Q: Everyone talks about how rebellious teens are today. I don't believe my parents went through this kind of anxiety when my sisters and I were young. We were all relatively happy and none of us rebelled. Am I right in assuming that a good family life was easier to achieve in those days?
A: I'm sure your memory is generally correct despite the exceptions we can all recall. The majority of parents in the past spent less energy worrying about their children. They had other things on their minds.
I remember talking to my dad about this subject a few years before his death. Our children were young at the time and I, like you, was feeling the heavy responsibility of raising them properly. I turned to my father and asked, "Do you remember worrying about me when I was a kid? Did you think about all the things that could go wrong as I came through the adolescent years? How did you feel about these pressures associated with being a father?"
Dad was rather embarrassed by my question. He smiled sheepishly and said, "Honestly, Bo," (his nickname for me) "I never really gave that a thought."
How do we explain his lack of concern? Was it because he didn't love me or because he was an uninvolved parent? No. He was a wonderful father throughout my childhood. Instead, his answer reflected the time in which I grew up. People worried about the Depression that was just ending, the war with Germany and Japan, and later the Cold War with Russia. They did not invest much effort in hand-wringing over their children ... at least not until some kind of problem developed. Trouble was not anticipated.
And why not? Because there were fewer land mines for kids in that era. I attended high school during the "Happy Days" of the 1950s, and I never saw or even heard of anyone taking an illegal drug. It happened, I suppose, but it was certainly no threat to me. Some students liked to get drunk, but alcohol was not a big deal in my social environment. Others played around with sex, but the girls who did were considered "loose" and were not respected. Virginity was still in style for males and females. Occasionally a girl came up pregnant, but she was packed off in a hurry, and I never knew where she went. As for homosexuals and lesbians, a few students were open about their lifestyle, but I didn't know them personally. There were certainly no posters on our bulletin boards advertising Gay Pride Month or Condom Week. Most of my friends respected their parents, went to church on Sunday, studied hard enough to get by and lived a fairly clean life. There were exceptions, of course, but this was the norm.
Today's kids, by contrast, are walking through the Valley of the Shadow! Drugs, sex, alcohol, rebellion and alternative lifestyles are everywhere. Those dangers have never been so evident as they are now, and the worst may be yet to come.
Q: When do children begin to develop a sexual nature? Does this occur suddenly during puberty?
A: No, it occurs long before puberty. Perhaps the most important concept suggested by Freud was his observation that children are not asexual. He stated that sexual gratification begins in the cradle and is first associated with feeding. Behavior during childhood is influenced considerably by sexual curiosity and interest, although the happy hormones do not take full charge until early adolescence. Thus, it is not uncommon for a 4-year-old to be interested in nudity and the sexual apparatus of the opposite sex.
The elementary school years are an important time in the forming of sexual attitudes. Parents should be careful not to express shock and disgust over this kind of curiosity, even though they have to disapprove of exploratory behavior. It is believed that many sexual problems begin because of inappropriate training during early childhood.
James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.