Keeping your children safe; Interview: Worried parents need to learn the true risks, author says.


Gavin de Becker's latest book, "Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)" (Dial Press, $22.95), is intended to help those who are the most vulnerable in our society. De Becker, an expert on predicting and preventing violence, spoke recently about the book:

Q. What worries parents?

A. How can I know a baby-sitter won't turn out to be someone who will harm my child? What should I do if my child is lost in public? How can I spot sexual predators? What can I do to help my child be safer at school? What can I do to stop the worry?

I wrote this book to say that worry is not a precaution. It does not make your children safer. The antidote to worrying is action. And the action that I'm offering is learning about violence.

Q. How can you know the difference between what's perceived danger and what's imagined?

A. If you're worried your son will have a car accident tonight, and in exploring that feeling you realize it is because you think he's drinking, then that is what you perceive and that can be called a true fear.

However, if that worry is based on a grisly car accident you saw on the news two weeks ago, then it is an unwarranted fear. That's based on something in your imagination.

Q. Are our daughters and sons exposed to different risks?

A. Yes. Teen-age girls are the most victimized segment of our population. And at the same time, they are the least likely to report being a victim.

The chapter on teen-age girls isn't written just for parents. It can be read by a teen-age girl. By 14 or 15 years old, there is no information that your teen-age daughter need be protected from.

Q. What about our boys?

A. The leading cause of death to teen-age boys in America is gunfire. Even if you don't have a gun in your house, some house where your boy goes to sleep-over will. That's why asking the parents when your child is going to sleep-over if there is a gun in the house and if it is stored securely and locked is critical. Ask! Asking saves kids.

Q. You say that some things we have taught children are wrong.

A. For example, the old parental rule is, if you're ever lost in public go to a policeman. What I recommend is that you tell a child: If you are ever lost, go to a woman. Why? Because there will always be a woman in the environment and there won't always be a policeman.

Is that politically incorrect on my part? Yes. But it is statistically correct. The overwhelming majority of risks to children are posed by men.

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