Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
QUESTION: I have heard you say that we have shamefully mismanaged the present generation of children. Explain what you meant by that.
DR. DOBSON: I was referring to the many harmful influences that previous generations didn’t have to confront — at least not to the degree that we see today. That includes safe-sex ideology and violence and sexual imagery in movies, rock music and television; it refers to gang activity and drug abuse, and many other dangerous aspects of the culture. I was speaking also about the extreme emphasis on physical attractiveness and body consciousness in Western nations that is having a terrible impact on children. It can even be lifethreatening to them.
A study done at the University of California showed that 80 percent of girls in the fourth grade have attempted to diet because they see themselves as fat. One elementary school girl justified her dieting by saying she just wanted to be skinny so that no one would tease her. How sad it is that children in this culture have been taught to hate their bodies — to measure their worth by comparison to a standard that they can never achieve. At a time when they should be busy being kids, they’re worried about how much they weigh, how they look, and how they’re seen by others.
For young girls this insistence on being thin is magnified by the cruelties of childhood. Dozens of studies now show that overweight children are held in low regard by their peers, even at an early age. According to one investigation, silhouettes of obese children were described by six-year-olds as “lazy,” “stupid” and “ugly.”
This overemphasis on beauty does not occur in a vacuum, of course. Our children have caught our prejudices and our system of values. We, too, measure human worth largely on a scale of physical attractiveness. It’s bad enough when adults evaluate each other that way. It’s tragic when millions of children have already concluded that they’re hopelessly flawed, even before life has gotten started.
We must take the blame for the many pressures on today’s kids. Fifty years ago, parents and other adults acted in concert to protect kids — from pornography, from sexual abuse, from harmful ideas and from dangerous substances. Millions of husbands and wives stayed together “for the benefit of the children.” It was understood that tender minds and bodies needed to be shielded from that which could hurt them. But now, child abuse, date rape and sexually transmitted disease are rampant. As the family unravels and as adults become more self-centered and preoccupied, children are often left to fend for themselves in a very dangerous world. It may be our greatest failing as a people.
QUESTION: I find I’m more likely to say no to my children than to say yes, even when I don’t feel strongly about the permission they are seeking. I wonder why I automatically respond so negatively.
DR. DOBSON: It is easy to fall into the habit of saying no to our kids. “No, you can’t go outside.” “No, you can’t have a cookie.” “No, you can’t use the telephone.” “No, you can’t spend the night with a friend.”
We could have answered affirmatively to all of these requests, but we chose almost automatically to respond in the negative. Why? Because we didn’t take time to stop and think about the consequences; because the activity could cause us more work or strain; because there could be danger in the request; because our children ask for a thousand favors a day and we find it convenient to refuse them all.
While every child needs to be acquainted with denial of some of his or her more extravagant wishes, there is also a need for parents to consider each request on its own merit. There are so many necessary no’s in life that we should say yes whenever we can.
Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995