Archive for Friday, March 2, 2001

All work or all play makes children unprepared for lifeFocus on the Family James Dobson

March 2, 2001


Can you give us a guideline for how much work children should be given to do?

There should be a healthy balance between work and play. Many farm children of the past had daily chores that made life pretty difficult. Early in the morning and again after school, they would feed the pigs, gather the eggs, milk the cows and bring in the wood. Little time was left for fun, and childhood became a pretty drab experience. That was an extreme position, and I certainly don't favor its return.

Contrast that workaday responsibility with some families today that require nothing of children not even asking them to take out the trash, water the lawn or feed the cat. Both extremes, as usual, are harmful to the child.

The logical middle ground can be found by giving a boy or girl an exposure to responsibility and work, but preserving time for play and fun. The amount of time devoted to each activity should vary with the age of the child, gradually requiring more work as he or she grows older.

My 13-year-old daughter has become increasingly lazy in the past couple of years. She lies around the house and will sleep half a day on Saturday. She complains about being tired a lot. Is this typical of early adolescence? How should I deal with it?

It is not uncommon for boys and girls to experience fatigue during the years of puberty. Their physical resources are being invested in a rapid growth process during that time, leaving less energy for other activities. This period doesn't last very long and is usually followed by the most energetic time of life.

I would suggest, first, that you schedule your daughter for a routine physical examination to rule out the possibility of a more serious explanation for this fatigue. If it does turn out to be a phenomenon of puberty, as I suspect, you should go with the flow. See that she gets plenty of rest and sleep.

This need is often not met because teen-agers feel that they shouldn't have to go to bed as early as they did when they were children. Therefore, they stay up too late and then drag through the next day in a state of exhaustion. Surprisingly, a 13- or 14-year-old actually needs more rest than when he or she was 9 or 10, simply because of the acceleration in growth.

How can parents prepare their younger children for the assault on self-esteem that is almost certain to come in adolescence? That was a tough time for me, and I want it to be easier for my kids.

One important approach is to teach boys and girls valuable skills with which they can compensate in years to come. They can benefit from learning something that will serve as the centerpiece of their self-concept during the difficult years. This could include learning about basketball, tennis, electronics, art, music or even raising rabbits for fun and profit.

It's not so much what you teach your child; the key is that he or she learn something with which to feel good when the whole world seems to be saying, "Who are you and what is your significance as a human being?" The teen-ager who has no answer to those questions is left unprotected at a very vulnerable time of life.

James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or

Commenting has been disabled for this item.