Focus on the Family

By Phyllis Zanghi

Review of a Christian Film Series

Focus On The Family is a series of seven films by Dr. James Dobson. The films discuss a variety of topics related to family life, including discipline, authority, problems during adolescence, and marital harmony. The series provides an excellent source of new ideas and practical suggestions for renewing family relationships based on Christian and sound psychological principles.

Although the bookstores and newsstands are flooded with information on child development, child rearing, family living, and marital problems, there is a tremendous need for discussion of these topics from a Christian viewpoint. Focus On The Family helps to fill this need. When sponsored by an Orthodox parish or group, the viewing of each film should be followed by a group discussion with a priest for guidance. Presented in this way, the films provide a much-needed opportunity to discuss family living with other Orthodox Christians.

In our case, several Orthodox parishes of various jurisdictions on Long Island got together to co-sponsor this film series in one of the churches that was central to most people. It was held on a weekday night and the attendance ranged between 60 and 100 people. A flyer and accompanying letter were sent at the outset, about a month in advance, to each parish priest not only on the Island, but to the near-by New York and New Jersey areas as well. Following the film, one of our priests made some brief comments on the topic presented and then opened the discussion to all. Coffee and informal sharing of views ended each evening. The time format we used and found to work out well was

8:00 PM Opening Prayer and Film
9:00 PM Discussion of Film
9:45 or 10:00 PM Coffee

Those who attended found the series to be well worth seeing, especially as it gave a basis for discussing several important and common problems. As with most stimulating sessions, there was the wish that time would have permitted more in depth sharing in smaller group clusters.

Film 1: The Strong-Willed Child

The first film discusses Dobson’s contention that with regard to strength of will, some children are born naturally compliant, while others are more demanding and defiant from birth. This assertive child whom Dr. Dobson calls “the strong-willed child” needs a special kind of understanding and discipline by his parents. Dobson explains the following guidelines parents should follow when disciplining their children:

1. Define the boundaries before they are enforced.
2. When defiantly challenged, respond with confident decisiveness.
3. Distinguish between willful defiance and childish irresponsibility.
4. Reassure and teach after the confrontation.
5. Avoid impossible demands.
6. Let love be your guide.

Dobson concludes that parents have a God-given responsibility to shape the will of their children.

Film 2: Shaping the Will Without Breaking the Spirit

In Film 2, Dr. Dobson distinguishes between the spirit and will of a child. When Dobson speaks of the spirit of a child he is referring to the self-esteem or the personal worth that a child feels. He cites several examples to give a clear understanding of just how we can discipline without damaging a child’s self-esteem. He discusses discipline that bends the will, and compares it to discipline that crushes the spirit. Dobson asks us to keep in mind that the purpose of discipline is to give a child the ability to control his impulses and exercise self-discipline later in life.

Another main point he makes is the importance of connecting behavior to consequence. He asks us to consider a common error he believes many parents and teachers make in handling discipline, that of using anger to motivate children to comply instead of using action. He urges us to take disciplinary action before we are driven to anger.

Film 3. Christian Fathering

The film titled Christian Fathering is perhaps the most moving and inspirational. It calls on fathers to rededicate themselves to the task of leadership in the home by spending more time with their families. The main theme of this film applies to mothers and fathers alike, especially since there is an increasing number of working mothers. It asks parents to realize and reaffirm their commitment together, that the most important responsibility parents have in their life is raising their children and bringing them to Christ. It calls on us to reassess our priorities and not to be caught up by time pressures that cause families to put off spending more time together. For example, “We’ll have more time together after I’m finished with my graduate work,” or “when I finish painting the house,” or even “when the baby gets a little older.” He asks us to consider making some changes now, instead of continuing to wait for circumstances to change.

Film 4. Preparing For Adolescence: The Origins of Self Doubt

This film and the following one deal with problems children face during adolescence. It is important that a relationship of trust, confidence, and understanding be developed at an early age. Spend time with your child, talking and sharing concerns as he or she is growing up. Dr. Dobson recommends that we help prepare our pre-teen (ideally at age nine or ten) by devoting a special time together during which many of the changes and problems he or she will face as a teen are discussed openly. Dobson suggests this be done on a weekend trip alone with the parent or a well-planned day specifically set aside for this purpose.

An important topic to discuss, he suggests, is the feeling of inferiority that nearly ail teens face. Many teens feel unattractive or “dumb” at some point during these turbulent years. Relating the parents’ own struggles with feelings of inferiority at this age can be most helpful. Other suggestions are:

1. Help your child to realize his strong points and make the most of what he has through grooming, exercise, and parental involvement in the school experience.
2. Avoid remarks that take away your child’s self worth.
3. Tell I your child how much you appreciate his strong points

Film 5: Preparing For Adolescence: Peer Pressure and Sexuality

The next main topic for that special talk with your pre-teen is conformity. Dobson suggests that the parent begin by pointing out some examples of conformity from the child’s school experience or church experience. Next, discuss kinds of conformity that are harmful—the use of drugs, alcohol, or bad behavior. Describe a situation in which your child’s friends offer drugs. Discuss options of handling the situation in order to prepare him or her to respond wisely.

Another topic to be discussed with your pre-teenager is the sexual awakening and physical changes that he or she is going to experience during puberty. For the parent who is not prepared for such a talk, Dobson recommends getting guidance from the clergy or a doctor so that the talk will be a comfortable one.

During this film, Dr. Dobson suggests a frank talk about masturbation. In his opinion, masturbation is an inevitable developmental stage that adolescents pass through and which they should not feel badly about. He discusses the harm that is done by the guilt suffered by many Christian adolescents when they are unable to control the desire. The Orthodox viewpoint would agree about the harmful effects of guilt—but these are dealt with most appropriately through confession and repentance. Orthodoxy contends that sex is to be shared between husband and wife. Masturbation is self gratification and as such strays from what God intends.

Dr. Dobson believes It Is important to discuss the “meaning of love” with your pre-teen. He advises that the parent explain with examples that emotions go up and down; it is commitment that holds a relationship together. If possible, he suggests relating an example from your own marriage to Illustrate the commitment type of love.

Film 6: What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women: The Lonely Housewife

In the last two films Dobson tries to bring husbands and wives closer together by explaining the needs of women. Throughout the films he discusses common sources of depression in women and suggests some solutions.

Low self-esteem is discussed as the most common source of depression among women. He claims that a woman’s self-esteem is based on the love relationship with her husband, while the husband’s self-esteem is based on his job. Dobson has insight into the day-to-day problems women face in the home and he relates some examples from his experience as a counselor. Husbands and wives need to understand and be responsive to each other’s needs. As a solution to women’s depression Dobson believes that husbands should spend more time relating to their wives’ needs after work. He also suggests that women spend more time with other women for support. For example, Bible study groups, lunch with friends, or a weekly get-together would help dissipate the isolation many women face—especially those with young children.

Film 7: What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women: Money, Sex and Children

This last film continues to discuss common sources of depression among women. It considers financial problems as a major source of worry and anxiety. Dobson opposes the desire for more and more things which leads us to buy that which we neither need nor can afford. He asks us to consider living more simply (that is with fewer possessions and organized activities) in order to release a larger share of our money and time for serving God.

In an effort to further understanding between husbands and wives, Dobson explains what he believes to be a difference in the sexual desires of men and women. He claims that men are visually stimulated with regard to sexual interest, and that sex for men is more of a “physical thing.” On the other hand romantic love is necessary for women to enjoy a sexual relationship fully. According to Dobson, romantic love provides the foundation for a woman’s self-esteem and her sexual responsiveness.

In conclusion. Dr. Dobson asks that husbands and wives get together and pray for guidance in bringing their children to Christ, and for increased awareness of one another’s experience.

About Dr. Dobson

Dr. Dobson is a gifted communicator. Throughout the films he captures our attention with his warm and often humorous narration. Dr. Dobson is Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. He is a licensed psychologist, a husband, father, Sunday school teacher, and author of several best-selling books including: Dare to Discipline, Hide or Seek, What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, The Strong-Willed Child, and Preparing For Adolescence. The Focus on the Family films are based on these books, and each is informative, thought provoking, and inspiring.

How To Obtain The Films

The film series can be obtained by inquiring at your local church film supplier or by writing to Word Incorporated, 4800 W. Waco Drive, Waco, Texas. The films are mailed weekly complete with labels and postage which makes returning them quite convenient. The cost is about $430 to rent the seven films and can be shared by several parishes getting together as we did, and co-sponsoring the series. A nominal donation of $1.00 per person can also be requested to help defray the cost.

Phyllis Zonghi is an elementary school teacher, the mother of two young children, and also teaches church school at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, East Meadow, N. Y.