Question: I am 13 years old, and I feel miserable about myself. Is there anything I can do?

Dr. Dobson: First, you need to understand that you are not alone. When you go to school tomorrow, quietly watch the students who are coming and going. I assure you, many of them have the same concerns that trouble you. They reveal these doubts by being very shy and quiet, by being afraid to participate in a game or contest, by blushing frequently or by acting proud or “stuck up.”

You’ll soon learn to recognize the signs of interiority, and then you’ll know it’s a very common disorder. It will give you more confidence to know that everyone is afraid of embarrassment and ridicule –that we’re all sitting in the same leaky boat, trying to plug the watery holes.

Second, I advise you to look squarely at the worries that keep gnawing at you from the back of your mind or from deep within your heart, causing a black cloud to hang over your head day and night. Then list all the things which you most dislike about yourself. Nobody is going to see this paper except the people you choose to show it to, so you can be completely honest. Write down everything that’s bothering you.

Identify your most serious problems as clearly as possible. Whatever concerns you, write it down the best you can. Then when you’re finished, go back through the list and put a mark by those items that worry you the most –the problems you spend the most time thinking and fretting about.

Third, think about each item on the list. Give the greatest creative though to what might be done to change the things you don’t like. If you wish, you might share the paper with someone in whom you have confidence. That person can then help you make out a plan for improvement. You’ll feel better for having faced you problems.

They key to mental health is being able to accept what you cannot change. After you’ve done what you can to deal with you problems, I feel you should take the paper on which the most painful items are written and burn it in a private ceremony.

Question: What does a man experience during a full-fledged mid-life crisis?

Dr Dobson: Dr. Jim Conway has written a book called Men in Mid-Life Crisis (David C. Cook), which I highly recommend. In it, he identifies four major “enemies” that plague a man entering this stressful period.

The first is in his own body. There is no doubt about it; that guy they called “Joe College” just a few years ago is now growing older. His hair is falling out, despite desperate attempts to coddle and protect every strand.

Then he notices he doesn’t have the stamina he once had. He begins getting winded on escalators. Before long, words assume new meaning for Ol’ Joe. The “rolling stones” are his gall bladder, and “speed” (which once referred to amphetamines or fast driving) is his word for prune juice.

A man approaching 40 years is forced to admit: 1) he is getting older; 2) the changes produced by aging are neither attractive nor convenient; 3) in a world that equates human worth with youth and beauty, he is about to suffer a personal devaluation; 4) old age is less than two decades away, bringing eventual sickness and death.

The second enemy facing a man in his mid-years is his work. He typically resents his job and feels trapped in the field he has chosen.

The third enemy that rises to confront a middle-aged man is, believe it or not, his own family. These stormy years of self-doubt and introspection can be devastating to his marriage. Such a man often becomes angry, depressed and rebellious toward those closest to him. He resents the fact that his wife and kids need him.

The forth and final enemy of a man in mid-life crisis appears to be God Himself. Through a strange manipulation of logic, man blames God for all his trouble, approaching Him with rebellion and anger.

Let me give this latter point the strongest possible emphasis. One of the most common observations made by relatives and friends of a man in mid-life crisis reflects this sudden reversal of personality and behaviour: “I don’t understand what happened to Loren,” a wife will say. “He seemed to change overnight from a stable, loving husband and father to an irresponsible rogue.”

Dr. James Dobson is a psychologist, author and president of Focus on the Family.