Q: I've never kept tight controls on my teenagers. I don't enforce strict curfews or get uptight when they come in late at night. But recently, I read an article about sexual slavery and human trafficking in our community, and it left me deeply unsettled. Am I overreacting?
Jim: Human trafficking is a terrible reality that impacts not only the developing world, but middle-class neighborhoods right here in the U.S. So yes, you need to be aware of this dark underside of contemporary culture.
At the same time, alarmist fears are helpful to no one. You don't want to scare your kids unnecessarily. Nor is it wise to convey an attitude of suspicion or distrust to your teens without good cause. Statistically, they face far greater danger from simply riding in an automobile every day than they do from the possibility of trafficking.
You know your kids best, and you're in the best position to determine whether they might be vulnerable to this kind of deception and victimization. Are they troubled in any way? Do they struggle in school? Are they slipping academically, dealing with social rejection or facing bully problems? Are they new in the neighborhood, unpopular with their classmates, insecure or low on self-esteem? If so, their innate desire for some kind of human connection could make them easy targets.
The best way to prevent this is to make sure you're building strong relationships with your kids. The family should be their primary point of connection. You can protect them against all kinds of negative outside influences by forging a bond of mutual trust. Make it clear that they can always come to you with their needs, problems and concerns.
While your first responsibility is to your own kids, it's also important for everyone to do their part to ensure their communities are safe. Keep your radar up for signs of suspicious activity in your community. If, at any point, you come across evidence that your children or anyone else you know have become caught up in human trafficking, contact local authorities or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.
Q: My wife has "given up drinking" several times only to end up back on the bottle. She's lost her job, our household is showing signs of neglect, and the whole family is slowly going to pieces. What can I do to reverse this negative trend?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: We're very sorry to learn about this painful situation. One thing is for certain: You can't navigate it alone. Your wife, especially, needs to enlist outside help to combat her addiction.
The Lighthouse Network is a clearinghouse for substance abuse referrals. People there can help you locate a facility in your area that will help your wife take some positive steps toward recovery. They can also provide information regarding the insurance companies that are prepared to work with these facilities. You can contact Lighthouse Network at 1-877-562-2565.
Another option for long-term treatment of alcoholism is the Salvation Army. This service is offered free of charge. Visit www.salvationarmyusa.org for information regarding local treatment centers. You can also find out about local Alcoholics Anonymous groups at www.aa.org.
Finally, you should think about enlisting the help of a qualified professional, not only to help your wife, but to help your entire family navigate these difficult waters. Contact Focus on the Family (focusonthefamily.com) for a free consultation with one of our staff counselors, as well as a referral to long-term counseling in your area. God bless you and your family as you go through this dark time together.
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.