Q: My son just got engaged to be married. As he and his fiancée prepare for life together, what advice would you give them for building a solid relationship?
Jim: There are all sorts of ways I could go with this, but I'd start by asking them this: How many times have you faced a problem and looked for the easiest way out? That's not an unusual response. But the easiest way isn't always the best one.
When we encounter trials, how we respond matters more than we think. Responding well not only makes it more likely that the problem itself will get resolved, it prepares us to better handle future crises as well. That's because a healthy response to a serious issue bolsters our character and further matures us as individuals -- and, in marriage, as a couple.
Take a marriage crisis, for example. Some couples don't handle conflict well. They insult each other, act petty or behave with a harsh, critical attitude that makes their problems worse. It's like cleaning up a spill with an oily rag. The whole mess gets worse, not better.
On the other hand, couples who treat each other with respect in the middle of conflict stand a much better chance of healing their marriage. They're more likely to resolve the issue they're facing today, and they put themselves in a better position to correct issues down the road.
So, I'd tell your son and his bride-to-be: When we face a serious life challenge (and we all do), the goal isn't simply to correct the problem by any means necessary. How we resolve it is just as important. We'll either act in a way that enhances our character or in a way that diminishes it.
Q: My preteen kids keep begging for smartphones. Most of their friends already have their own (expensive) phones, but I'm still reluctant. Do you have guidelines for when we should let our children have phones?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: It makes sense that your preteen is begging for a smartphone. If we're honest, we would have done the same thing at that age. But that doesn't make having a smartphone as a preteen a great idea.
Smartphones can be addictive distractions for any of us, but especially children. While these devices can be very practical and convenient, they also give kids wide-open access to the internet and the dangers that come with it (online bullies, pornography, child predators, etc.) -- even with incredibly sophisticated monitoring and filtering apps. And it doesn't take long for chores to get overlooked, physical activity to be tossed aside or schoolwork to fall by the wayside.
The average age a child gets their own smartphone is 10 years old and dropping. Even kids as young as six or seven often have one. However, elementary school kids are not ready developmentally for the onslaught on their attention and time, as well as the various temptations smartphones provide at their fingertips.
Generally speaking, the longer you wait to give your children a smartphone, the better. Most experts would agree that later is safer and smarter. Much depends on your child's personality and maturity level, but most researchers agree that 12 to 14 is about as young as parents should go for a full-capability smartphone. Even then, it's best for the phone to initially be for emergencies only to gauge how your child manages limits, trust and correction.
Parents don't have to be alarmists and oppose all technology. But we do need to be realistic and wise about the risks smartphones pose to (especially) young children.
For more resources and tips, see FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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