James Dobson and religiously motivated child abuse
Dr. James Dobson has made a career off of two industries--running the largest dominionist political group in the US (one which was recently found to have registered itself as a church with the IRS--this should hopefully lead to some investigation).
His other major business is targeting families--and particularly children. Some of it is in the method of recruitment of kids--most infamously in the giveaways of CDs from "Adventures in Odyssey", a radio programme produced by Focus on the Family and targeted at the elementary school set.
The other way he targets kids isn't so innocuous; in fact, he is one of the primary promoters--and probably the most successful--of "Biblically based child-beating". In fact, he makes a healthy living by it--over $25 million dollars of Focus on the Family's income yearly is from royalties from Dr. Dobson's "child-training" manuals, all of which are used to fund dominionism and printing of more of his books.
In my initial post on the subject of religiously motivated child abuse, I mentioned some of the more well-known "highlights" of Dr. Dobson's material that had been documented by watchdog groups concerned about religiously motivated child abuse. A review starts out with possibly the most infamous quote reported--the literal use of the beating of a Dachsund to show how children's wills should be broken in the introduction to his book "The Strong-Willed Child":
"Please don't misunderstand me. Siggie is a member of our family and we love him dearly. And despite his anarchistic nature, I have finally taught him to obey a few simple commands. However, we had some classic battles before he reluctantly yielded to my authority.
After describing thrashing the family dog, he notes this in the context of childrearing:
"But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. JUST AS SURELY AS A DOG WILL OCCASIONALLY CHALLENGE THE AUTHORITY OF HIS LEADERS, SO WILL A LITTLE CHILD -- ONLY MORE SO."
Dobson, much like other promoters of "Bible-based baby-beating", claims that if you don't whack the hell out of your kids (literally) they'll be damned:
"Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of 'original sin' which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster."
Dobson has, previously, been considered one of the "kindler and gentler" promoters of "whacking your kids for Jesus"; Stop The Rod, however, is showing that in many ways the "Dr. Spock" of the dominionist set is just as bad as the Pearls and more infamous "child training" manual authors.
In what is an appropriate start for an expose of Dobson, Stop The Rod--a group that has been successful in getting a bill in Congress that may finally stop the marketing of devices as "chastening rods"--begins with a review of "The New Strong-Willed Child". Of course, the Scourging of Siggie is covered with the observation that this would be considered animal abuse. (Not only that, but it's also the observations of people I've know who have worked in humane shelters that beating dogs like that tends to turn them into fear-biters--which, sadly, often have to be put down as unadoptable.)
The article also notes, of interest, how Dobson really seems to feel about kids--and, much like the Pearls, apparently he thinks that all infants are in a great conspiracy against their parents for World Baby Domination (and he even has a nice little bell graph to explain his original views, followed up with a graph showing most kids as "defiant" as his present view:
(from page 7)
However, having talked to about 100,000 harried parents, I'm convinced my supposition was wrong. The true distribution looks more like this...
The fun continues with the claims of Infantile Tyranny, as documented by Stop The Rod:
Dobson calls children many insulting names in this book: brat, bratty, pugnacious, spitfires, defiant, confirmed anarchists, hot lava, Goody Two-Shoes, sneaky, horrid, little revolutionaries, defiant, contentious, double trouble, hardheaded as mules, tough-minded, little fat-fingers, defiant, toughie, irritating, pack of adolescent wolves, confirmed revolutionary, Hurricane Hannah, little chameleon, negative, sour, sullen, ill-tempered, prissy, stick of dynamite, flighty, spoiled brat, goof-off, obnoxious, fireball, snippy, defiant, rambunctious, difficult, testy, groaning lump, nasty, all legs, all nose and ears, cantankerous, rude, unruly, stubborn, defiant, hostile, mischievous, gangly legs, foolish, selfish, insane. Did I mention "defiant"? On p. 6 he makes the bizarre claim that some children have "crooked wheels" and that's why they are "defiant"!
Frighteningly, the theme of "tyrant babies" and the need for children to be broken is a recurrent theme in these books--and a recurrent theme in dominionism in general.
Of course, the recommended tactic is to whack the kid, starting at around fifteen months of age (incidentially, the age at which children start recognising themselves as separate beings from their parents) on page 136. Dobson even recommends making kids cut their own "chastening rods" to be used on them, a common tactic among dominionist "child training" manuals to make kids an active participant in their torture:
My mother always used a small switch, which could not do any permanent damage. But it stung enough to send a very clear message. One day when I had pushed her to the limit, she actually sent me to the backyard to cut my own instrument of punishment. I brought back a tiny little twig about seven inches long. She could not have generated anything more than a tickle with it. Mom never sent me on that fool's errand again.
(Some of the "chastening devices" sold by groups promoting religiously motivated child abuse are around 12 inches, and a switch can cause injury even if it is small. This is completely aside from the whole aspect of making the kids pick their own switches; I remember I would be beat rather severely for attempts to bring in logs or very thin switches in an attempt to avoid a "switching"--once for having misbehaved (which could be as simple as not responding right away), and once for trying to be "defiant" in getting out of the original beating.)
Of course, Dobson's typical argument is "if it was good enough for the Good Old Days, it's good enough for kids now":
On p.120 Dobson quotes an anonymous poem "Grandpop seized a slipper and yanked Junior `cross his knee. Grandpop hasn't read a book since 1923." Then Dobson says "Dear ol' Grandpop. He may have been a little old-fashioned in his ideas, but he certainly knew how to handle Junior."
Dobson even suggests some things that could put parents at risk of visits from the local child-protective services:
On p.15 Dobson tells the story of a mother who spanks her 5 year old daughter and locks her in the garage for throwing some stones at cars. On p.18 he tells the story of a mother who slaps her 18 month old 9 separate times for reaching for a candy dish. On p.20 he tells the story of a mother who counts to three "and if the kids had not minded by then, they would have to face the wooden spoon."
When it's been pointed out to Dobson that research is showing that religiously-motivated child abuse (and, increasingly, even moderate to severe corporal punishment) causes longterm harm, he boils it all down to a conspiracy and basically accuses accredited researchers of making things up from thin air:
On p.123 Dobson states his beliefs about corporal punishment: "Many children desperately need this resolution to their disobedience" and says spanking actually prevents child abuse because when parents spank they don't "get more and more frustrated" and "blow up". However, research by Dr. Murray Straus and others show that 70% of child abuse cases start out as spanking!
Were this just one book, it'd be bad enough--especially considering Dobson's multimillion-dollar media empire and the fact he runs the single largest dominionist group in the country (giving him a very large platform indeed to promote this stuff).
Unfortunately, it's not isolated. Stop The Rod has also evaluated another Dobson book, The New Dare To Discipline. If anything, it's actually worse in that it uses some of the same hard-sell tactics of fear to promote what is, in fact, religiously motivated child abuse.
Chapter 1 begins with a round of Tyrant Infants Part 2, this time involving a three-year-old who has the audacity to not want to take a nap when she isn't tired--and Dobson's recommendations to beat the poor tyke into submission:
On p.4 the story is told of a 3 year old girl whose mother tries to force her to take a nap when she is not at all tired. This is a daily occurrence; the girl doesn't want a nap and is never tired at the mother's designated "naptime". The absurdity of the mother expecting her to sleep anyway is never commented on by Dobson. Instead, he describes the girl as "defiant," a "tyrant," a "dictator," and her mother as "hopelessly beaten." The child was crying from her crib. Dobson says she "was brazenly rejecting the authority of her mother."
A lonely, not-at-all tired, three year old kid is crying for her mom who is trying to force her kid to a specific schedule (a tactic often promoted in dominionist baby-beating books to "break" children and get them used to regimentation; the Ezzos are particularly infamous with this with the "Babywise""Growing Kids God's Way" books, and multiple cases of malnutrition and failure to thrive have resulted when those books were used as recommended). Oh, the /humanity. :P
Dobson confuses the home and family with boot camp in chapters 2 and 3:
p.11 Dobson decries the lack of discipline (spanking) from the "unstructured permissiveness we saw in the mid-twentieth century." This is when 99% of parents spanked their children, according to surveys! Dobson is making absolutely no sense here.
In chapters 2 and 3 he gives the usual cure--literally knocking the hell out of Junior:
p.28 Dobson describes a mother shaking her 3 year old for spitting. The child spat again. This was "embarrassing" to the mother; she was "too weak or tired or busy to win." Shaking can cause brain damage and death, but Dobson doesn't comment on this.
At one point, Dobson literally blames the decline and fall of Western civilisation on working mothers (most of whom must work now to put food in the bellies of their children!) and on abandonment of abusive childrearing tactics:
156-158. Blames the supposed crumbling of "moral values" and "anarchy that is now rumbling through the midsection of democracy" on working mothers and "permissiveness."
One of the more interesting notes, IMHO, in Stop The Rod's evaluation is the fact that Dobson himself--in a case all too sadly familiar in the dominionist community--seems to have been the victim himself of some pretty horrific child abuse and now thinks this is "normal". Examples from the book:
p.23 Dobson says "I learned very early that if I was going to launch a flippant attack on her (Dobson's mother), I had better be standing at least twelve feet away. This distance was necessary to avoid an instantaneous response--usually aimed at my backside." Dobson here admits his normal fear of being hit when he was a child - and his efforts to avoid the hitting. But it doesn't stop him from the behavior that triggers the hitting.
Pretty much ANY child protection agency nowadays would see being literally flogged with a girdle as being sufficiently abusive as to remove the child from the home. One only wonders now how things could have been different had Dobson been removed from that abusive situation as a kid and taught that such things are not normal. (Frankly, this is something I'm still learning to this day, partly because of my own experiences with religiously motivated child abuse.)
Dobson also expresses an interesting commentary in the book which could be taken in his direction--but not in the way he presumably would like:
p.19 Once when Dobson is out of town, his 2 year old son is asked by Dobson's wife to pray before dinner. The toddler was "startled" but then said "I love you, Daddy. Amen." Because the tiny child said "Daddy" instead of "Our Father" Dobson decides his tiny son's mistake means the child has identified Dobson with God. He takes this idea even further, concluding that ALL children believe Daddy is God.
It's been quipped before that "The name for 'God' on the lips of all children is 'Mother'". If anything, especially based on his abusive treatment growing up and his recommendations to parents now--their God is a wrathful, borderline sociopathic creature who pretty much believes in "the ends necessitate the means", no matter how unethical those means may be.
I wish I could say this is exaggeration, but one only needs to look at the activities of Focus on the Family in promoting dominionism, in the demonisation of their critics and LGBT people and women and anyone who ISN'T a dominionist, to see it. If their is truth to the concept that the first image of God to a child is in a child's parents, it's probably no wonder that they are in a path of hatred and fear and have hatred and fear towards others.
I write this series on religiously motivated child abuse and on coercive tactics within dominionist groups in part to show this, and partly in the real hope that their kids might not grow up knowing God--and their first image of God in their parents--being hateful, wrathful, hurtful. That there's a better way to things, and hopefully someday kids won't grow up with the scars that persons like me, like Beth Fennimore, like the three successful walkaways from the Phelps'...that we deal with every day.
And maybe, just maybe, there won't be any more James Dobsons either.
James Dobson and religiously motivated child abuse | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)
James Dobson and religiously motivated child abuse | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)