Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson, psychologist, child specialist and father of three, came to Northern Virginia last week armed with statistics.
Look at the wrinkled, newborn infants in the nursery of any large metropolitan hospital, he says, and figure that by the time they are adults, one out of 10 will be in a mental institution, one out of 15 will be alcoholic, one out of nine will be a criminal, one out of three will be divorced . . his list goes on and on.
Many of those who do not become social statistics will lead "lives of quiet desperation," Dodson predicts.
These statistical casualties, he said, could be reduced if people were educated to be parents. And that is Dodson's line of work - teaching parents how to parent.
Dodson, who has written several books on child care - among them "How to Father," "How to Discipline with Love" and "How to Parent" - spoke at a day-long conference on parenting Saturday in Arlington. The conference, sponsored by the Service League of Northern Virginia, attracted 250 local school officials, health professionals, day care workers, counselors and, of course, parents.
"Parenting a child from birth to age 21 is a far more complicated job than being an auto mechanic, a lawyer or a brain surgeon," Dodson said in an interview before the conference. "Yet we expect parents to do it successfully with none of the training a professional gets . . . Most people can blunder through with their kids till they reach 11. Then they can't control them anymore because their one method - 'Don't do that or I'll spank you' - doesn't work anymore."
He writes off as myths those beliefs that parents did their jobs better in the old days, or that today's suburban family has more difficult problems to face than did families in past generations or other groups of parents today.
"People did a bad job then. Nothing has changed," said Dodson, a native of Baltimore who now lives near Los Angeles. "The fact is, you've got to know what you're doing to have a child grow up to be as happy, intelligent and successful as he can possibly be."
He said both society and individual parents must credit parenting with more importance to raise the kind of children they want.
He suggests that:
The media show fathers cuddling infants and playing with their children rather than only in the roles of breadwinners or disciplinarians.
The federal government give tax credits to parents who attend classes in parent effectiveness, child psychology of other formalized instruction in parenting.
The salaries of those who work with children, such as nursery school and day care personnel, be increased to attract more talented professional people. Says Dodson: "The day care worker makes a lot less than a San Francisco street sweeper who makes $17,000 a year. It shows you where our values are, and it shows in the kids."
"It never works to tell fathers they should cut down their hours to spend more time with their children," said Dodson, who trained in the ministry at Yale School of Divinity and Union Theological Seminary in New York before he earned a doctorate in psychology at the University of Southern California. "But after they study about parenting, you see these high-powered, ambitious men, like I have in my own classes, finally taking a Saturday off to be with their kids."
But what about those parents who never studied to be parents? How do they deal with problems they face in a nearly grown teen-ager, such as drug abuse or delinquency?
"I'd tell the parents facing a problem of drug abuse or similar serious problem to invest the money to consult a psychologist and talk it over before doing anything," Dodson said. "At best, they could find out new methods to deal with their teen-ager, and at least, they may find out ways to improve their relationship and prevent future trouble. It is never too late to learn.
"But most teen-agers are going to experiment with drugs and it's a foolish expectation to think otherwise. There's a big difference between experimenting and abusing to the point where it interferes with a teen-ager's capacity to function."
While Dodson regards the problems of suburban parents as no better or worse than those of parents in other generations or settings, he says some tendencies among affluent suburban parents need correcting.
"It should be engraved on the roof-top of every house. Never do for your child what he can do for himself," Dodson bellowed. "If there's anything the suburban kid is not, its street smart. They can ride their bikes to the movies, you know. Parents should teach their kids practical things, like how to get home safely when they're stuck in another town. The more they know how to do for themselves, the more they can think for themselves."
Dodson calls parental concern with violence on television "an excuse for poor parenting." He claims there is "no scientific evidence" that violence on television contributes to violent tendencies in children, adding that violent actions result instead from parents' failure to discourage anti-social behavior through proper teaching methods.
He is not surprised that suburban parents have trouble getting children to pick up their clothes, mow the lawn or do other chores.
"First they are given all they need without any cost to themselves - it is the exact reversal of real life," Dodson said. "Parents should use simple rewards, like giving a penny to a 2-year-old when he picks up his toys. This system should be used through all the stages of development - I call it the wages of childhood."
Dodson sees an ironic twist in the affluent upbringing enjoyed by many suburban youngsters. He thinks suburban youths, by being accustomed to affluence, are being weaned away from the Puritan work ethic. He thinks the ethic has been carried to an extreme by men who have sought success in the workplace at the price of "emotional impoverishment."
"Men for years have been seeking 'that bitch goddess success,'" Dodson said, in the words of philosopher William James. "Now women are following the same road. Only a few realize the success they desired in their childhood dreams. Most seek it all their lives while they overlook in their own backyards the emotional gold mine of their own children."