Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Protecting the Gift

Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin De Becker

Kansas Dad thought perhaps it would make me more paranoid about the safety of our children, but I think it did more to alleviate unnecessary fears than anything else.

The best chapter in the book, in my opinion, was the fifth: Talk to Strangers. In it, De Becker addresses the standard ways we try to teach our children to be safe and why they are inadequate or, worse, dangerous. He begins with the rule "Don't talk to strangers," showing how, as parents, we encourage our children to talk to strangers every day. ("Say hello to the nice lady.")
Never Talk to Strangers, it turns out, isn't a rule at after all, but a highly flexible and incomprehensible concept that only Mom and Dad really understand--if even they do.
He also addresses the appropriateness of our expectations.
When we assume that a young child will reliably do what we say in our absence, or that doing it will keep him or her safe, we are choosing to share our duty with the least qualified person available.
I agree wholeheartedly! My four year old (who will be five this month) is completely incapable of remembering to stay in her chair during meals. If she can't do that, when she practices at least three times a day every day, how could I possibly expect her to follow instructions in a situation with strangers when she hasn't had any practice at all. I also think it unrealistic to tell the children to stay with me or keep me within sight instead of watching the children myself. I do give my children those commands, but I try always to know where they are and keep them within my sight.

We never taught our children to not talk to strangers. In fact, we haven't taught them anything at all about these potential dangers. Our children are still young and until recently spent nearly all of their time with me, Kansas Dad or Grammy. They simply were never out of our sight or control.

Now that we are involved with more in the homeschooling group, soccer, swimming lessons and other activities, we do need to address these threats in a more concrete way with our children. Luckily, this chapter shared a lot of ideas on what kinds of tools will work to help children be aware and safe without giving them too much responsibility for their own safety.

I'll let you read the book to find the suggestions that would work best for your family, but the one we've started using already is teaching the children to go straight to a mother if they find themselves separated from me or Kansas Dad in a public place. They are supposed to say, "My name is [child's name]. Will you help me find my mom?" Mothers with young children are non-threatening, extremely unlikely to hurt another child and very likely to stick with a child until he or she has been reunited with a parent.

Another great suggestion was teaching children to yell "This is not my mom!" or "This is not my dad!" if someone else tries to get them to go somewhere they don't want to go. We will not be teaching Second Daughter this trick anytime soon, though, because she's contrary enough at the moment to yell it when she gets angry at me. I would feel like I'd need to carry photo ID and a birth certificate for her wherever we went. Sigh.

The book is full of anecdotes. Lots and lots of anecdotes. It wasn't clear if the author thought the anecdotes alone would be convincing. I certainly found the book lacking in clear source material. I think he tried to reference sources in the text itself, but footnotes or end notes with actual studies, dates, issues, etc., would have greatly increased the value of the book in my opinion. If you view the anecdotes as merely explanatory, like hypothetical situations, they are useful.

I also did not care for the chapter on gun control. According to De Becker, no one in the country outside of law enforcement should ever carry, own, or look at a gun. He seemed rather unreasonable on this issue. I would perhaps feel differently if any of my children had been injured by a gun.

I liked other things in the book and disliked other things in the book. That being said, there is much to learn in this book. I'm very glad I read it and I do recommend it to other parents or people who care for children. Take from it what is helpful and try not to let the rest bother you too much.


  1. Sounds like a good read. I should probably get my hands on it sometime. I am horrible about "don't talk to strangers" and then "say hello to the nice lady." Ridiculous, I know! Ack.

    I wouldn't be a fan of the gun control chapter either! In my opinion, guns are only dangerous when the people using them are untrained. Our children begin learning to shoot from the time they are quite young. I think it makes them know that it is not a toy, that it can hurt (because just the kick of shooting it often hurts), and they learn all the rules of gun safety from the beginning. Gun accidents do happen, even with experienced hunters, but often when kids accidently kill or hurt themselves or other children, they have found a gun belonging to a relative and are themselves completely unfamiliar with guns, which leads to them being dangerous with the gun.

    Great review, as always, KM. :)

  2. I thought of you while I was reading it, Brandy. I'd be interested to hear what you thought about it.

  3. Interesting. The part about second daughter made me laugh out loud (sorry).

    And I have to agree with you on the gun control thing. As a gun-owning household (for hunting purposes), I think it is ridiculous and unfair to restrict gun laws that much. Guns can be kept unloaded/locked etc., and children can be aware of gun safety and even learn to use guns at a young age with appropriate hunter safety courses and supervision of course.

  4. Monica (and Brandy, too), he did have a whole chapter on the "friends," especially for boys, and the influence they have. Personally I think that's a bigger factor than guns alone.

    It was interesting that 100% (according to his company's research) of the school shootings happened in rural areas by white boys. (I think "rural" here means "not-urban" since some of the areas he mentioned seemed very suburban to me.)

  5. It seems to me that friends who are unfamiliar with guns are a good argument for keeping guns locked and unloaded {of course, that is the law in most states anyhow}.

    I could see friends being an issue--kids tend to get in trouble in packs!

    I need to get this sounds more and more interesting to me!


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