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Chandra Levy's dad: Anxiety hits home

By Laura Sessions Stepp, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Laura Stepp: Robert Levy, Chandra's dad, feared he wouldn't see her again
  • He didn't tell anyone, Stepp says, but now acknowledges the guilt he feels
  • All parents share fears about losing a child they love, Stepp writes, but don't act
  • She says media drumbeat of crime, parents' deeper involvement exacerbate fears

Editor's note: Laura Sessions Stepp is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly with The Washington Post, who specializes in the coverage of young people. She has written two books: "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both," and "Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children through Early Adolescence."

(CNN) -- Robert Levy, father of the Capitol Hill intern found slain nine years ago in Washington's Rock Creek Park, revealed to The Washington Post recently something he had never shared before but that all parents understand.

When he dropped off Chandra, 24, at the Metro a week before she was reported missing, "Something inside of me knew it was going to be the last time I ever saw her. I just wish I had done something."

He didn't tell anyone, including his wife, about his misgiving. Not during the investigation of U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, who was having an affair with Chandra. Not when a day laborer from El Salvador was arrested for Chandra's murder. Only now, nine years later, can Robert Levy admit the guilt he still feels.

Surely, he knows that he's being irrational. Chandra was living and working in the nation's capital, not a war zone. What was he going to do? Tell her to get back in the car?

Video: Retracing Chandra Levy's steps
Video: The mystery of Chandra Levy
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Do not be embarrassed, Mr. Levy. We all have these feelings about our children. And we rarely act on them.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, violent crimes against Americans 12 and older are at their lowest level in more than three decades. As young people move through their 20s, their victimization rate, already low, declines further. We in the media fail to remind people enough of these things.

We sometimes forget such statistics, however, because new and old forms of media feed us a 24-hour-a-day diet of menace and mayhem -- the constancy of which previous generations of parents didn't experience.

As Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and criminal justice expert, says, "We're inundated with information about crimes. The more bizarre and horrendous, the more saliency they get."

The steady drumbeat of crime pumps up our anxiety that something bad may happen to our child that we could have or should have prevented.

Maybe it surfaces the first time we leave our infant with a baby sitter. Or when we give our elementary school-age daughter permission to start walking home from school by herself and she doesn't call us at work the minute she gets there.

It's not just criminals we fear. We agree reluctantly to let our 17-year-old son, a newly licensed driver, drive his friends home from soccer practice. It's 8 p.m., he's not home yet and we start to fret. Or we put our college student on an airplane and for a split second think, "What if that thunderstorm they're predicting takes the plane down?"

When my grown son went scuba diving for the first time on the Great Barrier Reef, I woke up in the middle of the night worrying that his oxygen tank might fail. Had I talked enough with him about precautions he should take? Did the tour guide know how to reach my husband and I right away should something happen? I told myself, "He's 25, for God's sake." That helped, but not much.

Fierce love is almost always accompanied by the fear of losing the one we love.
--Laura Sessions Stepp
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We question ourselves less frequently as our children get older, but not a lot less. Why?

Daniel Keating, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, suspects there's more to it than media coverage.

Parents are more deeply involved in their older children's private lives than previous generations were, he says. College is no longer the "declaration of independence" it used to be, for child or parent, but rather a continuation of credit card charges, daily phone calls and regular texts.

We continue to prop up our children long after they actually need us to. It's not surprising, then, that when something bad happens, we assume we could have done something to prevent it.

The ability to stay connected round-the-clock may be the clincher. Remember when we were in college and our parents had to phone the front desk of our dorms in the hopes of reaching us? They knew there was a good chance we wouldn't get the message until the next day, if at all. Logistics made it silly, if not useless, for them to worry immediately.

With texting and Twitter, Keating says, "We have the technical ability of constant surveillance. This keeps our children constantly in our minds."

We need not cut connections, although fewer peeks on Facebook might not be a bad idea. And, says Keating, we need not -- indeed we should not -- repress our fears.

Instead, he advises parents to identify the specific event they're afraid of and counter with the evidence that it's really unlikely. "If possible, let it fly away as rapidly as it flew in," he says.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Laura Sessions Stepp.