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James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson
Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Clayton Dobson (born April 21, 1936) is a conservative Christian psychologist who presents a daily radio program called Focus on the Family on over 6,000 stations worldwide in more than a dozen languages. He is chairman of the board of a nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado of the same name, which he founded in 1977. His programs are estimated to be heard by more than 200 million people every day in 164 countries[1], and Focus on the Family is also on 80 US television stations daily.



Dobson is an Evangelical Christian with significant political clout, because he can mobilize his listeners to contact politicians with civic concerns. Liberal critics label Dobson as a fundamentalist, but some fundamentalists are among his severest critics mainly because Dobson works cooperatively with Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians and Jews, and because the organization is politically active. Many fundamentalists also decry his mixture of psychology and faith.

He first became well-known with the publication of Dare to Discipline, a book which became hugely popular with parents of young children, especially other Christians. He attracted some controversy because in it he approved of the spanking of young children. Michael Crowley writes in Slate Magazine that "[w]hat made Dobson's books successful wasn't, as you might think, bilious jeremiads about modernity, but rather their highly practical advice about daily challenges from midlife crises to sibling rivalry. In these books and elsewhere, Dobson can sound like a perfectly sensible, if conservative, pop psychologist, not too different from Dr. Phil."[2] Dobson has used his following to gain considerable social and political influence.

Dobson has two children, Danae and Ryan, with his wife Shirley. His son, Ryan, divorced in 2001, [3] a point often brought up by his critics.

Degrees, positions and awards

Dr. Dobson has an earned doctorate in child development from the University of Southern California (1967). He was an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine for 14 years. He spent 17 years on the staff of the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles in the Division of Child Development and Medical Genetics.

He is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy , a licensed psychologist in California, and is listed in Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare. He also has a long list of honorary doctorates from various institutions.

Dobson has also served at the invitation of presidents and attorneys general on government advisory panels and testified at several government hearings. Among many other awards he has been given the "Layman of the Year" award by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1982, "The Children's Friend" honor by Childhelp USA , (an advocate agency against child abuse) in 1987, and the Humanitarian Award by the California Psychological Association (1988).

Views on corporal punishment and authority

Dobson advocates the spanking of children of up to eight years old when they misbehave, though he is quick to warn that "Corporal punishment should be a rather infrequent occurrence" and that "discipline must not be harsh and destructive to the child's spirit." He does not advocate harsh spanking: "It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely." (Dare to Discipline, p.7.)

Dobson recognizes some of the dangers of child abuse, and considers disciplining children to be a necessary but unpleasant part of raising children that should only be carried out by qualified parents: "Anyone who has ever abused a child -- or has ever felt himself losing control during a spanking -- should not expose the child to that tragedy. Anyone who has a violent temper that at times becomes unmanageable should not use that approach. Anyone who secretly 'enjoys' the administration of corporal punishment should not be the one to implement it."[4]

In his book The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson suggests that by correctly portraying authority to a child, the child will understand how to interact with other authority figures: "By learning to yield to the loving authority... of his parents, a child learns to submit to other forms of authority which will confront him later in his life -- his teachers, school principal, police, neighbors and employers." (p. 235.)

Dobson stresses that parents must uphold their authority and do so consistently, comparing the relationship between parents and disobedient children to a battle: "When you are defiantly challenged, win decisively." (Dare to Discipline, p. 36.) In The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson draws an analogy between the defiance of a family pet and that of a small child, and concludes that "just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, so will a little child--only more so." (emphasis Dobson)

When asked "How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?" Dobson responded:

"Yes, I believe there should be a limit. As long as the tears represent a genuine release of emotion, they should be permitted to fall. But crying quickly changes from inner sobbing to an expression of protest... Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining, and the change can be recognized in the tone and intensity of his voice. I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears. In younger children, crying can easily be stopped by getting them interested in something else." [5]

Anti-spanking groups disagree with Dobson's views, suggesting they are too simplistic and even dangerous for children.

Dobson and SpongeBob SquarePants

On January, 20th 2005, The New York Times published an article, "Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge", that focused on comments made by Dobson on the association of SpongeBob SquarePants with a children’s tolerance video created by the We Are Family Foundation. [6] Several media outlets [7], [8] incorrectly interpreted the Times article and reported that Dobson was accusing SpongeBob SquarePants, the cartoon character, of being homosexual or promoting a homosexual lifestyle. At least one media outlet was forced to write a correction. [9]

Dr. Dobson contends that underneath the guise of tolerance and respect, the We Are Family Foundation has a hidden agenda of promoting the normalization of homosexuality to schoolchildren. He states in the February 2005 edition of his monthly newsletter that, "childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children."[10] He offers as evidence the association of many leading pro-homosexual organizations including GLAAD, GLSEN, HRC, and PFLAG with the We Are Family Foundation and the foundation's distribution of elementary school lesson plans that include discussions of compulsory heterosexuality , gender, heterosexism, and homophobia. [11] The Focus on the Family website (the institution Dr. Dobson founded and runs) states, "While words like "diversity" and "unity" sound harmless — even noble — enough, the reality is they are often used by gay activists as cover for teaching children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality."[12]

The We Are Family Foundation has countered that Dobson has mistaken their organization with "an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called 'We Are Family,' which supports gay youth." [13] A spokesman for the foundation suggests that anyone who thought the video promoted homosexuality "needs to visit their doctor and get their medication increased." [14] Dobson contends that the controversial material has since been removed by the We Are Family Foundation and stating that he has "clear documentation that these materials were being promoted on the Web site." [15]

In Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle (published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc. in Sisters, Oregon in July 2004), Dobson outlines his views of traditional marriage . Dobson suggests that falling heterosexual marriage rates in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are due to the recognition of same-sex relationships by political leaders in those countries in the 1990s (pp. 8-9), and claims that traditional marriage "is rapidly dying" in these countries as a result, with "most couples cohabiting or choosing to remain single" and illegitimacy rates rising in some areas of Norway up to 80%. Of heterosexual marriage, Dobson has written that "every civilization in the world has been built upon it," (p. 7) and has described the instititution of marriage as "the bedrock of culture in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, and even Antarctica" (p. 8). Dobson argues passionately that homosexuality is curable. Railing against "the realities of judicial tyranny," Dobson has written that "[t]here is no issue today that is more significant to our culture than the defense of the family. Not even the war on terror eclipses it" (pp. 84-85).

Political Power

Despite his distaste for the compromises often necessary for political success, some say Dobson is the most politically powerful Evangelical in America today:

"Forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who in their dotage have marginalized themselves with gaffes... Dobson is now America's most influential evangelical leader, with a following reportedly greater than that of either Falwell or Robertson at his peak... He proselytized hard for Bush this last year, organizing huge stadium rallies and using his radio program to warn his 7 million American listeners that not to vote would be a sin. Dobson may have delivered Bush his victories in Ohio and Florida.
He's already leveraging his new power. When a thank-you call came from the White House, Dobson issued the staffer a blunt warning that Bush 'needs to be more aggressive' about pressing the religious right's pro-life, anti-gay rights agenda, or it would 'pay a price in four years.' And when the pro-choice Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter made conciliatory noises about appointing moderates to the Supreme Court, Dobson launched a fevered campaign to prevent him from assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which until then he had been expected to inherit. Dobson is now a Republican kingmaker... Dobson [unlike other religious figures involved in lobbying and politics] has talked about bringing down the GOP if it fails him."[16]

Though initially apolitical, in 1983, he founded the Family Research Council, which served as his political arm, though he initially remained somewhat distant from Washington politics. With LGBT issues becoming more prominent, he entered politics in full force.

On January 1, 2005, newspapers reported that Evangelical leader James C. Dobson was telling Democratic senators that he would prevent their reelections in 2006 if they blocked conservative appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. "He singled out six Democrats up for re-election [in 2006]: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Bill Nelson of Florida." In 2004, Dobson played an important role in the 2004 defeat of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.[17]


Dobson has authored or coauthored 31 books (as of 2004), including:

  • Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men ISBN 084235266X
  • The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide
  • Emotions: Can You Trust Them?
  • The Focus on the Family Complete Book of Baby and Child Care (with Paul C. Reisser )
  • Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Families in Crisis
  • Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, Multnomah Publishers, Inc. (Sisters, Oregon), July 2004
  • The New Dare to Discipline
  • Night Light: A Devotional for Couples (with his wife Shirley Dobson )
  • Night Light for Parents (with Shirley Dobson)
  • Parenting Isn't for Cowards
  • Preparing for Adolescence
  • Stories of Heart and Home
  • Straight Talk to Men
  • Straight Talk: What Men Should Know, What Women Need to Understand
  • The Strong-Willed Child : Birth Through Adolescence
  • What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women
  • When God Doesn't Make Sense

Dobson also served on the committee that wrote the Meese Report on pornography.

External links

Fundamentalist critics of Dobson

Dobson and SpongeBob SquarePants

Dobson's Political Power

Book Review

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