Q: As a dad, how much control should I have over our 17-year-old son when it comes to dating?
Juli: Let's start out with the unpleasant truth that you actually have no control over what your 17-year-old does about much of anything. If you ever had control when he was younger, those days are long gone. In fact, by trying to control his behavior, you're likely to do more damage than good, either prompting him to rebel or impeding his maturity as a young man. So, instead, let's use the word influence.
Your role as a parent needs to shift to one of mentor or coach, guiding your son with encouragement, advice and good questions. Hopefully, you have spent the last 17 years instilling the values in him that now shape his decisions. Although he may still respect and value your opinion on issues like dating and sexuality, his own beliefs will guide him more than yours will.
Even as he determines his own values, you still have authority regarding his behavior while he is living in your home, eating your food and driving your car. Use that authority not to be heavy-handed, but to set healthy boundaries that will both train and protect your son. For example, he should respect a reasonable curfew and show honor to the girl he dates by not putting her in compromising situations.
Recognize that an interest in girls and dating is normal for a young man his age. Talk with him about what his standards and values are. You might even ask him how involved he would like you to be in his dating relationships going forward. Express the desire to be a sounding board for him as he faces challenges and decisions in the future.
Perhaps the most important influence you can be for your son during these late teen years is to cast a vision for him. Remind your son of the character you see in him, and help him envision the husband you'd like him to be someday.
Q: I think my daughter uses her iPhone too much. Even for a teenager, it's excessive. Is there such a thing as an addiction to electronic devices?
Jim: The battle over too much talking and texting is one that most parents will face with their teens. Most of the time, it's just a matter of setting healthy boundaries. However, if you feel your daughter is truly demonstrating addictive tendencies, we'd encourage you to contact a professional counselor. The staff at Focus on the Family can refer you to one in your area.
That said, there is a trend toward what author and speaker Judith Wright calls "soft addictions." These are different from the things we typically define as addictive, such as pornography, drinking or gambling. Soft addictions are those behaviors you're not ashamed to tell your friends about, such as shopping online, watching TV, and yes, using electronic devices.
Left unchecked, these behaviors rob us of precious time with our families and can become almost all-consuming. Smart phones are especially problematic because they're loaded with Wi-Fi, games and hundreds of other bells and whistles that monopolize our time. I've been in restaurants in which the family at the table next to me -- Mom, Dad and kids -- is sitting in silence, fiddling with their own electronic devices! It's hard to enjoy a "family mealtime" when everyone's face is riveted to the blue glow of their smart phones.
We all have things in our lives that could become soft addictions -- if we let them. The key is to identify those weak areas and put barriers in place. Encourage your daughter with the thought that when it comes to even "harmless" pastimes, it's important to exercise caution and self-restraint.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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