Question: How can I acquaint my junior high schooler with the need for responsible behaviour throughout his life? He is desperately in need of this understanding.

Dr. Dobson: The overall objective during the preadolescent period is to teach the child that his actions have inevitable consequences.

One of the most serious casualties in a permissive society is the failure to connect those two factors, behaviour and consequences.

Too often, a three-year old child screams insults at his mother, but mom stands, blinking her eyes in confusion. A first-grader launches an attack on his teacher, but the school makes allowances for his age and takes no action. A 10-year-old is caught stealing candy in a store, but is released to the recognizance of his parents. A 15-year-old sneaks the keys to his family can, but the father pays the fine when he is arrested.

You see, all through childhood, loving parents seem determined to intervene between behavior and consequences, breaking the connection and preventing the valuable learning that could have occurred.

Thus, it is possible for a young man or woman to enter adulthood not really knowing that life bites – that every move we make directly affects our future – that irresponsible behavior eventually produces sorrow and pain.

Such a person applies for his first job and arrives late for work three times during the first week; then, when he is fired in a flurry of hot words, he becomes bitter and frustrated. It was the first time in his life that mom or dad couldn’t come running to rescue him from the unpleasant consequences.

Unfortunately, many North American parents still try to “bail out” the grown children even when they are in their 20s and live away from home. What is the result? This overprotection produces emotional cripples who often develop lasting characteristics of dependency and a kind of perpetual adolescence.

How does one connect behavior with consequences? By being willing to let the child experience a reasonable amount of pain or inconvenience when he behaves irresponsibly. When Jack misses the school bus through his own dawdling, let him walk a mile or two and enter school in mid-morning, unless safety factors prevent this. If Janie carelessly loses her lunch money, let her skip a meal.

Obviously it’s possible to carry this principle too far, being harsh and inflexible with an immature child. But the best approach is to expect boys and girls to carry the responsibility that is appropriate for their age, and occasionally to taste the bitter fruit that irresponsibility bears.

QUESTION: Do you believe love at first sight occurs between some people?

Dr. Dobson: Though some readers will disagree with me, love at first sight is a physical and emotional impossibility.

Why? Because love is not a feeling of romantic excitement. It is more than a desire to marry a potential partner. It goes beyond intense sexual attraction. It exceeds the thrill at having “captured” a highly desirable prize.

These are emotions that are unleashed at first sight, but they do not constitute love.

Real love, in contrast to popular notions, is an expression of the deepest appreciation for another human being. It is an intense awareness of his or her needs and longings – past, present and future. It is unselfish and giving and caring. And, believe me, these are not attitudes on “falls” into at first sight, as though we were tumbling into a ditch.

I have developed a lifelong love for my wife, but it was not something I fell into. I grew into it, and the process took time. I had to know her before I could appreciate the depth and stability of her character – to become acquainted with the nuances of her personality, which I now cherish.

The familiarity from which love has blossomed simply could not be generated on “some enchanting evening across a crowded room.” One cannot love an unknown object, regardless of how attractive or sexy or nubile it is.