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Don’t Panic! Stop Worrying and Enjoy Halloween

Don’t Panic! Stop Worrying and Enjoy Halloween
Stop Worrying and Enjoy Halloween

    With Halloween now two weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about Halloween safety. OK, that’s an understatement: if the local news programs are to be believed it’ time to start panicking. Poisoned Pixie Stix, needles-stuck Snickers, and razor-wielding Raisinets lurk behind every Jack-o-lantern-guarded door. Evil ne’er-do-wells lurk ready to pluck your children off the streets and do unspeakable things to them. The dead walk the earth and seek to steal the the souls of the unwary.

    I mock, but only because these myths of Halloween are so eminently mockable. As it happens, Halloween has generated a host of safety myths, turning a once wholesome celebration of zombies, vampires, and other dead, undead, and half-dead things into something rather more sinister. Let’s examine some of these myths:

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    • The candy is poisoned: Every year, we are bombarded with warnings to search our children’s candy carefully for puncture holes, opened wrappers, and so on. Homemade treats — popcorn balls, candy apples, and the like — have completely disappeared from the Halloween repertoire for fear of poisoning. And yet there has never been an instance of a child being poisoned by Halloween candy given her or him by a stranger. Never. The only incident in which Halloween candy has been used to poison someone was a little boy in 1974 who ate Pixie Stix laced with cyanide (rat poison, essentially) by his father, ostensibly to collect on the child’s life insurance policy.
    • There’s needles/razors in the candy: Unlike the fear of poisoning, this one has actually happened, though nobody’s ever been badly hurt. Almost all reported cases of needles or razor bladed being concealed in Halloween candy or other treats have been hoaxes, and the 10 or so that have been confirmed resulted in no injury. All but one of those have been pranks carried out by older siblings or friends. The one exception occurred in 2000 when a man stuck needles into Snickers bars and handed them out; nobody was injured. As it happens, needles and razor blades are easily discovered and not all that dangerous (and you can’t get HIV from them except under conditions that Halloween trick-or-treating simply can’t produce).
    • There’s child molesters roaming free in my neighborhood! You might have looked at one of the scare-sites (appropriate for Halloween, I suppose) that show you how many registered sex offenders live within spitting distance of your house, maybe even mapped their addresses. What you might not have known is how someone gets to be on the sex offenders registry. Many are folks who slept with their 15-year old girlfriends or boyfriends when they were 16 — or even when they were 14 (some states prosecute underage sex regardless of the age of the participants). Most, though, are in fact guilty of molesting children — almost always their own (or closely related). There are very, very few cases (less than 5%) of children being accosted by strangers — the number of cases over the last decade is in the hundreds, out of many thousands of child abuse cases.
    • The dead walk the earth: This one’s true. Give them candy. And pray…

    The reality is that your children are fairly safe from victimization by your neighbors. Statistically speaking, you and your family are the greatest threat your children face — far, far more dangerous than any stranger. While it makes good sense to teach your children to be aware of themselves and their surroundings in the company of strangers, the feverish panic that breaks out every year in the weeks before Halloween is way out of proportion to the actual threat posed to your children.

    So where does the panic come from? At least part of it has to be pinned on local news organizations and their addiction to the scare story as a way to drive ratings. “Poisoned candy rampant in the Southland! Are your children at risk??????” I can only assume that people respond to this kind of thing, since news broadcasters keep doing it, risking their credibility and seriousness in the process.

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    But the more important story lies in the anxieties we as a society have fostered over the last several decades. As we’ve become more and more isolated with the rise of suburban living, greater job demands, the availability of in-home and solitary entertainments, and so on, we’ve grown distrustful and suspicious of our neighbors because — more than at any other time in human history — we don’t know who they are. We don’t rely on them and they don’t rely on us, we don’t have any obligations to them and they don’t have any obligations to us. We are literally surrounded by strangers.

    And along comes Halloween, and what do we do? We allow our children to go door to door among those strangers and beg for candy. In anthropological terms, feeding someone and eating together are powerful markers of intimacy and demonstrations of solidarity — but we aren’t intimate with our neighbors and there is no sense of solidarity. So we worry. And one way we express those worries is by telling each other urban legends about the dangers of strangers with candy, especially on Halloween. This may also be a defensive strategy, allowing us to ignore the fact that the most real source of danger to our children is their own family.

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    So don’t panic. Take reasonable safety precautions — make sure your kids are visible in the dark, have them carry flashlights, teach them traffic safety principles, supervise young trick-or-treaters, and don’t let Halloween pranks get out of hand. Don’t let these perfectly normal anxieties develop into irrational fears that end up polluting Halloween for yourself and your children.

    Do be sure, however, to teach your kids about the dangers of the walking dead. Because that fear that is totally rational.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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