Preserving the Spirit of Your Son

There has to be a better way to preserve the spirit of your son. It may require extraordinary and inconvenient measures. As for me, I would not permit my child to stay in an abusive environment if I perceived it as more than the usual bickering between kids. If peers begin to gang up on your youngster and are ripping into his heart day after day, I would get him out of there. I would find a magnet school, or a Christian school, or I would even move to another city if necessary. (By the way, bullying on Christian campuses can be just as prevalent as in public schools.) Whenever the deck is stacked against your child, a change of scenery might be in order. We'll talk presently about homeschooling, which is another excellent option for some. Whatever the approach taken, you must protect the spirit of your child. I have seen firsthand what a pack of wolves can do to a defenseless lamb.

Speaking of wolves, let me share another animal story with you that I think is relevant. Our dog Mindy was neither a purebred nor a champion. Her daddy had been a travelin' man, so we didn't know much about her ancestry. She was just a scared pup who showed up at the front door late one night after being abused by her owners and thrown out of a car. We didn't really need another dog, but what could we do?

We took Mindy in, and she quickly grew to become one of the finest dogs we had ever owned. But she never lost the emotional fragility that had been brought on by abuse. She couldn't stand to be criticized or scolded when she accidentally did something wrong. She would actually jump in your lap and hide her eyes. One summer, we went away for a two-week vacation and left her in the backyard. The neighbor boy gave her food and water, but otherwise, Mindy was alone during that time. We obviously underestimated what this isolation would do to her. When we returned, we found her lying next to the house on a blanket. Surrounding her were about seven of our daughter's old stuffed animals, which she had found stored in the garage. Mindy had carried them one by one to her bed and ringed herself with these little friends.

If an old dog needs love and friendship in this way, how much more true is it of every child who walks the earth? It is our job as adults to see that each one of them finds the security he or she needs. We must never forget the difficulties of trying to grow up in the competitive world in which a child lives. Take a moment to listen, to care, and to direct such a youngster. That may be the best investment of your life.

One reason I feel strongly that adults should protect children from each other is because I have a very good memory. After enjoying a happy and secure childhood, I entered junior high and took some heavy flak from several older students. I remember crying all the way home from school one day because of what two boys and a girl had said to me. It threw me into a crisis of confidence that my dad had to help me deal with. Having seen so many kids struggle with the same pressures I faced, I often tell those in middle school that if they can survive their thirteenth and fourteenth years, they will be able to handle anything life throws at them thereafter. I am only half kidding.

Referring again to my father "being there" for me when I was in despair, my experience illustrates the importance of having a strong and loving family to help a kid survive the pressures of adolescence. One of the reasons some teenagers react violently and stupidly is that there is no one at home to "talk them down" from the precipice. Everything circles around, sooner or later, to the quality of family life. That is the big problem.

I eventually learned how to defend myself from attack. During my third year in high school, my family moved and sent me to a new high school. Almost immediately, I had to deal with several bullies who saw me as an easy mark. One of them followed me down the hall between classes, taunting and picking on me. I had had enough. I wheeled around and threw my books in his face. By the time he could see me again I was on top of him. Fortunately, I was six foot two and able to hold my own. That was the end of our conflict. Word quickly got around to the other bullies and they left me alone. But if I had weighed thirty pounds less and been about eight inches shorter, I would have been the continued target of these big dudes. That is the world in which adolescent boys live. As Little Orphan Annie sang in the Broadway production, "It's a hard-knock life."

Book: Bringing Up Boys

By Dr. James Dobson

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