“Protecting the Gift” takes the principles of professional threat predictor (never can get his official title!) Gavin De Becker’s most famous work “The Gift of Fear” and applies it to parents. More precisely, it takes ideas explored towards the end of “The Gift of Fear” – violence and sexual predation of children, including child on child abuse – and expands upon them.
As is the nature of De Becker, the basis for his personal security and threat prediction of potential predators lies in his belief of the active listening to one’s intuition. Intuition is what De Becker believes we generally term as “fear”. He sees it working on a subconscious level, picking up on potential threats and warning signs. De Becker says that upon interviewing survivors of assaults he has revealed how the victim actually foresaw the danger that engulfed them ahead of time, but they went against their instincts. The same principle is applied to worried parents; the fabled “mother’s intuition” if you will.
The book begins with “The Search for Certainty”. Thankfully De Becker, for all his insights into the manipulative side of people, is not the sort of personal security expert who buys into the sensationalist propaganda we see associated with child abuse. He actively promotes more independence for children and addresses the increasing fear parents have in leaving the children with other adults. Although he does not promise to offer the much sought after certainty, he does say that he can equip parents with more skills that will help them better assess other adults and better train their own children how to listen to their own instincts.
The next two chapters deal with real fear or intuition and “artificial fear” or worry. Again, De Becker gets top marks for helping to steer parents away from the draw of paranoia. Quite rightfully, he warns of the dangers of allow unnecessary worry to consume and therefore distract parents from legitimate concerns. As in “The Gift of Fear”, De Becker places the blame for this warped sense of reality on the media.
We are then reintroduced to the “Survival Signals”, which are the cornerstones of “The Gift of Fear”. These are the signals given off by a potential human predator that betray his actions long before he executes them. Unsurprisingly they are very similar to what high pressure salesmen and women are taught. These are methods of manipulation, persuasion and deception designed to take control of a situation and a person before a physical act takes place. Readers of self-help books and pop psychology might be amused by the convenient number of signals given by De Becker: seven. However, they are good common sense methods, on the whole, and should be taught in some way by good self-protection coaches. To give them credit, I once went through nearly all seven when a certain individual was pressuring, by text, a close female friend of mine to see him when she didn’t want go out. The experience was enough to convince the girl not to leave her house and to stand firm.
I am with De Becker all the way in his dismissal of the “Stranger Danger” gimmick. He has a chapter that teaches parents how to teach their children to talk to strangers. Furthermore, he debunks the whole unworkable and highly confusing “Don’t talk to strangers” concept. De Becker even had this arrange live on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where horrified parents watched as their children failed not to be lured away by strangers during a set-up scenario. Like it or not your child is often left at the mercy of strangers and their ability to identify people they can trust and those they can’t is a vital survival skill. Children need to have the confidence to speak to people who can help them when they are lost or in trouble.
This nicely dovetails into “The Changing of the Guard”, a chapter that addresses the growing independence of a child. It lists “The Test of Twelve”, which are general points a child should know and understand before De Becker feels they should ever be allowed alone in public. Next we move onto a very thorough – some might say intrusive – way to screen nannies and babysitters. This is followed by a chapter on children away from home.
We then take a look at sexual predators and, more specifically, signs that a sexual assault has occurred. I am not quite sure of De Becker’s credentials in this area, but he handles it in the same way he deals with all other issues. There are case studies and set procedures on handling the issue.
The next two chapters deal with teenage girls and teenage boys. The teenage girl issue deals primarily with the ominous “first date” anxiety felt by many parents. The teenage boy issue is more to do with the fear of youngsters being involved in firearm crimes. It addresses bullying too, but I think a lot of this might have been tied in with the narrative of the time. De Becker has his own theories about gun crime in schools and, once again, it comes down to the media. Much like Grossman, he seems to buy into many of the misconceptions that were raised around the Columbine shootings. This theme flows into the next chapter “Friends as Enemies”. Arguably he delves deeper and into the less talked about areas of potential child abuse in “All in the Family”. We panic so much about strangers when statistically it is overwhelmingly more likely that abuse to a child will come from someone they know and probably who they are related to. Here, De Becker argues, we more likely than in any instance to deny our survival signals and intuition. It is probably one of the strongest chapters in the book.
The final chapter concerns the outlook for the future; how to make a better and safer society for our children. It is a fair conclusion and I like De Becker’s positive attitude towards it all. His interest is not in increasing restrictions for children, but rather better educating parents on how to give their children more independence and how to tell the difference between real fear, which should be listened to and acted upon, and the aforementioned worry or paranoia.
“Protecting the Gift” is in danger of being a cash-in on “The Gift of Fear” and it is nowhere near as well-known. However, I have no issue in justifying its existence and recommend it as a must-read for parents. There was a time, not long ago at all, when I considered De Becker’s works to be the final word on self-protection soft skills. I based a good amount of my coaching on understanding intuition. Growing up on a travelling circus, around wild animals and in the presence of all sorts of people, I was taught early on about being switched on – not just to my environment but to my instincts. However, total reliance on intuition is not a very scientific way of looking at things. For all the examples of people saying that their intuition got them out of trouble there are numerous more cases of luckless gamblers who lost due to trusting their “gut”.
A gripe I do have with the book is its lack of acknowledgement of false accusations and witch hunts. It does well to debunk a lot of unnecessary concerns people have and the sensationalism of the media, but at the same time it smacks of hyper-awareness when it comes to adult/child relationships. There is only one instance where De Becker comments that a lone adult sitting in a playground might be innocently enjoying the atmosphere created by children. Everyone else seems to either be predators or distraught parents.
On the whole, “Protecting the Gift” is one of the better personal security books for parents. Aside from falling into the odd trap, it does not pander to media sensationalism and sticks to a lot of common sense. De Becker is a very strong writer who uses anecdotes in most of his chapters to help illustrate his points well. This is something that helped make “The Gift of Fear” so readable to Oprah Winfrey’s followers.
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