“The Strong-Willed Child”, Chapter 1, p. 15

The first paragraph of this section has left me shaking my head. We start this section by saying,

“Everyone knows that they (children) are lovers of justice and law and order and secure boundaries. The writer of the book of Hebrew in the Bible even said that an undisciplined child feels like an illegitimate son or daughter, not even belonging to his family.”

Hoo boy. Where to begin… Yes, children do appreciate justice, law and order, and secure boundaries. It’s called fairness and safety. You know what? Adults tend to like those things too. But apparently this PhD feels it is perfectly acceptable to offer the book of Hebrew as evidence for his broad assertion. Because the writer of Hebrew conducted studies of undisciplined children, interviewed them, compiled empirical evidence, and thus can tell us exactly how they feel. And this exemplifies one of the major problems I have with this book, and why I cannot fathom why so many people were taken in by it. Dobson offers no empirical evidence for anything he says. He just makes broad assertions and backs them up with “evidence” so flimsy and unconvincing as to be a joke, or not at all. I’ve done tons of reading in social sciences, both for academics and for pleasure, and NO ONE in that field gets to write a book just saying, “well, I have a doctorate from a good university, so what I say is gospel truth and must be taken at face value and never questioned.” It doesn’t work that way!! You cite credible sources, you study the existing literature on your subject, and you back up what you say with evidence.

Also, what did “illegitimate child” mean back in the days of the writing of Hebrews? Illegitimate child has several different colloquial definitions today (it could simply mean a child whose parents are happily together but don’t happen to be married by law, or it could mean a secret child conceived by an illicit affair between already-married people, and many things in between), so you’d think Dobson would find it necessary or at least important to go into some background here, to help us make sense of the point he’s trying to convey. But no. Dobson offers no context for this statement, which renders it somewhat meaningless.  

“Why, then, can’t parents resolve all conflicts by the use of quiet discussions and explanations and gentle pats on the head?”

Well, if you are patting your kid on the head, then you’re being very disrespectful and condescending, which they are going to find very offensive. That probably escalates the situation right there and negates the quiet discussions and explanations. If you do not patronize your child, then you probably can solve most conflicts with quiet discussions and explanations. But, Dobson has a better answer:

“The answer is found in this curious value system of children which respects strength and courage (when combined with love).”

As evidence, he cites the popularity of cartoon shows like Superman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman. Yup, that explains everything!

Also, there’s this:

            “Why else do children proclaim, ‘My dad can beat up your dad!’?”

Well, let’s see. I mean, there could be another reason that children say things like that… Maybe it’s said out of loyalty and love to one’s dad. Maybe it’s said in response to being bullied. Maybe it’s unhealthy and shouldn’t be said at all. Let us not forget, the dads beating each other up will both end up in jail, regardless of who wins.

We continue,

“You see, boys and girls care about the issue of ‘who’s toughest.’ Whenever a youngster moves into a new neighborhood or a new school district, he usually has to fight (either verbally or physically) to establish himself in the hierarchy of strength. Anyone who understands children knows that there is a ‘top dog’ in every group, and there is a poor little defeated pup at the bottom of the heap.”

So, basically Dobson is saying that kids bullying each other is self-evident and there’s nothing to be done about it (does he even want to do anything about it?). I cannot possibly disagree more. Um, how about we don’t accept this horrible behavior from our kids? Why don’t we start anti-bullying campaigns to bring awareness to this screwed-up social construct and take action to eliminate it or at least reduce it? Here’s an idea: why don’t teachers reprimand students they catch bullying other kids – send them to the principal’s office or something? Honestly, this book is so ass-backwards! Don’t tolerate your baby crying because he’s hungry, but if your son or daughter is bullying the kids at school, well, that’s just life. We’ll see in the next section that that is precisely how he raised his own kids.

Some additional thoughts: Dobson says that children value “toughness (when combined with love)” but then he defines that toughness as behavior that is clearly bullying and should be unacceptable in any civilized society. When these broken dynamics are occurring in schools and neighborhoods, children are generally interested in who is “top dog” to avoid getting beaten up. They don’t “value” the toughness. They may fear it, but they do not value it. Everyone hates the schoolyard bully. There is absolutely no love there. This behavior he has described is not healthy. It is not something that should be modeled or repeated at home, and yet, that is exactly what he is advocating. Sick. Utterly and completely sick.



  1. Many young kids do admire physical strength, but there’s a world of difference between recognizing your toddler wants to see you as strong like Superman and thinking you have to physically beat them up. For one thing, strength and toughness aren’t the only qualities kids will admire – lots of people will love it if their dad is so smart, or so funny, or can cook the best dinner, or knows how to fix the car or generally has some impressive quality that they can declare the best. For another, kids grow out of this phase and develop more complex admiration. Finally if you really want kids to admire your strength and toughness, that can be done without bringing violence into it. Go hiking through the forest! Help move boxes! Carry them around on your shoulder (when they want you to)! Strength has more uses than violence.

    (My dad used to build and fix a lot of things around the house and yard, and take us camping, and we all admired his strength, toughness and skill without any need for hitting.)

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