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What person who grew up in the American evangelical subculture within the last 30 or so years doesn't know about James C. Dobson? He's one of the foremost leaders of the evangelical subculture in America today. Focus on the Family, the non-profit organization he founded, produces a radio show of the same name that is played on over 3,000 North American radio stations and is heard by over 220 million people throughout the world.

He earned a doctorate in child development from the University of Southern California and, prior to founding Focus on the Family, worked as an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine and served on the Attending Staff of Children's Hospital Los Angeles in the Division of Child Development and Medical Genetics.

Given that background, it is not surprising that he has focused much of his attention on child-rearing issues. In 1970 he first presented his parenting philosophy to the American public in his best-selling book Dare to Discipline and has further expounded upon it in several of the over 30 books he has written in the intervening years.[1]

Being one of those American evangelical children, I was very much aware of Dobson and his influence. His magazines littered my house--"Focus on the Family", "Citizen", "Clubhouse", "Clubhouse Jr.", "Brio". My mother regularly listened to his radio show. I and my siblings watched the children's videos they produced and listened to "Adventures in Oddyssey" so much that, eventhough most of us have reached adulthood, we still remember intimate details of the show and have various inside jokes we tell each other about it.

There is much about Dobson's parenting philosophy that I disagree with, and, in the years since I became an adult, I have ocassionally browsed the internet for some critiques of his books and his philosophy. I have, however, been disappointed by the general quality of the critiques I have come across. Many of them have been cursory in nature and somewhat histrionic in tone.

As a result, I've decided to write my own critique of some of his work. Specifically, I've decided to focus on The New Dare to Discipline and The New Strong Willed Child because, it seems to me that, those two books most broadly explain his views on child-rearing.

I'm not a parent myself. I speak from the perspective of an adult who, as a child, experienced some of Dobson's child-rearing techniques and was, and continues to be, unimpressed by them. One of the reasons I'm writing this critique is because I think it will be good and cathartic for me to publically explain why I dislike Dobson's philosophy and what I think is wrong with it.

In reading The New Dare To Discipline and The New Strong-Willed Child there were several specific issues that jumped out at me and which I hope to write about over the next several weeks or months.

There are several other minor things that annoyed me or with which I disagreed when reading his books. I might possibly decided to write about those things also, but the items I listed above strike me as the biggest and most important problems with Dobson's writings, and so I will focus on them first.

I hope you will enjoy the first installment in which I discuss...

Dobson's use of inappropriate stories to illustrate his points.


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Copyright 2008 Jessica Menn