Q. How should we handle the discovery that our teenager has been sexually active for the past several months? We're not happy about it, but we want to deal with the problem without alienating our child. What should we do?
Jim: It's obvious you're a caring and sensitive parent who understands that blowing up or lecturing is counterproductive. You're facing a significant family problem that deserves a loving and thoughtful response. It's normal to feel upset and disappointed, so I'd encourage you to pray and think before you react.
After you've sorted through these emotions, arrange a time to sit down and talk with your teen. Your goal is to contain the damage and encourage more healthy and rational decisions without driving a wedge into the parent-child relationship. Ask open-ended questions ("Can you tell me about your relationship with ...?") instead of judgmental ones ("How could you have done this?"). Then listen. Your response should put the emphasis on the big picture and explain how premarital sexual activity jeopardizes your teen's future goals and dreams. Although you'll want to take corrective action and consider appropriate consequences, don't tear down your teen's sense of self-worth with comments like, "I am so ashamed of you!"
On the practical side, be sure to get the necessary medical attention (i.e. testing for STIs and pregnancy) from a provider who supports your values. You may also need to have a candid conversation with your teen's partner and with his or her parents, while reassessing and restructuring future contact.
Finally, consider getting your teen (and yourself) into counseling. A wise counselor may be able to talk more candidly about sexuality and encourage your teen to remain abstinent in the future. Sexual activity may be a symptom of more basic problems that need ongoing work.
Q: Our 3-year-old son insists on sleeping with us every night. We've tried everything to keep him in his own bed, with the exception of disciplining him. What can we do?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Believe it or not, this is a winnable war. But it's critical that you and your spouse are unified and committed to reclaiming your bed, your sleep and your intimacy.
Once you're both "all in," success will depend on your ability to establish meaningful consequences and consistent follow-through. Make sure your son understands upfront both the expectations and the unpleasantries his noncompliance will bring. This could involve the removal of some privilege that's part of his bedtime routine. For example, if he's used to looking at a picture book or cuddling a stuffed toy, take them away until he obeys.
After you've put him to bed, be prepared to sit outside his door and intercept him immediately if he gets up. If he comes out, take him back to bed, repeating the process as many times as necessary. Be firm, but not angry or exasperated. Your job is to outlast him, no matter how long it takes. It's a matter of simple endurance. Once the battle's won, he'll probably live within the parameters you've established. If you surrender though, the next conflict will be even more difficult.
Meanwhile, don't forget to invest an equal amount of energy on the positive side of things. Here, as in so many other areas, it's important to "catch your child being good." When he has a good night, find some way to praise and encourage him. For example, you might put a marble in the jar every time he stays in bed without a fuss. Then, when the jar is full, you can celebrate by planning a fun family outing.
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.
Focus on the Family counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). Focus on the Family's website is at www.focusonthefamily.com.