Although statistics show that rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s, fear of these crimes is at an all-time high. Even the panic-inducing Megan's Law website says stranger abduction is rare and that 90% of child sexual-abuse cases are committed by someone known to the child. Yet we still suffer a crucial disconnect between perception of crime and its statistical reality. A child is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as kidnapped by a stranger, but it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope.
And when a child is parked on the living room floor, he or she may be safe, but is safety the sole objective of parenting? The ultimate goal is independence, and independence is best fostered by handing it out a little at a time, not by withholding it in a trembling fist that remains clenched until it's time to move into the dorms.
The very most dangerous thing your typical middle-class child is likely to do is to . . . be driven in a car somewhere by his parents. Obviously, fatal car wrecks are reasonably rare—tons of people drive every single day and the overwhelming majority survive. But people are still much more likely to be killed in car wrecks than by criminals.
To be fair, local news doesn't skimp on the scare stories about bad drivers and "something in your car that might kill you!" But Yglesias is saying that regular, non-exploding tires or driver-on-cellphone accidents occur so frequently as to render the "predators gonna gitcha!" scares meaningless. The difference, though, is that journalists and politicians can convince parents that the the predator problem can be solved. Either the parents can clamp down on everything their kids do, or the state can pass awesome new laws banning MySpace in schools, etc.