“Call me when you get there.” This instruction has been received in some form by adolescent and adult children for as long as most of us can remember. While innocently intended to ease the anxiety of parents, the need to check in on your children (or have them check in with you) often creates conflicts in families. Where one should draw the line is a little blurry, particularly with the rise in technological advances, such as digital monitoring software. However, one thing is clear, parents are scared, and many find relief in what can be described as compulsive checking.
In my practice, I have noticed that more and more of my patients who are parents of adult children are citing increased violence as driving their need for reassurance that their children are safe. “You hear about these horrors on the news every day,” stated one parent. Another explained, “It’s a dangerous world out there.” But how dangerous is it? I wondered if there is a difference between the perceived and actual risk of being the victim of a violent crime based on available reports.
In an admittedly unscientific fashion, I conducted an online poll of mothers regarding their perception of violent crimes (I can discuss the many flaws in my study at a later time). Indeed, more than 50 percent of the 64 respondents felt that violence is on the rise, 36% felt that violent crimes are staying about the same and 14 percent stated that the frequency of violent crimes has decreased.
So, what does the research say? In a report published January 2019, John Gramlich of the Pew Research Center analyzed information from two primary sources of crime statistics, an annual report by the FBI of crimes reported to the police and a survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which asks Americans if they were victims of crimes, regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police. The results were unequivocal. Violent crime rates in the United States peaked in the early 1990’s and have steeply declined since then. Although there have been occasional small increases from year to year, the overall trend has been downward.
The reason why we misperceive the risk of violence is a matter of great debate. Some suggest that present-day media is biased towards stories about violence, while others believe that increased access to information is to blame. No matter your perspective, we all can agree that it’s good news that Americans are in fact safer today than they have been in the past. However, that knowledge may not be enough to lessen the fears of a parent waiting anxiously for the phone to buzz and provide that reassurance all is well.
Here are a few suggestions that may help:
- Apply Logic: Does your child have a history of making good decisions? Is he or she in a generally safe area? If the answers are “yes,” their risk may be lower.
- Role Reversal: What would you tell a friend who was worried about the same problem? Can you give yourself the same advice?
- Delay: Rather than immediately giving in to the impulse to check in, delay that impulse for awhile and then gradually lengthen the time. With repetition, the anxiety will decrease and you will be more tolerant of that uncertainty.
- Let Go: I recently asked a patient how she would feel if her adult daughter (who checked in daily) had to be out of touch for a few days. “Oh, that happened recently,” she responded “I felt great!” Not surprisingly, when forced, she was able to let go of the need for reassurance. With some effort you can do this, too.
Francine Rosenberg, PsyD., practices cognitive-behavior therapy, specializing in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as other anxiety disorders.
Gramlich, John. (2019, January 3). 5 Facts About Crime in the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org