After the recent events at Penn State, there were a number of blog posts and other articles dealing with various aspects of the fallout of those sad events. One blog post I read recommended a book called Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker. The statistics about sexual abuse are shocking and because it hasn’t happened to me, I sometimes fear that I’ll be too naive to protect my children. We did get some training on this as part of our pre field preparation with Mission to the World, but I thought this book sounded like something I should read for additional knowledge.
The risk of abuse does not go away just because you serve as a missionary in a foreign country. In fact, there are some ways that the missionary situation can even put your children more at risk. I am very thankful that our mission understands this and seeks to train us on how to prevent such situations as much as possible. I’m also thankful that our mission supports the fact that our primary mission field is our family and that ministry decisions based on what is best for the family are supported.
So, on to my impressions of the book. I really, really appreciated the author’s approach in this book. One of his main themes is that fear and anxiety do not help us protect our children. He says, “I’ve been helping people manage fear and risk for almost a quarter-century and one of the ironies of worry is that it enhances risk. That’s because as you worry about some imagined danger, you are distracted from what is actually happening.” Mr. de Becker emphasizes the value of listening to your intuition. He believes that those senses or impressions that we sometimes get that make us uncomfortable around a certain person or in a certain situation should be heeded. He gives many stories in the book of real situations that illustrate this.
What I like about this approach is that it doesn’t require you to completely isolate your child from all potentially harmful influences (impossible to do anyway). In fact, it allows for a lot of freedom. Mr. de Becker writes that women often fail to listen to their intuition in these cases. As I read that, I could identify. I often don’t trust my feelings until I can think about it to look for more objective evidence to back it up. De Becker refers to the “wild brain” and the “logic brain”. He explains them like this:
The logic brain is plodding and unoriginal. It is burdened with judgement, slow to accept reality, and spends valuable energy thinking about how things ought to be, used to be, or could be. The logic brain has strict boundaries and laws it wants to obey, but the wild brain obeys nothing, conforms to nothing, answers to nobody, and will do whatever it takes. It is unfettered by emotion, politics, politeness, and as illogical as the wild brain may sometimes seem, it is, in the natural order of things, completely logical. It just doesn’t care to convince us of anything by using logic. In fact, it doesn’t give a damn what we think.
To tap into this resource, to reinvest in our intuition, to know how to avoid danger, to know, for example, whom to keep our children away from, we must listen to internal warnings while they are still whispers. The voice that knows all about how to protect children may not always be the loudest, but it is the wisest.
The book does contain some checklists and guidelines to consider when evaluating babysitters, other child care situations, and things like that. However, there will always be situations where those things can’t or don’t apply. I needed this encouragement to trust my instincts about people or situations first, and investigate later. The other benefit of this is that as your child(ren) see you trust your instincts it will help them learn to develop and trust their own.
Now, of course, instinct isn’t foolproof. If these kinds of things could always be predicted than most people would prevent them. Mr. de Becker suggests that part of the protection process includes:
Make careful, slow choices about the people you include in your child’s life – and fast choices about the ones you exclude from your child’s life;
Teach your child about touch, the body, boundaries, communication, assertiveness, and sovereignty over the body.
There are so many good things in this book that I think I’ll be rereading it periodically as a good reminder. I highly recommend reading it, whether or not you have children. The last thing I’ll leave you with from the book is this:
If someone says “Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell (and the corollary: If someone says “Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell.)