Time to Worry?

By Karen Sheehan, MD

My daughter is a bit of a risk taker. She likes to wakeboard and wakesurf; dive off diving boards and ride the fastest amusement park rides — preferably ones that also go upside down and backwards. She must take after her father who likes to do risky things as well, such as ride his motorcycle on the expressway. I, on the other hand, am not much of a risk taker. My idea of “living on the edge” is walking down the stairs without holding onto the handrails.

But just because I don’t do the activities my daughter does (or maybe it is exactly because I won’t do them), I want to support her as she challenges herself. However, I do worry. But am I worrying about the right things?

Natalia Pane, in her new book The Worry Clock: A Parent’s Guide to Worrying Smarter about the Real Dangers to Your Child, describes what parents should focus on to keep their children safe. She discusses her findings in a blog post, which I found interesting enough that I ordered her book. The “worry clock” is like a pie chart using minutes — it is a way for the author to show how much time we should be worrying about specific causes of death. For example, for infants, suffocation deaths make up nearly 30 minutes — or, half the worry — on the infant year “worry clock”. For young adolescents, transportation-related deaths (i.e. car crashes, pedestrian injuries) are nearly as common as suffocation deaths are for infants.

One aspect of the book that I found particularly useful was that, in addition to providing the data, the author gave recommendations on how to avoid deaths from injuries, many of which are preventable. Of course, there are limitations to looking at data this way. Sometimes it can be overly simplistic. Just because some injuries are less common for certain age groups, children can still be harmed by things that aren’t on the “worry clock”: Nevertheless, I thought the author’s approach was a clever way to help us prioritize our parental concerns.

Not too surprising, deaths from wakeboarding didn’t even make the list. I am not sure if this really helps me worry less. After all, a lot fewer teens wakeboard than ride in a car, so it is not surprising there would be fewer wakeboarding deaths. The upshot for me after reading the book — I am still going to worry about my daughter’s adventures, but I will try not to worry so much (as long as she is using the appropriate safety gear). I may even take my hands off the banister going downstairs. Of course, the last time I did that, I slipped and broke my foot.

Maybe it should be my daughter worrying about me!

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