Feb 6, 2024

Scary Versus Dangerous: Worry About the Right Stuff

Scary Versus Dangerous: Worry About the Right Stuff

scary v dangerous
scary v dangerous
scary v dangerous

As a former English teacher, I believe words and language matter a great deal to our understanding of the world, and I am a big fan of unpacking the roots and meanings of words. For example, let’s look at scary and dangerous. 

Scary is an adjective that means “causing fright.” An earlier form of this word, sker, is the Middle English word for “fear” or “dread.” 

Dangerous means “able or likely to inflict injury, harm, pain, or loss.” The origin of this word is the Old French word dangeros, meaning “power to harm.”

Scary things often make the headlines. We read and hear a lot about scary events even though the likelihood of their happening is low (like kidnapping). And because of our constant exposure to these scary but ultimately rare experiences (these types of headlines are the most successful clickbait, after all), our perception is skewed: we end up thinking the scary things are actually dangerous.

But they are not. 

Something that is dangerous - but common - rarely makes the headlines. However, truly dangerous situations are detrimental to our health and well-being. But because these more-common-but-dangerous things - even if they’re likely harmful - are not very clickbaity and therefore don’t appear in our newsfeeds, our perception of these dangers minimizes their seriousness. 

We don’t worry about dangerous things the way we worry about scary things.

That is a bold statement (literally and figuratively - ha!). But in my work to build a tech-intentional movement, part of that includes helping parents shift from worrying about the “scary” but rare things and focus more on the truly “dangerous” things we often overlook– without letting our own emotions get hijacked and overrun us, of course.

Easier said than done, I know.

Parents think that giving kids unlimited access to smartphones or smartwatches (yes, smartwatches, too) is not dangerous– after all, at least they are at home, right? Where we are physically nearby… But letting them go to a different aisle in the grocery store by themselves? Way too dangerous (we think).

Giving our kids smartphones requires a necessary shift in our thinking: 

Smartphones (and smartwatches) are not scary; they are dangerous. And letting our kids walk to a different aisle alone in the grocery store is not dangerous, even if it might be scary. 

The most recent data show that 43% of 8-12-year-olds have their own smartphone (around 90% for 13-18-year-olds) (Common Sense Media, 2023). But half of parents do not feel comfortable letting their 9-11 year old go to a different aisle in the grocery store alone (University of Michigan, 2023). 

Another example: parents think Roblox (and if you thought it was called “Roadblocks,” you definitely need to keep reading!) is a safe online space for kids to play games. First of all, Roblox is not one game; it is many games. There is a huge range of quality and experience within the Roblox world. And unfortunately, child predators find Roblox a great way to connect to young, unsuspecting children online. Roblox is currently the most popular platform in the United States for children 5–12 years old, with 52 million daily active users. Predators are known to hang out in games that children frequent. 

Another example is that social media companies know their products are harmful to young people: Meta’s own internal research, leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen to the Wall Street Journal, shows that Meta has known since 2018 that Instagram harms teen girls. Yet Meta has yet to make any sort of meaningful change to protect young girls online, and quite frankly, I do not believe that they ever will– until they decide to put people over profits. 

(On Wednesday, Jan. 31, Big Tech executives testified before Congress about their practices. Click here to read my essay on the testimony.)

Another example: the U.S. military prohibits service members from using TikTok on government-issued devices because the platform is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese AI company. Yet 63% of kids aged 13-17 use TikTok regularly, with 17% saying they use TikTok “almost constantly” (Pew Research, 2023). Technology companies mine personal information on children to intentionally push “personalized” content, increasing the likelihood they will stay on the device longer. If it’s not safe for the U.S. military, why is it safe for children? (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)

Beyond the dangers of predators, reduced self-esteem, and privacy leaks, smartphones and excessive screentime have been shown to impact our children’s health in other ways in the past several years. For instance, research by Victoria L. Dunckley, a developmental child psychiatrist and author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, has highlighted increased rates of psychiatric diagnoses (e.g., ADHD, depression, anxiety, tics, and autism), chronic medical conditions (e.g., obesity and high cholesterol), disability filings (mostly for neuropsychological issues), and medication use (e.g., stimulants for ADHD and antipsychotics) among children. She has also noted increases in adverse effects on their mental health, sleep, weight, and creative play.

And it’s not just the experts who are concerned about this; parental anecdotes are equally revealing. Many parents tell me: 

  • “I wish I had waited on giving them a smartphone.” 

  • “I wish I hadn’t given them social media access yet.” 

  • “I wish I had known then what I know now.” 

I understand– when our children are young, we don’t always know what is coming. And because things have changed so rapidly, it is even more difficult to know what’s right or good about screentime and parenting and what to avoid or limit.

That’s honestly why I wrote my book. It is intended to be the guide that you need to prepare you for the tween years and beyond by starting when your children are young. Sure, technology will continue to change rapidly, but a Tech-Intentional™ approach to screentime will always work. 

Parents, much of the screentime battle comes down to addressing our own fears, anxieties, and misconceptions about what is really dangerous about technology– and not letting ourselves get hijacked by click-bait, doom-scrolling, fear-inducing, and rare stories pushed to us by algorithms.

You’ve got this.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.