Once again Gavin de Becker has given us a thoughtful book crammed full of facts, statistics, studies, case histories and wisdom. Anyone who is interested in children, theirs or others, or is curious about their own childhood, will find this book riveting.
As he has told us in his previous work, The Gift of Fear (reviewed in Metapsychology, Sept, 1999), "Intuition sends many messages to warn us ... but the most urgent is fear." De Becker discusses the meaning of fear throughout these pages, helping us separate worry, which he labels "manufactured fear," from "natural" fear, which saves our lives. For those who worry excessively he comments, "everybody dies, but not everybody lives." He flatly states that worry increases risk and "to protect your child you must believe in yourself." We are assured that many of the old dictums about danger are not true. For example, de Becker scoffs at the phrase, "random violence." He unequivocally states that "violence almost always has detectable pre-incident indicators," and goes on to list them.
He tells us why it is important to encourage your child to talk to strangers. He puts to rest the mistaken notion that kidnapped children are the biggest problem. He says it is as rare as a heart attack in children. In fact, "a child is 250 times more likely to be shot." (Firearms wound 75 children a day; 15 of these die.) Too bad we do not consider this as important as encephalitis! At last count five children have died in New York City this summer of the disease and millions of people are outraged. The government is making available special funds to pay for spraying and various other methods of control. This would be funny if it weren't for the sad fact that by this time tomorrow 400 Americans will suffer a shooting injury. I do now know how many mosquitoes there are in NYC, especially in winter, but de Becker informs us that in California alone 650,000 guns are purchased every year. Maybe we should use the guns to shoot the mosquitoes! De Becker would agree this reflects our attitudes and priorities.
In demolishing myths de Becker gives us some facts: 90% of child abusers are not strangers, but are people the child knows; the most common age that abuse begins is three; nearly 100% of all abuse is committed by heterosexual males. He advises that if a child is lost he or she should always ask a woman for help.
The book is terrifically empowering, especially for parents. De Becker points out that society has trained us to believe we do not know the answers, but that, in fact, we do. He has a lot to say about how our species developed its protective instincts and he emphasizes that the fierceness and strength of an animal mother protecting her young is definitely not lacking in the human mother. Quoting Elizabeth Stone, he brings us this poignant truth: "The decision to have a child is momentous because it is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." Railing against parents, schools and other child experts who believe the child must help protect itself, de Becker says, "Throughout history half of all children failed to reach adult-hood ... childhood is safe only when adults make it so."
De Becker notes that many people do not want to look at the evidence of danger in children's lives. He gives us five "Signals of Denial" and brilliantly displays them in example after example. He has a few things to say about our society, including our fear of death. He challenges us to be greater than we thought possible by asking us to conquer our needless fears. "If you cannot conquer your own unwarranted fear, how can you soothe those of your child?"
This book contains succinct wisdom as well. De Becker points out that "we minimize only that which looms large," and tells us that "making excuses for someone's behavior is a sure sign that we perceive something wrong with the behavior." The book is filled with grounded, practical suggestions and ideas for parents. De Becker devotes chapters to how to make your child safe in school, what to ask the babysitter or nanny, and has devised "The Test of 12" which is a readiness scale to see how prepared a child is to be alone in public. There are the usual helpful appendices, including a special section on boys' anger and the needs of autistic children.
But de Becker stays true to his assertion that it is intuition more than any study, information or fact that will tell us exactly what we need to know. He reiterates his "13 Messengers of Intuition." Perhaps his next book will be an expansion of what he has discovered about intuition, with 13 chapters and plenty of evidence.
Zoe Calder is an adjunct professor at several colleges in Maine. She has degrees in English, Speech, Psychology and Education. In addition, she is a professional writer, editor and book reviewer with consuming interests in anthropology, nature, philosophy, religion, space, physics, history and humor. This last makes the aforementioned more meaningful.