Monday, May 17, 2004

Cicadas don't hurt people -- people hurt people

One of my most unpleasant memories from childhood involves cicadas, those noisy, absurdly large and generally sluggish insects that seem to have no other real function than to freak people out. They certainly gave me pause when I went off for my first really long session at sleepaway camp and found the campsite infested with them. The steady, unsettling sound of their chirping was the soundtrack for camp life, and swatting aside their heavy bodies or crunching them underfoot was a major activity. Not one I'd signed up for, alas, and so although I had ambitiously begged my parents to let me stay at camp for two whole weeks, I begged with equal desperation for them to let me come home after four days. The main reason may have been that I wanted to avoid a weekend hike with only egg salad sandwiches for sustenance, but the cicadas didn't help make me feel more like roughing it. Maybe my parents had been creeped out by the bugs, too, because they let me quit the place without too many "I told you so's."

So when I saw a headline on Yahoo! News that read Pediatrician Warns Parents About Cicadas, I felt somehow vindicated -- it wasn't just the unreasonable panic of a spoiled and sheltered camp-o-phobe that sent me running; those bugs really are dangerous! But no; what the headline should have said was, "Pediatricians Warn Parents That Their Children Are Stupid." Swarms of cicadas, as we may be seeing this summer, do up the number of emergency-room calls for little ones, but it's not the bugs that are doing the damage, it's panicked reactions to the bugs -- kids running away from them and into brick walls, kids trying to swat them while riding bikes and losing control, kids trying to stab the bugs and missing and hitting a friends' arm instead, or a head with a baseball bat. It's like "The Darwin Awards: Junior Edition." Parents, tell your children: Cicadas won't hurt you. Just ignore them. Go about your business. Don't try to hit them or stab them or shoot them. But if you want to come home from camp, honey, that's okay.

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