QUESTION: What is the most difficult period of adolescence, and what is behind the distress?
DR. DOBSON: the 13th and 14th years commonly are the most difficult 24 months in life. It is during this time that self-doubt and feelings of inferiority reach an all-time high, amidst the greatest social pressures yet experienced.
And adolescent’s worth as a human being hangs precariously on peer group acceptance, which can be tough to garner. Thus, relatively minor evidences of rejection or ridicule are of major significance to those who already see themselves as fools and failures.
It is difficult to overestimate the impact of having no one to sit with on the school-sponsored bus trip, of not being invited to an important event, of being laughed at by the “in” group, waking up in the morning to find seven shiny new pimples on your bumpy forehead, or being slapped by the girl you thought had liked you as much as you liked her.
Some boys and girls consistently face this kind of social catastrophe throughout their teen years. They will never forget the experience.
Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, eminent authority on child development at Cornell University, told a Senate committee that the junior high years are probably the most critical to the development of a child mental health. It is during this period of self-doubt that the personality is often assaulted and damaged beyond repair.
Consequently, said Bronfenbrenner, it is not unusual for healthy, happy children to enter junior high school, but then emerge two years later broken, discouraged teenagers.
I couldn’t agree more emphatically with Bronfenbrenner’s opinion at this point. Junior high school students are typically brutal to one another, attacking and slashing a weak victim much the same way a pack of northern wolves kill and devour a deformed caribou. Few events stir my righteous indignation more than seeing a vulnerable child being taught to hate himself.
QUESTION: I keep hearing that it is unwise to get too carried away with the successes of your kids, but I can’t help it. Is it wrong for me to feel a sense of fatherly price when my son succeeds in basketball? How can I not care about the quality of his performance?
DR DOBSON: There’s nothing wrong about feeling good about the successes of our children. The problem occurs when parents care too much about those triumphs and failures . . . when winning is necessary to maintain their parents’ respect and love.
Boys and girls should know they are accepted simply because they were created. That’s enough. I’m reminded of John McKay, the former football coach from the University of Southern California and a former National Football League coach. I saw him interviewed on television at a time when his son, John Jr., was a successful football player on the USC team.
The interviewer referred to John’s athletic talent and asked Coach McKay to comment on the pride he must feel on his son’s accomplishments on the field. His answer was most impressive:
“Yes, I’m pleased that John had a good season last year. He does a fine job, and I am proud of him. But I would be just as proud of him if he had never played the game at all.”
McKay was saying that John’s football talent is appreciated, but his human worth does not depend on football.
These questions and answers are excerpted from the book Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions. Dr. James Dobson is a psychologist, author and president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Correspondence to Dr. Dobson should be addressed to: Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. (c), 1982, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.