Still focusing on the family
His Focus on the Family radio program and its derivatives are heard by 220 million people per week on 7,300 radio stations in 161 countries. His ministry’s headquarters in Colorado Springs has 1,300 employees. And Dr. James C. Dobson has recently written his 33rd book, The New Strong-Willed Child, a rewrite of the original 1978 version that sold nearly 3 million copies. The Wall Street Journal calls Dobson “the most influential single voice in the ranks of Christian conservatives.” Dobson, 68, recently spoke with News Editor John W. Kennedy about children, marriage, culture, politics and his future.
PE: How much is culture to blame for strong-willed children?
DOBSON: Not at all. A strong-willed child is one who has an inborn temperament that leads him or her to an independent personality. It is usually apparent very quickly. About 30 percent of parents can tell it at the child’s birth. Another 30 percent can tell by the first birthday. By toddlerhood 91 percent can tell. The culture then can make that tendency more pronounced and the parents may fail to deal with it properly.
PE: Is strong-willed necessarily bad? Ministry leaders need to be strong.
DOBSON: I agree. Parents who have a strong-willed child should not see themselves as somehow cursed by God. Strong-willed children have many advantages as life unfolds. Some of the greatest world leaders have been tough-minded and strong-willed. They are more difficult to raise as children though.
PE: What fallout is there in society from parents failing to discipline their children?
DOBSON: I’m very concerned about many parents’ lack of understanding of child development and what children need in the way of leadership. It’s even more evident today than when I wrote Dare to Discipline in 1970. You see parents today in airports, supermarkets and other public places who seem to have no clue how to respond to a child in the midst of a temper tantrum or who is being blatantly disrespectful.
I fear because we are so busy and there are so many distractions for parents, we really don’t take time to understand our children or their needs. Discipline is one area that is misunderstood in this very permissive day.
PE: People may not remember your early expertise in pediatrics before Focus on the Family became such a broad-based ministry. Did you expect Dare to Discipline to launch a career as a national Christian leader?
DOBSON: I had no idea that’s where I was headed. Obviously the Lord did. When I was at the University of Southern California School of Medicine I had no clue that an organization the size of Focus on the Family would have the influence that it does. I’m still shocked by that.
PE: As political matters have encroached on morality, you’ve expanded your reach. Does the lack of involvement by many evangelicals in the political process disturb you?
DOBSON: To the contrary, what excites me now is an energy that I’m seeing among Christian people that was not there 10 years ago. I’m seeing greater concern about the preservation of the family, especially the institution of marriage, than I’ve ever seen before.
PE: You’ve become more vocal in recent years on such matters as pulling children out of public school. Why?
DOBSON: Parental choice of schooling varies so much from location to location and family to family. I’ve been very reluctant to say home schools are better than Christian schools or Christian schools are no worse than public schools. The truth of the matter is some public schools, not many today, are very representative of the things we believe. It’s also a matter of finances. Not every family can afford to put their kids in a private school. Many parents cannot handle homeschooling at all.
But I believe if parents have children in a state like California that begins teaching homosexuality in kindergarten and for 12 years propagandizes them with this and other immoral teachings, such as safe-sex ideology, then they ought to consider getting them out of there. We must monitor the school curriculum and take steps to protect our kids.
PE: Before the election you were involved in registering voters and endorsing candidates. Tell me about that.
DOBSON: There’s a big difference between those two things. It’s well within the law for a nonprofit organization such as Focus on the Family to urge people to register and vote. It’s a constitutional right. Nonprofit organizations, including churches, ought to be doing just that — not telling people how to vote, but about the importance of voting. The endorsement of candidates is prohibited, and Focus on the Family does not do that. However, as an individual I am entitled to speak personally about candidates. I have chosen to endorse a few candidates who stand for the things I believe.
PE: Do Christians understand what is at stake if homosexual marriage becomes the law of the land?
DOBSON: There is increasing evidence that they do, just by the number of states that have put the issues before the voters and how many states have affirmed traditional marriage. People seem to understand the implications of changing the definition of marriage.
PE: How is your health?
DOBSON: It appears to be outstanding. I had a heart attack 14 years ago and a stroke six years ago. Cardiologists tell me I seemingly am very healthy and there’s no reason to believe that I’m more likely to have another episode than anyone else. God has been very good to me. I suffer absolutely no limitations as a result of the stroke, which I recovered from essentially in 24 hours. That almost never happens. I believe that occurred because of the prayers of many people around the world. I’m very grateful to them.
PE: Will Focus on the Family be as influential once you’re no longer on the scene?
DOBSON: That is up to God. He conceived this ministry. He has blessed it every step of the way. It would appear that Focus on the Family will not only survive my retirement, whenever it comes, but prosper because the need is so great. I’m not contemplating retirement. I have 12-hour-a-day energy. But nothing lasts forever. When the time comes, the plans will have been laid for succession.
PE: Anything else on your heart?
DOBSON: I have great friends in your movement, including Dr. [Thomas] Trask. I thank the Assemblies of God for what you are doing and your love for the Lord. We appreciate your commitment to the cause of Christ.
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