a handy app to provide real-time confirmation bias!
In this article, Joel Stein of The LA Times shares his thoughts on Next Door, and it’s ability to turn people into a bunch of nosy, paranoid Gladys Kravitz’s. If you haven’t already heard of Next Door, it’s an app that serves as a virtual bulletin board and neighborhood watch that’s specific to its user’s geographical area. You can join your neighborhood’s Next Door group to receive real time reports on suspicious transients, possible package thieves, neighbors who aren’t following the letter of the law, and a whole rotating collection of petty crimes. It’s pretty hilarious.
According to Mr. Stein, his neighborhood’s Next Door serves as “a local news show anchored by George Zimmerman.” It’s an “alternative reality where black Audis terrorize and everyone is a meth-addled menace.” His home is in the Hollywood Hills. I suspect that the more affluent the neighborhood, the more outrageous and frequent the Next Door crime reports.
I signed up for Next Door in my mom’s neighborhood a while ago because I wanted to post a Help Wanted ad for a part-time babysitter. (Next Door isn’t just for crime reports, although it’s the most popular and engaging feature). I now receive Gmail alerts every time something “suspicious” is going down. My mom lives in a wealthy parkside community of retired folks so as you can imagine, I’m receiving alerts many times a day. It’s as if someone went up to that granny who’s peering with suspicion from behind the cracked blinds, handed her a laptop, and showed her how to use it. That granny is ecstatic because now she has a voice and feels empowered in a way she never had before.
My own mother, like her neighbors, has fallen prey to the Next Door paranoia. She lives in a quiet community of million dollar homes and she just chained down her patio furniture. Meanwhile, I live in the so-called hood and have had the same busted wicker chair on my front lawn for months, and nobody’s touched it.
My problem with Next Door, besides the obvious racism (black person just walking through a nice neighborhood = Stranger Danger!) is that it feels like the next progression in the 24-hour news cycle that has been fanning the flames of fear in our culture for a while now. Our society uses fear as a selling tactic, politicians base their propaganda around this fear, and people are fully convinced that the world is more dangerous now than it’s ever been before. But I’m here to say: Mama, that’s an utter load of CRAP! The world is actually safer now than throughout all of human history. And here are some comforting facts to take into consideration the next time your phone pings with the latest stranger danger alert…
Current Crime Rates: Reality versus Perception
Did you know that crime in the United States has been on the decline for the past two decades? The crime rate is nearly half what it was twenty-four years ago and in this time, violent crimes have gone down by 51 percent while property crimes have decreased by 43 percent.
Criminologists have been floating a variety of theories to explain this trend, many of which are outlined in this interesting Vox.com article. Reasons range from higher incarceration rates and economic improvements to the removal of lead in gasoline (!).
Whatever the reason, crime has been going down and we have every reason to feel safer. However, according to the Pew Research Center, the public perception of the crime rate is at odds with all this data. In 17 Gallup surveys conducted since 1993, at least six in ten Americans believed that crime was up nationally from the year before, despite the downward trend in both violent crime and property crime. Interesting to note, Americans were less likely to say that crime was up in their specific neighborhood – about half of Americans agreed with this statement in 20 polls conducted since 1996.
As outlined out in this Psychology Today article, the world as a whole is in fact becoming a safer place. In most regions, rates of homicide and sexual assault have been on the decline for decades, and the number of interstate wars have been plummeting worldwide since 1945. Our planet is currently experiencing the safest time in all of human history.
The reason we don’t feel any safer lies in our evolution: Human beings have evolved to prioritize the avoidance of bad things over seeking out the good. Because of this, we now have a 24/7 news cycle that pipes all the bad and scary things onto our devices and into our living rooms. As they say in the news industry: “If it bleeds, it leads!” And according to Psychology Today, we tend to see all the crime and violence as “the whole truth [rather than a] small part of the truth.”
Crime Rates Against Children
This being a website focused on parenting, I’d like to conclude this article with some optimistic news about crime rates against children, as brought to you by SAHM.com. This article points out that “between 1970 and 2009, every category of child victimization has declined by a significant percentage.” This includes:
- Child sexual abuse: Down 53%
- Physical abuse: Down 52%
- Aggravated assault: Down 69%
- Robbery: Down 62%
- Larceny: Down 54%
So while we tend to worry that our children are less safe walking home from school than we were in the eighties, the fact is they’re statistically less likely to encounter danger. And that to me is some news worth sharing on Next Door.