Question: Dr. Dobson, what place should fear occupy in a child's attitude toward his mother or father?
Answer: There is a narrow difference between acceptable, healthy respect and destructive fear. A child should have a general apprehension about the consequences of defying his or her parent. But he or she should not lie awake at night worrying about parental harshness or threats of punishment. Perhaps a crude example will illustrate the difference between these aspects of fear.
A busy highway can be a dangerous place to take a walk. In fact, it would be suicidal to stroll down the fast lane of a freeway at 6:00 P.M. on any Friday. I would not be so foolish as to get my exercise in that manner because I have a healthy fear of fast-moving automobiles. However, as long as I don't behave stupidly, I have no cause for alarm. I am not threatened by this source of danger because it only reacts to my willful defiance. Without stretching the analogy too far, I want my child to view me with the same healthy regard.
As long as she does not choose to challenge me, openly and willfully, she lives in total safety. She need not duck and flinch when I suddenly scratch my eyebrow. She should have no fear that I will ridicule her or treat her unkindly. She can enjoy complete security and safety—until she defies me. Then she'll have to face the consequences.
This concept of fear, which is better labeled "awe" or "respect," is modeled after God's relationship with man. "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," we are taught. He is a God of justice, and at the same time, a God of infinite love and mercy. These attributes are complementary and should be represented in our homes.
From Dr. Dobson's book Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide.