Q: Am I being too sensitive about the put-downs and insults my daughter and her boyfriend toss back and forth at each other? She acts like it's no big deal, but I'm alarmed and don't consider this to be healthy behavior.
Jim: I'd encourage you to trust your feelings on this one. In fact, it's been our observation many teens could benefit from some basic training on how to treat members of the opposite sex. And there's no one better than a caring parent to teach them.
There's been a lot of discussion recently about "sexual respect," but there's an important sense in which much of this talk misses the mark. As we see it, "sexual respect" has to be rooted in something more fundamental -- namely, basic human respect. The more effective approach is to foster decency and consideration for other people's feelings in all kinds of relationships. So-called "sexual respect" will follow as a natural consequence.
I suggest you begin by encouraging your daughter to develop a stronger sense of self-respect. As a person of worth, she does herself a disservice if she allows her boyfriend (or anyone else) to insult her. When she tolerates nasty put-downs by laughing them off, she's sending a message that she considers this kind of behavior acceptable. She may think this is "no big deal," but how would she react if the jokes were suddenly to turn mean or cruel? What would happen if the verbal disrespect were to escalate into physical or sexual abuse?
If your daughter needs guidance on setting appropriate boundaries in personal relationships, she may want to take a look at a book called "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. And please call our counselors at 855-771-HELP (4357) if we can be of help.
Q: It seems a lot harder to keep tabs on what my kids are listening to than when my parents were raising me. Back then, our music came from limited sources, and the medium was visible and in plain sight. But kids today can download and store thousands of songs for free on devices the size of a postage stamp. Any solutions?
Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged-In: It's obvious that at the heart of your question lies an awareness that tunes can be "teachers." When those "teachers" are conveying positive messages to our kids, that's great! But when they're spreading racy, misogynistic, violent, nihilistic, pro-drug themes and the like, then to be a good parent means setting healthy boundaries. Most parents would have serious objections if a musician were to visit their home and promote these ideas directly to their children. And yet objectionable messages often get a pass when they're espoused via melody.
Fortunately, it's actually easier these days to know what lyrical messages your kids are digesting because music fans have transcribed and posted on the Web just about every song known to man. Parents can simply type the artist and song title into an Internet search engine, and voila.
That said, even the most diligent sleuthing is no substitute for dinner and car conversations with your children about being media savvy. When it comes to their music choices, ask questions like, "What are your favorite musicians or bands, and why?" "What do your friends listen to?" "What types of songs are out of bounds?" and "What constitutes a 'good' song?"
Finally, hook up their electronic gizmo of choice to your car radio or home stereo and listen together regularly. You'll be up to speed on your kids' music consumption, and -- more importantly -- you'll be encouraging a process of discernment that can benefit them for the rest of their lives.
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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