Parenting Paranoia in the Digital Age



When I get a little too anxious about perfectly curating comfort and safety for my children, my mom likes to remind me that she brought my oldest brother home to the tractor shed where she and my dad lived, and put him to sleep in a laundry basket, and guess what? He survived.

It’s true, my parents were “live off the land” hippies who, to say the least, parented with far fewer comforts and conveniences than we do today. The tractor shed was only a temporary home while they built a house, but even that house featured a few hazards that would make many of us modern parents gasp—no running water to constantly scrub every surface clean and steep steps with no railings. All of this with four kids, and my parents really didn’t worry too much about any of it.

Here, I think, is the difference: the internet. My parents could put their babies in laundry baskets and have us scamper up steps with no railings because the internet wasn’t there to tell them to worry. Now all of the horrible freak accidents that lay waiting in our everyday lives are delivered to us daily via our smartphones and computer screens.

I see articles about how parents today are overbearing, overprotective, and stressed out. While I think it might be a bit overblown, when I look at how my parents approached parenting and how I approach parenting, I can certainly see a difference.

When my mom was raising kids, she usually only heard about terrible accidents if they happened in her immediate area, which thankfully, means she heard of a lot fewer tragedies. But today bad news floods our screens from across the country and the world.

If a toddler dies after his dad accidentally backs over him with his car in Texas, the news story will pop up on my Facebook page. And just as my anxiety is pinging through the roof, Facebook will oh-so-helpfully show me similar stories that might interest me. A baby who died after being forgotten in a hot car, a 10-year-old who died from a seemingly innocuous cut on his knee, a toddler who died after falling from her family’s balcony. I’m inundated with fresh horrors I never knew I needed to worry about.

When we read a stranger’s tragedy on the internet we grieve for them, and a little for ourselves, because we had to once again consider the idea that we could be forced to exist in this world without our own children.

This, I think, is why so many parents on the internet play the blame game. We all see their comments on a heartbreaking story: Well, this is horrible, but where were the parents?? My child would never have been in that situation in the first place!

These comments are awful, unnecessary, and hurtful, but I also think I might understand them. If the parent was at fault, if it’s something you never would have allowed yourself to do, then it could never happen to you, right? A terrible accident will never happen to your child because you are forever watchful, never losing yourself for a moment in the chaos of parenthood.

The truth is they are called accidents for a reason. They happen unintentionally, often in an instant. That idea is a terrifying one to grapple withour lives could be forever changed in an instant.

When news of every accident and illness, no matter how unlikely or rare, that might befall our children is delivered into our homes, it makes sense that we might be a little more anxious, but I also think there’s a bright side we can choose to see in this.

When a parent across the country suffers our worst nightmare, we can reach out to them, directly or indirectly. We can send our condolences with a comment, we can pray that their suffering might relent in small moments of joy, and we can hold our own children a little closer for all those who can’t. We can connect to other parents and offer some small measure of support. Because in this chaos of parenthood, we could all use more support, more kindness, more understanding. Even if just for an instant.

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Emma Nelson
Emma is an Athens, Ohio native, who moved to Westerville seven years ago after a two year stint in Chicago. She lives with her husband, Matt, and their two boys, Lincoln (3) and Silas (1). Emma is a journalist turned marketing assistant turned teacher turned stay at home mom. So far she loves her newest gig, though she’s probably just okay at it. Keeping two young boys occupied means lots of exploring Columbus to find all that is not only kid friendly, but also adult friendly. Emma enjoys writing things in her head that she never actually gets down on paper, getting lost in the rabbit hole that is YouTube with her kids, and playing a game with her rambunctious boys that her oldest likes to call “attacking boys” (you can pretty much guess how that goes for her). Emma has a B.A. in journalism and political science from Miami University and completed further study at Ashland University to obtain her teaching certification in secondary English Language Arts. You can contact her at [email protected].


  1. Love it. So very true, and well written. I cannot even count on one hand all of the crazy things that I did as a kid when I didn’t have a cell phone with me or constant contact with my parents. (may I also admit that I am the bad parent who sends my daughter out into the world to play with her friends without me watching her every move). I feel like as long as she communicates where she is, stays on our street, and I know the parents and kids she is playing with she is good. At some point, she is going to have to learn things for herself…..I won’t be around her forever, and isn’t the goal of being a great parent to raise children who can be independent productive members of society…… Something you can’t always do if you are making decisions for them all the time…

    • Thanks, Jen! It’s hard to let go, but I definitely think you have the right idea- the goal is to raise independent kids who can function out there in the world without us. This means we have to give them some freedom, we can worry the whole time, but we have to do it!

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