Todd Miles's Reviews > Bringing Up Girls: Practical Advice And Encouragement For Those Shaping The Next Generation Of Women

Bringing Up Girls by James C. Dobson
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Jan 05, 12

bookshelves: parenting
Read from January 12 to March 04, 2011

This review will appear in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
James Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys, published in 2001 by Tyndale House, proved to be so informative and helpful to parents in the raising of their sons, that many fathers and mothers of daughters wondered when the companion volume on raising girls would be published. Ten years later, Dobson finished Bringing up Girls, and it will no doubt prove to be beneficial to all who read it.
Dobson, the founder and president emeritus of Focus on the Family, a licensed psychologist and marriage, family, and child counselor, as well as a husband and father to a son and daughter, brings a wealth of trusted experience to his writing. Christians have long looked to Dr. Dobson for counsel in the raising of children, and there has arguably not been a more influential voice in parenting and marriage issues over the last century.
Bringing Up Girls is borne out of a critical concern for the well-being of girls and young women in a culture that is simultaneously over-sexualized and confused over all issues related to gender and gender roles. There are so many competing voices for the hearts and minds of young women, so many mixed messages being sent to young men regarding the place of those same young women in society, and most tragically, so little godly sense exercised in parenting, that today, as perhaps never before, a clear voice of authoritative biblical wisdom is needed.
Dobson begins his book by explaining, in the first two chapters, why he possesses this sense of urgency in writing to parents of girls. Young women are in peril. The ambient culture wants to make girls into sex objects, and it targets them when they are young and most vulnerable.
Girls are different than boys. Femininity is different than masculinity. That might seem obvious and attractive to some, but to many in our society, those differences are unwanted and are to be negated through strong social engineering. In chapters three through six, Dobson explores the differences between girls and boys and argues persuasively that those differences are there by design. Bringing his clinical training and experience to bear, Dobson explains that girls are fundamentally different than boys, and those differences are essentially due to nature, not nurture. Girls have different biochemistry, physiology, and neurology. They are more emotional and nurturing. They mature differently and earlier than boys. They are programmed with different social needs and concerns. And though our culture desperately depends upon those differences, for the most part it does not respect or appreciate them. In fact, our culture is antagonistic toward them. Therefore, intentional parenting is needed to produce a safe environment where femininity and womanhood can be cultivated and trained.
Chapters seven through eleven focus on the fundamental role that both mothers and fathers must play in raising girls. For example, mothers need to stay in touch emotionally with their girls. That relationship must be cultivated from birth and it is to continue throughout adolescence. In fact, Dobson is convinced that all of a girl’s childhood is a critical period in her relationship with her mother. Yet he cautions that girls need their mothers to be mothers first, and best-friends later. Fathers are equally important, though their role is different. Through formal study, panel discussion, and anecdote, Dobson makes the case that girls need their fathers. They need an emotional and appropriate physical connection with their fathers, particularly during their awkward teen years. Young girls need the security of knowing that their father, the man in their life, loves them unconditionally, that they are protected and provided for by that same man. Their maturity, and psychological and emotional health depends upon it. For those fathers who struggle in knowing how to do so, Dobson has suggestions for cultivating the relationship that range from the simple (e.g., intentional times of conversation) to the elaborate (e.g., a father-daughter purity ball).
Chapters twelve through fourteen focus on cultural exegesis. Why is it that girls are the way that they are and yet our culture both feeds some legitimate desires (Dobson devotes all of chapter 12 to the “princess” movement) and destructively fights against others (chapter 14 describes the cultural currents that seek to pull girls toward sexual immorality)? Chapter 15 outlines the inevitable consequences of a sexual promiscuous lifestyle. The effects of the “hookup” culture are physical, relational, and emotional. But he happily reports in chapter 16 that a growing number of young women are resisting the tides of the culture and are practicing sexual abstinence until marriage. Dr. Dobson provides some practical advice in chapters 16 and 17 to parents who seek to protect their children and teach them to value and cherish their sexuality.
Chapters 18-21 cover an assortment of issues related to female physiology and biochemistry (18), female bullying and “relational aggression” (19), puberty (20), and protecting your children in our connected age from the dangers presented by invasive technology (21). In chapter 22, Dobson brings the book to a close by calling parents to raise their girls in the fear of the Lord, pointing them to Jesus Christ.
Bringing Up Girls is a strong book full of easy-to-understand explanations and practical advice. The strengths are numerous. Here are a representative few: Bringing Up Girls, though dealing with difficult issues is remarkably easy to read. Dobson illustrates his points throughout with panel discussion transcripts and anecdotes from his personal experiences in raising his daughter. Dr. Dobson writes in much the same style in which he speaks. Those who have listened to Dobson over the years will at times hear his voice speaking the words of advice, concern, and compassion as the pages are read. The book is clearly a labor of love and represents, in all earnestness, Dobson at his best.
Dobson’s clarion call to fathers to be intentionally involved in the lives of their daughters is compelling and convicting. As the father of a teenage daughter myself, I was confronted at numerous points and then challenged with the importance of my role in her life. He also raises the issue of the importance of mothers being at home with their children. Although he is not as confrontational as he could, he outlines the issue well and asks mothers in two-career families to consider the wellbeing of their daughters as they make their vocational choices.
Dobson’s citations of sociological and physiological research is impressive. His explanations are clear. One is left with the inescapable conclusion that there is a difference between boys and girls and it is that way by design. Readers are also left with an understanding of their daughter’s physiology, neurology, and emotional makeup that will go a long way toward explaining her needs. Though never excusing certain behaviors, such knowledge will enable parents to understand and more effectively deal with certain issues as physiological changes occur.
Two areas of concern, one small, the other more significant:
At times, Dobson runs into the same confusion regarding femininity and gender roles that is manifest in the culture. It is apparent that he is trying to walk a fine line between the strength of women on the one side and their femininity on the other. At one point he defends the strength of his feminine grandmother by recalling that she co-pastored a church with his grandfather and she was an excellent preacher. I’m not sure that appealing to an occasion where a woman does what is forbidden by Scripture is testimony to legitimate strength. Admittedly, it is a difficult line to walk when you are trying to speak against a culture that wants to treat women as sexual objects while also affirming the differences between men and women that the feminist movement despises. Scripture alone is able to guide one along this line, celebrating the differences between men and women that are designed by our wise and loving Creator while upholding the precious dignity of women as image-bearers and the unique and special creations of God.
Which brings me to my largest concern: There is virtually no Bible and even less gospel in this book. Surely the gospel has incredible implications for how we parent our girls! And I am speaking of more than a general “raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord” instruction. If Jesus came to save sinners (including mothers, fathers, young women, and little girls) and that salvation is holistic in the manner and depth that Scripture reveals, then the gospel has to uniquely guide our aspirations, philosophies, techniques, and prayers for our daughters as females and our sons as males. It is not until the last chapter that Dobson turns to Scripture for divine revelation on the roles and responsibilities of parents. And when he does so, it reads more like an obligatory add-on, rather than an authoritative appeal to the Word of God to give definition, explanation, and instruction to femininity, adolescence, and parenting. Why not begin with a brief biblical study on femininity and masculinity? Why no reference or appeal to the verses or passages that speak specifically to women and womanhood? But there were plenty of references to science, psychological studies, opinion polls, and anecdotal evidence. Dr. Dobson’s appeals to behavioral science, psychology, and physiology are impressive. And it is clear to me that Dobson is convinced that men and women, girls and boys, are unique and different because God designed them to be so. With that presupposition in mind the data makes perfect sense and is helpful. Why not make that presupposition explicit by rightly grounding the theology, philosophy, goals, and manner of parenting girls in the Bible? But in the absence of that presupposition, one will inevitably conclude that the source of authority and insight for parenting lies in the behavioral sciences. Really, apart from the last chapter and the unwritten presuppositions that ground the entire worldview of the volume, there is nothing distinctly Christian about the book. I think that Dobson recognizes the priority and sufficiency of Scripture, but it is not clear from the book structure that this is the case.
But Dr. Dobson has earned our trust and we know of his commitment to Christ. His voice is no longer heard by as many parents as it was during the seventies and eighties when he called parents to love their children enough to “dare to discipline.” More is the pity. One look around society and even the church suggests that most parents are not suffering from too much good advice and godly instruction. If anything, the stakes for our children are higher now and the world that much more dangerous. For these reasons and more, Bringing up Girls is a book well worth reading.
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