Q: How do we establish workable media standards for our teenagers? I understand the importance of teaching thoughtful discernment, but sometimes I feel the need for more solid guidelines in order to gauge the merits of movies, television programs and music. Can you suggest anything?
Jim: Personally, I think it's a good idea to avoid extremes. Some moms and dads choose to lay down the law: No movies. No television. Period. This approach may simplify your entertainment-purchasing decisions, but it can also breed rebellion.
Other parents go to the opposite extreme: Anything goes. Do whatever you want. But this permissive approach also has some major drawbacks. I'd encourage you to steer a middle course by agreeing on shared moral values and then working together with your kids to set healthy boundaries.
It's basically a question of deciding how much you want to shield your teens from questionable entertainment, and to what extent you'd like to discuss popular media with them. Try to strike a healthy balance between the two. Put your ideas into writing and develop a "family entertainment constitution." Where possible, include suggestions from the kids -- this will ensure their buy-in and ownership of the parameters. Once the document has been drafted, post it on your refrigerator door. Make it clear that it applies to all members of the family. Stick to your guns when violations occur.
Where music is concerned, it's wise to remember that styles can be deceptive. It's entirely possible for harder genres to offer up positive messages, while some mellower musicians dump all sorts of lyrical sewage on their fans. Try not to be swayed purely by personal preference. Don't get distracted by the style or look of the messenger. Instead, take a close look at the ideas being conveyed.
Q: My spouse doesn't get along with my parents and siblings. This has led to serious conflict in our marriage. My mom and dad have always enjoyed hosting big family get-togethers, especially during the holidays, but things have gotten so bad that my spouse is no longer willing to participate in these gatherings. I'm tired of dealing with the tension. Can you suggest a solution?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: The problem you're describing is extremely common, but that doesn't mean that you can't solve it. I suggest you sit down together and discuss it in a rational manner. Find a time -- maybe over coffee or after dinner at a nice restaurant -- when you can lay your concerns on the table. It's vital that the two of you come to a meeting of the minds over this issue. Relationships with extended family are an important part of every marriage. This is something you're going to have to face together if you want to build a marital relationship that will go the distance.
You may be able to work out a compromise. Why not skip certain holidays or plan alternatives to the family gatherings every other year? You could tell your parents that you and your spouse have decided to spend a quiet Thanksgiving or Christmas with your own immediate family this year. This could remove some of the stress and make it easier to face the next big get-together.
A second choice would be to attend the gathering, but stay at a local hotel rather than at your parents' home. Explain that while you're looking forward to seeing them, you'd also like to have some time and space to yourselves. Then, if the family get-together becomes unbearable for you or your spouse, you can always escape to your hotel room.
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.
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