I am the mother of five children. They range in age from twenty-five down to seven.
When my twenty-two year old son came home to visit recently, he made the observation that I don’t frighten my little ones enough.
I was horrified. “What?” I stammered. “What on earth do you mean?”
He went on to tell me that his memories of childhood were strung together with nightmares and phobias constructed by me. I argued that he must have been mistaken but no, he categorically listed them for me.
- If you don’t go to sleep, sandman will tip sand into your eyes.
- If you put your hand out the car window, a truck will go by and rip it off.
- Walk down the road in the opposite direction to the traffic so baddies don’t swoop you up as they drive past.
- Don’t swallow chewing gum or you’ll die.
- Don’t pick your nose or your head will cave in.
- If you swear the police will arrest you. (I’d be serving three consecutive life sentences if this was true!)
He even reminded me of how terrified his little brother Harry was of those dress-up characters in shopping centres. There was a man in a chicken suit at Franklins one day and little Harry was beside himself with fear.
From that day on, whenever Harry was naughty or disobedient he was told that the Chicken-Man would get him. I question this story and think that perhaps the older boys were more guilty of that one that me.
I also question the allegation that I once sat the older boys down to watch Mommie Dearest to show them what a really scary mother looked like, so that they would appreciate me more. Did I really do that?
But the truth is parents are Santa Claus and the Bogeyman at the same time. Is that such a bad thing?
These days we are probably more politically correct and don’t scream at the kids bouncing and shouting in the back seat, ‘If you don’t stop that I’ll drive straight to Freddie Kruger’s place and drop you off!’ but we all do indulge in a little control therapy from time to time by falling back on the oldest and strongest emotion – fear.
It’s not completely our fault. Society has taught us that fear is a mighty tool in the arsenal of ‘control’. Just look at North Korea. Hell is the capital city of Fear.
These days we like to think of ourselves as more mindful with our child-rearing but even our everyday language is laden with fear messages. Of course, today we live in a scarier world….or do we?
Are there really more people being snatched off the side of the road? How many little hands have actually been ripped off by passing trucks? What are the hospital statistics on chewing- gum-gut syndrome?
Despite the moral panic of ‘stranger danger’ the statistics still show that children are at more risk from people known to them than complete strangers.
Perhaps we are not afraid so much for our children as for ourselves. We cherish our cherubs and don’t think that WE could cope if anything untoward ever happened to them.
We keep them close and monitored because it makes feel safer. We are burdening our kids with all our own fears which in turn were given to us in our childhoods. The greatest thing that we can fear, as the cliché goes, is fear itself.
Fear is a crippling emotion and stops us from spreading our wings and learning to fly. Some fear is healthy and stimulates our fight or flight reflexes.
‘Fear appeal’ is a concept employed globally by media, health sectors, governments and best friends with the intention of persuading the target to act in a certain way. Sometimes this is a positive move because fear motivates action.
If you were to yell ‘Fire!’ in a busy store you’d see that in action. The anti-tobacco and drink-driving messages are fear-laden but in these cases the fear is much healthier than the alternative. Remember that old Grim Reaper ad from the eighties?
On the other hand, it is sobering to remember how many people died as a result of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fear campaign.
At the end of the day, perhaps a little healthy terror is good for all of us.
It’s about balance.
If you make a habit of using scare tactics then that is probably destructive, but if you use fear to make a valid point, that can be a powerful deterrent to dangerous behaviour. Now and again.
Harry’s a teenager now and he just went out to a party. I called after him and waved a cautionary finger.
‘No under-age drinking or getting into a car with ANYONE…..or the Chicken-Man will get you!’
His face went white and his lips began to quiver. I had him! Who would have thought the old chook could still wield that kind of punch?
MORE ARTICLES BY NIKKI WATTERS
*Nikki McWatters has had a varied career, from film and television acting to teaching to legal counselling. She lives in Queensland with her husband and children. One Way or Another: The Story of a Girl Who Loved Rock Stars is her first book. It was shortlisted for the Emerging Author Award in the former Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and is published by Black Inc.