As James Holmes returns Monday to the spotlight, the debate over how much media coverage that movie theater killer deserves will start again. At the same time, a more personal side of that debate is emerging for parents: Will I pay attention?
The answer to that question may have lasting repercussions. Some might think studying the news accounts will heighten our ability to perceive danger. Others, like me, think it’s more likely to fuel up our parental helicopters.
Mass shootings are as horrific as they are rare. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that our children are not in realistic danger of falling victim to a madman. That’s because media coverage can change perceptions of realistic safety concerns.
Several studies have shown that older children are more frightened of what they see on television news than what they witness in fictional movies. One, cited in the journal of Children and Electronic Media, found the more television news a child watched, the more likely he was to fear being kidnapped.
The same is true for parents, maybe more so. We may know that stranger abduction is highly unlikely, but the pervasive coverage of the rare child abduction case has transformed the way we keep tabs on our children.
Are mass shootings so different? Will our attention to this case make us more likely to use a parental leash for older children, at precisely the age when they are learning independence?
“I think the fact that this happened at a movie that many of our kids will be seeing is making us rethink what is appropriate for our children to do on their own and at what ages,” Joanne Bamberger told me.
Bamberger is a D.C. mother who blogs under the name PunditMom and last week wrote for the Huffington Post about how the shooting has heightened her fear.
“ … now I see that maybe my hovering will be increasing, rather than decreasing, in the wake of the recent mass shooting outside of Denver,” she wrote
Meanwhile, parents have been seriously debating whether to send their kids to the movies alone.
One mother, responding to a TodayMoms Facebook query, said that she would continue to allow her children to go to movies unsupervised — but only after she briefed them on what to do if a gunfight breaks out.
The antidote to this may be to avoid the news coverage of the Holmes trial. Or, if it’s parentally possible, to watch while constantly reminding ourselves that this will not happen to our own children.
Are you reading and watching news about the Aurora shooting? If so, have you noticed a different level of anxiety?