Q: How can we teach our daughters to be more discerning about relationships with friends? I realize girls are more relational than boys, but sometimes I worry that my two tween girls are over-the-top and out of control in this area. Should I be concerned?
Jim: You probably don't need to be overly concerned. Girls at this age do tend to be more relational than boys, and soak up friendships like a sponge. As with the onset of puberty, it's something that happens whether parents like it or not. You should, however, be prepared to guide and moderate it appropriately as necessary.
I'd suggest you encourage your daughters to cultivate their bent for relationships in positive ways. Teach them to be kind, inclusive and welcoming to those who aren't part of their circle of friends. Emphasize the Golden Rule -- and impress upon them the importance of keeping a compassionate eye out for kids who've been marginalized by the "popular crowd." Remind them that thoughtful, caring people are nicer to be around. Encourage them to choose friends of solid character.
At the same time, you'll want to alert them to potential pitfalls. Tell your daughters to beware of any girl or boy who wants to "own" them or who tries to assert an exclusive right to their loyalties. Teach them that true friendship is liberating and open-ended, not demanding or binding.
You should also warn them about the dangers of cliquishness and the meanness of character it tends to foster. There's nothing wrong with having a group of special friends, but it shouldn't be an elite and impenetrable inner circle. As long as it remains porous -- open to outsiders and newcomers -- a group of this kind can provide girls with lots of opportunities for healthy and enriching social interaction.
Q: I've been hearing about the potential impact of electronic media on health, learning and interpersonal relationships. Should I be concerned? If so, should it affect the limits I put on my kids' consumption?
Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged-In: A few years back, a "Zits" comic showed teenager Jeremy vacationing with his parents at the Grand Canyon. The joke was that instead of enjoying the breathtaking scenery, Jeremy was in the back of the car playing video games. It was a humorous commentary on a very sad and real problem.
According to the latest report from the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of teens say they're online "almost constantly." Another 56 percent report logging on several times a day. Of course, surfing the Web is just one aspect of today's digital world. We also have to consider movies, TV, music and video games. All of these have their place -- and can even be beneficial when used wisely. But there's increasing evidence that today's media also puts kids at greater risk for depression, obesity, attention problems, sexual promiscuity, poor grades, drug and alcohol use, anxiety and low self-esteem.
In view of this, I would say, "Yes. You have many good reasons for placing limits on your kids' consumption of electronic media."
Putting the genie back in the bottle may not be pleasant. But as you know, being a responsible and loving parent sometimes means doing the hard thing. This may include gathering cellphones at bed- and mealtimes, setting one day a week as a "screen-free day," or even taking a screen-free vacation where electronic devices get left at home. Just as important is to fill the void with fun and meaningful activities. Also, inviting your kids' input as to what that might look like can go a long way in easing the transition.
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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