"Schools, churches, your mama's house, cars, THOSE ARE SAFE ZONES." -Ameena Matthews, The Interrupters.
We are in shock over the 28 deaths of children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. With each new day, the horror grows, our souls are more baffled and grief-stricken. Parents of young school-age children the world over feel a particular kind of pain: we imagine. At morning drop-off, we imagine it happening at our child's school. When a siren sounds across town, we imagine our own precious child in a room in chaos. At pick-up, we cry when our child runs smiling - safe - into our arms. We imagine - but fail to know - the agony of the Newtown parents who won't hold their children again. We hurt, we pray, we imagine some more.
Sandy Hook confirms for us what we know in our heart of hearts: We live in a traumatizing, violent culture, (the organization Cure Violence would call it violence-infected; a friend of mine calls it violence-addicted), and children are often the helpless victims of that violence. What can parents do to keep their children safe?
Gavin De Becker's Protecting the Gift is a must-read for parents beset with concerns for their child's safety.
De Becker is a security expert who is unabashed about the violent potential of humans and argues convincingly about the power of unconscious denial to enable that violence. In Protecting the Gift he guides the reader through common sense practices, habits of thinking and means of analyzing situations that will help parents keep their children safe in an increasingly chaotic culture. Drawing on concepts he first introduced in The Gift of Fear, (also excellent), De Becker explains that we are all endowed with a survival impulse, one that activates to alert us when threats are approaching or at hand. Learning how to listen to that impulse is crucial to survival. In chapters covering everything from gun violence to sexual predators, he guides parents through common, real-life scenarios in which children's safety is threatened (scenarios exponentially more common than a mass shooting like Sandy Hook) and shows us how to teach kids to recognize these situations so they are avoided.
Some of the suggestions will feel uncomfortable, even counter-intuitive: His suggestion for what to tell a child should she become lost is, choose a stranger your gut tells you will help you before a stranger chooses you. But De Becker's clear, authoritative and empathic writing style, not to mention his keen instincts and experience, make this a how-to book of the most crucial kind.
A warning: It can be a terrifying read. Like the details of Sandy Hook, some of the scenarios he writes about are harrowing and disturbing to imagine happening to your child. But to face down the monsters he describes ultimately empowers the reader to be a more effective, confident protector of children and stems unwieldy, useless anxieties.
In the moving penultimate chapter, "Protecting the Village," De Becker writes that we must shake off denial to be more conscious, thoughtful and vigilant about keeping children safe. His is a voice we must now heed. It is our job to do so.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14.