Month: July 2014

“The Strong-Willed Child” Chapter 2: pp. 29-30

So we begin Chapter 2 with a wordy story about a mother of a 3-year-old girl in Kansas City who meets Dobson and at first thanks him for his book Dare to Discipline. Apparently,

“…they (this girl’s parents) bought the book and learned therein that it is appropriate to spank a child under certain well-defined circumstances. My recommendation made sense to these harassed parents, who promptly spanked their sassy daughter the next time she gave them reason to do so.”

And here we have more instance of Dobson in general just letting us know how much he really seems to dislike children in general. The parents were harassed?? Really? The daughter was sassy? Look, I have no idea who these people are, or if they even exist, so I don’t know what their situation was that compelled them to seek out Dobson’s advice. Maybe the daughter was legitimately out of control. I don’t know, and I’m not automatically assuming that to be the case. All I do know is that accusing a 3-year-old of “harassing” anyone is just not appropriate, whatever the circumstances. I know children that age do irritating things and can be really frustrating, but this is just not cool.

Anyways, he continues,

“When her mother awoke the next morning, she found her copy of Dare to Discipline floating in the toilet! That darling girl had done her best to send my writings to the sewer, where they belonged. I suppose that is the strongest editorial comment I’ve received on any of my literature!”

Smart girl. And Dobson, you said it, not me. The toilet is absolutely where your crappy, child abuse manuals belong.

But there’s more!

“This incident with the toddler was not an isolated case. Another child selected my book from an entire shelf of possibilities and threw it in the fireplace. I could easily become paranoid about these hostilities. Dr. Benjamin Spock is loved by millions of children who have grown up under his influence, but I am apparently resented by an entire generation of kids who would like to catch me in a blind alley on some cloudy night.”

This is possibly one of the more triggering, angering and frustrating sentences in the entire book for me personally to read. I mean, the guy actually seems proud of himself that kids raised on his advice resent him. Seriously, was that his goal all along???

Furthermore, Dobson, instead of saying this in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek way, why don’t you do some soul searching as to why that is. Yes, entire generations of kids who grew up with parents using your methods are filled with resentment. They are also plagued with substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, difficult divorces (including your own son!), and have become abusers themselves. Families are fractured and parents are filled with remorse thanks to you. Why don’t you take some responsibility for it?

I know this post is much shorter than I usually do, but that’s about it for me for today. This section is utterly horrifying to me. He’s flat-out admitting that children raised on his methods grow up miserable and resentful and he’s actually proud of that. I just…. I just can’t….

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“The Strong-Willed Child”, Chapter 1, pp. 26-28: Where Dobson *Almost* Gives Good Advice

If you’ll recall, we’re in the middle of the end of chapter Q&A session. Here’s the next question:

            “Should my child be permitted to say ‘I hate you!’ when he is angry?”

To me, there are two issues with this question. First, the “I hate you” part, and secondly, the word “permitted.”

Here’s the start of Dobson’s answer:

“Not in my opinion. Other writers will tell you that all children hate their parents occasionally and should be permitted to vent that hostility. I believe it is possible (and far more healthy) to encourage the expression of negative feelings without reinforcing temper tantrums and violent behavior.”

Had he stopped there, this blog post might be really, really short. I will agree here that the phrase “I hate you” is incredibly destructive and really doesn’t have any place in a loving relationship. It can be apologized for, but never truly unheard. It is simply not a good or constructive tool to have in one’s arsenal of conflict resolution tricks. But I said IF Dobson had stopped there. He didn’t…

“If my child screamed his hatred at me for the first time in a moment of red-faced anger, I would probably wait until his passion had cooled and then convey this message in a loving, sincere manner:

‘Charlie, I know you were very upset earlier today when we had our disagreement, and I think we should talk about what you were feeling. All children get angry at their parents now and then, especially when they feel unfairly treated. I understand your frustration and I’m sorry we got into such a hassle. But that does not excuse you for saying, ‘I hate you!’ You’ll learn that no matter how upset I become over something you’ve done, I’ll never tell you that I hate you. And I can’t permit you to talk that way to me. When people love each other, as you and I do, they don’t want to hurt one another. It hurt me for you to say that you hated me, just as you would be hurt if I said something like that to you. You can, however, tell me what angers you, and I will listen carefully. If I am wrong, I will do my best to change the things you dislike. So I want you to understand that you are free to say anything you wish to me as always, even if your feelings are not very pleasant. But you will never be permitted to scream and call names and throw temper tantrums. If you behave in those childish ways, I will have to punish you as I would a little child. Is there anything you need to say to me now? (If not, then put your arms around my neck because I love you!).’”

This really brings me to the second part of all this, the word “permit.” Basically, Dobson is advocating making “no saying ‘I hate you’” a house rule. I think this is a huge mistake. Now, to be clear, I’m personally okay with setting some rules, even if they may be arbitrary or come off as such to a child. I do think it’s more effective to explain your thinking behind why bedtime is at 8:30 pm sharp, or why video game time is limited to thirty minutes a day, or what have you. But I do not think setting such rules in the first place is wrong or abusive. Setting this other kind of rule, about not saying certain things in anger, well, this is different. Saying “I hate you” is destructive, yes, but just saying, “that’s against the rules and you’ll be punished for saying it” doesn’t at all convey to a kid WHY that phrase is so hurtful. If that’s all you do, trust me, he’ll still be thinking it, which really didn’t teach him anything about human interaction at all. Rather than banning the phrase, I’d much rather kids be taught and modeled respect, communication skills, and constructive conflict resolution. I would hope my (hypothetical) kid wouldn’t say “I hate you” to me because he/she respects me and has learned and internalized that that phrase is destructive and hurtful, not because I banned it with an iron fist. And I’m not even remotely going to sit here and pretend that I wouldn’t be very hurt to hear such a thing from my child. But I think that is what would be important to communicate – that I do have feelings, that I am a human being, that you the kid are capable of hurting people with your words and actions, and then let that sink in. And I don’t think it would sink in if I just hauled off and hit the child for saying it.

For a personal note here: a few years ago, my mom commented to me that as a teenager I rarely back-talked my parents. My immediate response was, “well, not out loud.” She looked genuinely surprised and taken aback. Honestly, I don’t know why…

Another part of this little speech I have to touch on is the part where Dobson prattles on about how he as a parent would never say “I hate you” to his child. My parents never said those exact words to me. They never did, I don’t think even once. But they did communicate that idea to me, over and over and over, even if they never said it outright. I guess my overall point is, when you (Dobson) are writing entire books instructing parents to infer a ton of nasty intent on their kids’ actions, and beat them with belts, it’s pretty rich to turn around and put a little halo on your head because you never actually utter the phrase, “I hate you.”

Also, is it just me, or did Dobson’s little speech to his hypothetical kid Charlie remind anyone else of O-Ren Ishii’s speech to the Japanese mafia in Kill Bill: Volume 1 after she “deals with” Boss Tanaka? I swear….

And of course, this ends on a very creepy, totally icky note – ordering a kid to give you a hug – which really doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately. I mean, if you’re advocating hitting kids with belts, how can you suddenly respect their boundaries when it comes to affectionate touch?

The last Q&A is about whether parents should apologize to their kids when they mess up, and surprisingly, Dobson says they should. He keeps this section very short, and there’s not that much to say about what he wrote.

And this concludes chapter 1! Stay tuned…

“The Strong-Willed Child” Chapter 1, pp. 25-6: It’s All About Intent! (SMH)

So now we come to a Q and A section that will close out Chapter 1. It is rather wordy so I’m not going into too much detail, but the first question disturbed me and I have to expound on it. The Question is as follows:

“I’m still not sure if I understand the difference between willful defiance and childish irresponsibility. Could you explain it further?”

Here’s Dobson’s answer:

“Willful defiance… is a deliberate act of disobedience. It occurs only when the child knows what his parents expect and then chooses to do the opposite in a haughty manner….. By contrast, childish irresponsibility results from forgetting, accidents, mistakes, a short attention span, a low frustration tolerance, immaturity, etc.”

Then Dobson continues,

“Ultimately, the appropriate disciplinary reaction by a mother or father should be determined entirely by the matter of intention.”

This is the part I want to expound upon. This is the meat of the section and what really bothers me. This whole knowing another person’s intentions part. Dobson gives the example using his own son Ryan, who I believe was fairly young at the original publishing of this book. He says that if Ryan is standing in the doorway and Dobson says, “Ryan, shut the door,” but Ryan mishears or misunderstands and actually opens the door instead, that is not willful defiance. Now, the scenario Dobson is describing is the most plausible one – Ryan probably misheard and thought he was doing the right thing here. But how does he (Dobson) know for sure? This is my overall point. You can’t truly know another person’s intent all the time.

Then Dobson gives another example, that of Ryan being told to pick up his toys and screaming “NO!” and throwing a Tonka truck at his dad. This, Dobson says, is willful defiance. He “knows” this by determining little Ryan’s intent. But the problem is, he doesn’t completely know Ryan’s intent. Maybe Ryan was pushing limits and testing boundaries, but maybe not. Maybe Ryan was extremely invested in his playing and being abruptly told to stop playing was a very emotional thing for him and he reacted in frustration. Maybe just minutes before, Ryan’s mom, unbeknownst to his dad, had told Ryan he could play for another half hour, and poor Ryan is very mad and confused at getting mixed messages about something that is very important to him. Maybe the whole thing wasn’t about you, Dobson.

But this brings me to a major point I want to bring up. If I have learned nothing else from my nearly ten years of marriage, it’s that deciding you know someone else’s intent is one of the least constructive things you can do in a relationship. It’s so much better to focus on the actual behavior or action itself. It’s so much more peaceful to say something like, “Sweetie, when you did X it really bothered me/hurt my feelings/ made me feel XYZ/etc.”, and then give Sweetie a chance to respond, not “Why the hell did you do that? You must not care about me at all!”
Honestly, I don’t think it’s that different with kids. My parents loved ascribing intent to my behavior, and they were wrong so much of the time. If you’re primed by this book its messages, it’s just too easy to infer intent that isn’t there when your kid does something irritating. And that destroys relationships. I always thought my parents hated me precisely because of this advice Dobson is giving. They always inferred this terrible destructive intent that I simply didn’t have. There were even some instances where they assumed I was trying to be obnoxious when I was in fact trying to be helpful, which hurt immensely. 

Now, back to the example of Ryan throwing toys. I’m not saying that throwing toys is okay. It’s not. It’s not a constructive way to solve conflicts and it can even be dangerous. But I don’t know why a parent has to see this as willful defiance and think they know exactly what this child’s intent is. Why can’t they focus on the behavior itself and find some age-appropriate, non-violent way of communicating to their child that civilized people do not throw things at each other?