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March 3, 2001
Column #1018

GO ON AN ''ADOLESCENT WEEKEND''

     When my oldest son, Adam, was 14, I heard about something called an ''Adolescent Weekend,'' that a friend at church, Reg Jones, described as ''the greatest insurance you can buy for the Christian upbringing of your children.''

     Ideally, a parent of the same gender as the child, takes him or her away to a resort where you can do two things together: have fun and listen to six extraordinary tapes by Dr. James Dobson that are designed to help your child through the most stressful and threatening time of life - adolescence.

     ''How would you like to be 13 years old again?'' Dobson asks. Most adults would say, ''No thanks,'' because they remember their agonizing feelings of those years of self-doubt, inferiority, and vulnerability to embarrassment, ridicule or failure with the opposite sex. 

     Yet parents do not know how to ease that pain for their own children. What too many parents - three out of five - do, is give in on demands for a TV in the child's room. That invites the sewer of MTV to fill their children's minds with people such as Eminem, the rapper who has sold millions of CDs, singing, 

     ''I put lives at risk when I drive like this/

     ''I put wives at risk with a knife like this...

     ''F... that, take drugs, rape sluts...''

     An ''Adolescent Weekend'' is a better gift for your child. By taking a whole weekend off, you communicate how important your child is to you. Dobson's ''Adolescent Weekend'' tapes provide uplifting answers to a teenager's toughest questions.

     I drove Adam, and later, younger sons on their 13th birthdays, to Lake Mohonk, an old resort in the Catskills on a lake where they played their first game of golf with me, went fishing, canoeing, hiking, and enjoy wonderful meals. On the two hour drive we listened to the first of Dobson's six tapes, which is about what teenagers worry about most, ''that awful awareness that nobody likes you, that you are not as good as others.''

     For example, he notes that 80 percent of teenagers don't like the way they look. Eighty percent! When he said that, I turned off the tape, and recalled how terrible I felt as a teenager because I was 6'7'' but no basketball player. My sons later said by being vulnerable, I helped them realize that feelings of inadequacy are universal.

     Dobson's advice: ''Develop true friends and your natural interests or strengths so that you have something to be proud of.'' He also suggested Christians offer their lives to God in a prayer like this: ''Dear Jesus, I'm asking you to use me in whatever way you wish. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. And from this moment forward, I will not worry about my imperfections.''

     That was 20 years ago. I asked Adam, now 34 and a Christian radio talk show host in San Antonio, what he recalled. ''I remember it like it was yesterday. You set a special weekend aside where we enjoyed hiking, horseback riding, listening to a piano concert. In the midst of the comradery, I remember Dobson's Adolescent tapes that were like having a third parent along, who emphasized the importance of making decisions now about future temptation.'' 

     He recalled that Dobson said it is almost certain that you will be in a car with kids, one of whom will pop some red pills in his mouth, and pass them around. ''What will you say? You know they are harmful to your body. Now is the time to decide whether you will be a jellyfish. Do you have enough confidence in yourself to oppose the group, saying, `No. That's stupid.'''

     Adam remembered, ''All of our little choices add up to long term consequences. Dobson said, 'If a rocket ship takes off and is only 1 percent off course, it will totally miss the target.' The world presents small bad choices as inconsequential. But in truth, bad choices reap bad habits which reap bad character, whether it is a matter of staying drug free, or remaining abstinent till marriage. Ultimately, God has the best for us in mind and is not some giant presence in the sky prohibiting us from having fun. He wants us to have the most thrilling and abundant life possible.

     ''For me, going on an Adolescent Weekend was a significant step in my Christian maturity and it helped me to make the choice to stay drug free, to have never gotten drunk, to have never had sex.... I learned the difference between puppy love and true love, and wanted to hold out for true love. 

     ''The tapes, helped a father and son, the gender which is not as likely to be verbally communicative and emotionally vulnerable - to inspire genuine communication and vulnerability. The tapes are a resource that inspires both.'' Any Christian bookstore would have them.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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