Q: My teenager just got his learner's permit and I'm nervous! Do you have any advice for preparing him to drive?
Jim: There are plenty of statistics and stories out there to justify your concerns, so you're wise to use this opportunity to teach safe driving habits and influence your young driver's behavior. First, be patient and stay cool. Teaching your son to drive may be nerve-racking for you, but it's more so for him. Give directions calmly and clearly, and be liberal with encouragement and praise.
Second, children will imitate their parents, so model safe driving habits for your adolescent. Know the traffic laws and enforce additional limits based on his attitude and skill. Observe the speed limit and be courteous of other drivers.
Third, consider phasing your teen into full driving privileges in steps. For example, in stage one he's not allowed to drive after dark, while in stage two he can, but only with adult supervision.
Fourth, emphasize basic safety. Always require everyone in the car to buckle up before the engine is started. He should never drive if he is drowsy, and don't fail to drive home the message that drinking and driving kills. Whatever your feelings about alcohol, let him know that he can always call you for a ride to avoid being in a car with an intoxicated driver.
Finally, if he refuses to correct unsafe driving habits, confiscate the keys. The first thing would-be drivers need to learn is that driving is a privilege, not a right. Your first priority is not to win a popularity contest, but to keep him (and others on the road) alive and well while he learns to operate an automobile safely and skillfully.
Q: I know my first responsibility to my kids is as a parent, but how can I build a friendship with them?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There are principles and practices that are foundational to all rich relationships. When it comes to building a friendship with your children, these six are essential.
-- Articulate a lifetime commitment.
A commitment that says, "No matter what happens, I am here for you, and will never stop loving you," provides the foundation of trust necessary for friendship to develop with your child.
-- Become a student of your child.
Instead of forcing your child to do something or be someone they're not, learn who they are: their personality, natural talents, dreams, fears, strengths and weaknesses. Interact with them and encourage them according to their individual uniqueness and interests.
-- Schedule time together.
Set aside special time for your child every day. Friendships don't develop by chance or accident, but are the result of spending time together on a regular basis.
-- Be available.
Teachable moments, illnesses and memorable events don't always happen according to our schedule. Sometimes we must drop what we're doing, because our children are more important. By doing so, you'll provide them with a sense of security and value.
-- Actively listen.
A good listener never assumes they know what their child is saying. By giving your child your undivided attention and asking clarifying questions, you'll be communicating that your child's words and feelings are extremely important.
-- Use meaningful touch.
Not every friendship requires an element of touch, but for your kids it's absolutely essential. A gentle, tender and warm touch from a parent -- hand holding, an arm around the shoulder and even bear hugs -- provides proven physiological and psychological benefits for kids, and communicates that they are valued.
Building meaningful friendships with children takes time and effort. But if you commit to and practice these principles, then over time a beautiful friendship can blossom.
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.