How Overplaying Fear Harms Children From a Therapist’s Point of View

by Bob Livingstone LCSW

I am a psychotherapist and have been treating children, adolescents and adults in the San Francisco and San Mateo areas for the past twenty years. Overplaying fear is the phenomenon that forces parents to limit their children’s freedom in order to keep them out of harm’s way. The reality is that children have less chance of being kidnapped by strangers than being hit by a strike of lightening. I have witnessed parents spending an amazing amount of energy into the goal of keeping their kids safe from being abducted. These parents are all highly intelligent and do have the best interest of their children at heart. However, they are highly influenced by the 24-hour cable news stories about the latest murders or kidnappings. We are all influenced by this onslaught of fear.

Here are some of the side effects of this hypervigilance:

  1. Children are forbidden from taking public transportation and are driven everywhere by their parents. This seems to flush out our children’s natural desire to explore the world around them. This also gives them a sense of entitlement; that they deserve to be chauffeured by their parents whenever the need arises.
  2. Children are not allowed to walk anywhere. Therefore, they do not develop a sense of direction or an understanding of local geography. It is not unusual for children who are in their early to mid-teens not to have any idea of what route they traveled to my office. They aren’t expected to observe the world around them. They don’t walk anywhere by themselves so they have no idea of what to do in an emergency or if they get lost. In other words, we are not teaching them survival skills.
  3. Children don’t see other kids outside of school unless they meet at a pre-arranged sports activity or their parents set up play dates for them. This whole process interferes with children’s learning of basic social skills such as reaching out to others and making small talk.
  4. All of the previously mentioned items make our children totally reliant on adults and doesn’t teach them about independence. Therefore children do not learn to value being on their own and become content with being dependent on their parents for everything.

I will be expounding on all these issues and talking about solutions to them in future posts. What do you think?

Bob Livingstone LCSW
The Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise – Now available at

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3 Responses to How Overplaying Fear Harms Children From a Therapist’s Point of View

  1. DJ MacKinnon says:


    Thanks for that information. How very sad.

    I have a young son (3 years’ old) and I can already see the young children in this neighbourhood falling into the pattern you portray. I have been trying to build community in this area since we moved here four years ago, to facilitate or in a way kickstart some spontaneous games in a square about a block from our home. It’s very frustrating because we are trying to raise our son in a way that he will learn to make his own fun, be free and comfortable about heading outside to play with friends, and to facilitate his carving out of his own path. Yet even young children are not around for spontaneous play. They are already in classes or preschool and the hours left in the day are filled with other things. I have friends in cohousing and even they say there are not as many children around as you would think.

    I look forward to reading more about your ideas.

    In the meantime, you may be interested to know about a group here in Canada which is working to get kids out in their local parks. It was started by Silken Laumann who was an Olympic rower for Canada in the 90s I think. Her network is called Silken Laumann’s Active Kids’ Movement. It’s quite new. They are trying to build a network of community activists who they hope will teach street games and get kids out to the parks and on the streets to play them. The url for the network is

  2. Mike Lanza says:

    DJ – Thanks for the referral to Silken Laumann! I’ve sent her an email to discuss working together.

    In the meantime, I’ve also alerted Bob Livingstone, the author of that article (yes, it’s confusing – he wrote it and I posted it) about your comment, and he may respond directly.

  3. DJ,
    Thank you for sharing your personal story here. I think it is going to take the efforts of individual parents to combat the culture of fear that captures the masses. We have to dispel the myths that go along with this country wide(and it sounds like Canada as well) angst about allowing our kids to have the freedom to explore. Perhaps one step for change is for parents to reach out to each other(which is the main purpose of this blog) and decide not to participate in rigid child scheduling anymore. Instead, alternative, spontaneous play could be encouraged, fostered and developed.