2009-04-23 / Community News

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Leadership & Structure

QUESTION: What immediate changes would you make in junior and senior high schools to improve the learning environment?

DR. DOBSON: Most importantly, we must make schools safer for students and teachers. Guns, drugs, and adolescence make a deadly cocktail. It is unbelievable what we have permitted to happen on our campuses. No wonder some kids can't think about their studies. Their lives are in danger! Yes, we can reduce the violence if we're committed to the task. Armed guards? Maybe. Metal detectors? If necessary. More expulsions? Probably. No-nonsense administrators? Definitely. When schools are blessed by strong leadership, like the legendary Joe Clark at Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J., they make dramatic progress academically. Above all, we must do what is required to pacify the combat zones in junior and senior high schools.

We will not solve our pervasive problems, however, with the present generation of secondary school students. Our best hope for the future is to start over with the youngsters just coming into elementary school. We can rewrite the rules with these wide-eyed kids. Let's redesign the primary grades to include a greater measure of discipline. I'm not talking merely about more difficult assignments and additional homework. I'm recommending more structure and control in the classroom.

As the first official voice of the school, the primary teacher is in a position to construct positive foundations on which future educators can build. Conversely, she can fill her young pupils with contempt and disrespect. A child's teachers during the first six years will largely determine the nature of his attitude toward authority and the educational climate in junior and senior high school (and beyond).

QUESTION: I made a little offhanded comment the other day about my daughter's hair, and she cried for an hour. I didn't mean to hurt her. I guess she's just more sensitive than I thought. Do I have to walk on eggshells around her?

DR. DOBSON: You should always be mindful that your daughter is listening to what you say about her and that she's "reading" the subtle attitudes that you might like to conceal. Kids are extremely sensitive to their parent's love and respect. That's why adults must learn to guard what they say in their presence.

Many times I have been consulted by a mother regarding a particular problem her child is having. As Mom describes the details of the boy or girl's problems, I notice that the subject of all this conversation is standing about a yard behind her. His ears are ten feet tall as he listens to a candid description of all his faults. The child may remember that conversation for a lifetime.

Parents often inadvertently convey disrespect to a child whom they genuinely love. For example, Mom may become tense and nervous when little Jimmy speaks to guests or outsiders. When someone asks him a direct question, she interrupts and answers for him. She reveals her frustration when she is trying to comb his hair or make him "look nice" for an important event.

These subtle behaviors are signals to the child that the mother doesn't trust him with her image and that he must be supervised closely to avoid embarrassing the whole family. He reads disrespect in her manner, though it is framed in genuine love.

The first step in building a strong self-concept in your daughter is to be very careful what you say and do in her presence. Be particularly cautious about the matters of physical attractiveness and intelligence. These are two primary "soft spots" where boys and girls are most vulnerable.

Copyright 2008 James Dobson Inc. Distributed By Universal Press Syndicate

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