September 28, 2008

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson


QUESTION: Why are kids so vulnerable? How do you explain this paralyzing social fear at an age when they are notoriously gutsy? There is very little else that scares them. Teenagers drive their cars like maniacs and the boys make great combat soldiers. Why is it that an eighteen-year-old can be trained to attack an enemy gun emplacement or run through a minefield, and yet he panics in the noisy company of his peers? Why are they so frightened of each other?

DR. DOBSON: I believe the answer is related to the nature of power and how it influences human behavior. Adolescent society is based on the exercise of raw force. That is the heart and soul of its value system. It comes in various forms.

For girls, there is no greater social dominance than physical beauty. A truly gorgeous young woman is so powerful that even the boys are often terrified of her. She rules in a high school like a queen on her throne, and in fact, she is usually given some honor with references to royalty in its name (Homecoming Queen, Homecoming Princess, All-School Queen, Sweetheart's Queen, Football Queen, etc.). The way she uses this status to intimidate her subjects is in itself a fascinating study in adolescent behavior.

Boys derive power from physical attractiveness, too, but also from athletic accomplishment in certain prescribed sports. Those that carry the greatest status are usually skilled in sports that exhibit sheer physical strength (football) or size (basketball.)

Do you remember what the world of adolescence was like for you? Do you recall the power games that were played -- the highly competitive and hostile environment into which you walked every day? Can you still feel the apprehension you experienced when a popular (powerful) student called you a creep, or a jerk, or he put his big hand in your face and pushed you out of the way? He wore a football jersey, which reminded you that the entire team would eat you alive if you should be so foolish as to fight back. Does the memory of the junior-senior prom still come to mind occasionally, when you were either turned down by the girl you loved, or were not asked by the boy of your dreams? Have you ever had the campus heroes make fun of the one flaw you most wanted to hide, and then threaten to mangle you on the way home from school?

Perhaps you never went through these stressful encounters. Maybe you were one of the powerful elite who oppressed the rest of us. But your son or daughter could be on the receiving end of the flak. A few years ago, I talked to a mother whose seventh-grade daughter was getting butchered at school each day. She said the girl awakened an hour before she had to get up each morning and lay there thinking about how she could get through her day without being humiliated.

Typically, power games are more physical for adolescent males than females. The bullies literally force their will on those who are weaker. That is what I remember most clearly from my own high school years. I had a number of fights during that era just to preserve my turf. The name of the game was power! And not much has changed for today's teenagers.

QUESTION: Should schoolchildren be required to wear clothes that they dislike?

DR. DOBSON: Generally not. Children are very concerned about the threat of being laughed at by their friends, and will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid that danger. Teens, particularly, seem to feel, "The group can't laugh at me if I am identical to them." From this perspective, it's unwise to make a child endure unnecessary social humiliation. Children should be allowed to select their own clothes, within certain limits of the budget and good taste.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995( Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers" and "Bringing Up Boys," both published by Tyndale House.

September 08, 2008

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson


Question: The greatest power struggle in our home is over school assignments. Our fifth grader simply will not do them! When we try to force him to study, he sits and stares, doodles -- gets up for water and just kills time. Furthermore, we never know for sure what he's supposed to be doing. Why is he like that?

DR. DOBSON: Let me offer a short discourse on school achievement, based on years of interaction with parents. I served as a teacher, a high school counselor and a school psychologist. As such, I became very well-acquainted with children's learning patterns. The kind of self-discipline necessary to succeed in school appears to be distributed on a continuum from one extreme to the other.

Students at the positive end of the scale (I'll call them Type I) are by nature rather organized individuals who care about details. They take the educational process very seriously and assume full responsibility for assignments given. They also worry about grades, or at least, they recognize their importance. To do poorly on a test would depress them for several days. They also like the challenge offered in the classroom. Parents of these children do not have to monitor their progress to keep them working. It is their way of life -- and it is consistent with their temperaments.

At the other end of the continuum are the boys and girls who do not fit in well with the structure of the classroom (Type II). If their Type I siblings emerge from school cum laude, these kids graduate "Thank You, Laude!" They are sloppy, disorganized and flighty. They have a natural aversion to work and love to play. They can't wait for success and they hurry on without it. Like bacteria that gradually become immune to antibiotics, the classic underachievers become impervious to adult pressure. They withstand a storm of parental protest every few weeks and then, when no one is looking, they slip back into apathy. They don't even hear the assignments being given in school and seem not to be embarrassed when they fail to complete them. And, you can be sure they drive their parents to distraction.

For many, if not most, of these kids, their "battles" over schoolwork and homework represent a conflict between their basic temperament and the frustration experienced and transmitted to them by their parents. A strict, but not punitive approach in which accountability for schoolwork and homework is transferred back from the parents to the child will effectively motivate them to assume responsibility for their work for many of them. An excellent, practical description of this approach is provided by psychologist John Rosemond's "Ending the Homework Hassle" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1990).

In unusually difficult cases, or when the previous approach has failed, the child may have a neurologically based learning disability or the complex of behaviors known as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). The cause of ADHD is currently unknown, but may include neurological or biological factors in some cases. Stimulant medication has been found to be effective for relieving the attention and impulsivity features of ADHD behaviors, although this beneficial effect of these medications is not specific or limited to individuals with ADHD.

Preliminary research has indicated success for ADHD management with a potentially promising behavioral approach outlined by Dr. David Stein in his recent book "Ritalin is Not the Answer" (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999). Other authorities, including Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey, writing in "Driven to Distraction" (Simon & Schuster, 1995), recommend the use of Ritalin or other medication for children with a confirmed diagnosis of ADHD. Your pediatrician will help you decide which approach to take.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995( Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers" and "Bringing Up Boys," both published by Tyndale House.

September 01, 2008

Sylvia Rimm On Raising Kids: Writer Girl Wants To Be Advice Columnist

Sylvia Rimm Q. I'm a psychology major in college, but I've wanted to be a writer since I was young. Music is a big hobby of mine, and I've also been looking into art therapy.

I'm very confused about exactly what I want to do for a career. Psychology is very intriguing to me. I'm really good at music, but I love to write. I was hoping to find some direction. How does someone become an advice columnist? Should I double major? Do I need a doctorate? I haven't a clue, and no book or counselor has been able to help me. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

A. You've taken a good first step by becoming a psychology major and it would be helpful to take some journalism or writing classes as well. Learning to write well can help with every career, and psychologists do need to write reports and publish articles. Yes, you'll need to get a doctorate degree in psychology before you can actually get a license to practice, so you'll have quite a few years of schooling ahead, followed by two years of interning. When you're an intern, you'll at least, by then, be able to earn a small salary.

Before you actually become an advice columnist, you'll have to develop a specialty area that has public appeal, and you'll have to practice for some time, write some books or develop some other media experience. I actually began my advice column by volunteering to write free of charge for local newspapers. Once I established by credibility with newspaper audiences, I wrote letters to many syndicates. Incidentally, I received plenty of rejections and that wasn't easy. Finally, Creators Syndicate came through, and I've been writing for them for many years.

I can tell you that I love what I do. I enjoy my practice with families tremendously and I love answering the many hundreds, actually thousands, of letters I receive. And here's a surprise, I'm sure -- I answer every single letter. That takes a lot of time, but I'm very motivated because I know I can help many families.

Good luck with your efforts. You'll need to invest a great deal of time, but consider it all an adventure in helping to make the world a better place. In my research on the childhoods of over 1000 successful women, they were often motivated by their belief in being able to make a positive difference. While it's good to earn a reasonable salary, I believe nothing is more rewarding than knowing that you're helping others.

For free newsletters about See Jane Win® or How Jane Won, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or go to for more information.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at