Q: Our son is heading off for his first year at college and wants to pledge to a fraternity. Is this a good idea for a freshman? I don't know much about fraternities.
Jim: The answer to this question depends on a number of factors.
Not every fraternity resembles "Animal House." While some may be considered almost entirely social in nature, others seek to bring together students who share similar interests or who are involved in the same academic disciplines. There are service-oriented fraternities, ethnically and linguistically based fraternities, and even some fraternities whose purpose is primarily religious or spiritual.
That being the case, it's important for you to discern what type of fraternity your son is hoping to join. Unfortunately, many do have a reputation for wild behavior and crazy parties. That's not to mention the peer-group power they wield. It can have a huge impact on an impressionable freshman living away from home for the first time in his life. And some campuses are known for these types of frat houses more than others. Is the atmosphere on campus studious or "party like"? Is the fraternity in question spiritual, academic or purely social in purpose? If you don't know, sit down with your son and find out.
It's also critical that you consider your son's character. Is he firmly grounded in his beliefs? Does he know his own mind, or is he easily influenced by others? If you feel that he lacks the maturity to handle a fraternity at this point, encourage him to look for loyal companions elsewhere by pointing him toward other academic and social groups on campus.
Q: My teenage daughter has battled boredom and wasted a lot of time during summer break. What can I do to change that next year?
Bob Waliszewski, director of Plugged In: It's difficult to move from a schedule of structured six- to 10-hour days to total free time. And a bored teen will be unhappy and more likely to gravitate toward trouble. But counselors Tim Geare and Tim Sanford suggest that it's possible to help structure your daughter's life over the summer months and still have her feel ownership and excitement.
Geare and Sanford recommend that parents decide the overall priorities and tone of the summer. Will every day begin at noon or dawn? Will there be a family vacation? Is there a financial goal for your teen? Is camp or a mission trip an option? How do siblings' needs fit into the picture? How about summer school? Are there sports she could further develop? And most importantly, are there character qualities lacking in her life? Develop a vision for what you feel is in your daughter's best interest. Consider her gifts, skills and interests, and develop options that will engage her imagination.
Too many bored teens gravitate toward the TV or video game controller. While I don't think these things should be taboo, I do recommend that your daughter "earn" the privilege: Every hour of reading a great book translates into 30 minutes of screen time.
For older teens, employment is a key issue, but make sure any job supports the overall goals of the summer. If camp or a family trip is important, don't let a job confound those priorities. If age or circumstances eliminate paid employment, consider volunteer service.
At this point, you've got one month left this year and nine or 10 months before summer vacation rolls around again. Your inspiration and determination to make summer fun and productive may be the jump-start your daughter needs. Kudos to you for thinking about this important period in her life so far in advance!
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.