Q: What's the relationship between fatherlessness and violent behavior among adolescent boys? I'm wondering about this because statistics show that an increasing number of children are growing up in homes where no father is present.
Jim: As the president of a large family-help organization, and as a boy who grew up without a dad, I can testify that these two phenomena are closely related. There are many factors and dynamics, but one of them has to do with the specifically masculine way in which men tend to play with their kids.
As you're probably aware, Moms and Dads play differently. Boys have an inborn need to engage in rough-and-tumble activity from an early age. It's one of the ways they gain self-confidence and learn to gauge their own strength. Dad is the one who can help them in this area. Mom may worry that "someone will get hurt" when father and son start wrestling on the floor, but there's an important sense in which that's precisely the point. A friendly scuffle with Dad -- in a safe and controlled environment -- goes a long way toward teaching kids about appropriate boundaries in play. And in the process, fathers are afforded a great opportunity to affirm their sons' strength and skill.
So what happens when a boy grows up without this kind of interaction with his dad? This is where the connection between fatherlessness and teen violence rears its ugly head. If a boy doesn't learn about appropriate boundaries in physical activity, and if he doesn't get the masculine affirmation he needs from his father, he may feel driven to "prove" himself somehow. He'll enter the adolescent years with a deep-seated need to let others know that he's a person who deserves respect. And he may end up demanding it in some pretty unhealthy ways.
Q: I realize that I need to "be the parent" when it comes to setting boundaries for my kids' media and entertainment consumption. I'm guessing that they won't be overjoyed with having rules and guidelines, but is there a strategy or an approach I can take that is more likely to be effective in getting them to buy in?
Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged-In: When establishing media standards, one point that's particularly helpful for kids to understand is that they're not alone in needing to have boundaries in their lives. Discipline in all areas of life is healthy and necessary. In fact, when it comes to labeling entertainment as "acceptable" or "out of bounds," almost all of us do it to varying degrees. With movies for instance, millions use the MPAA ratings as their film-viewing boundary marker. Others may contend that they have no boundaries at all, but the truth is, even these individuals have their limits.
Once your children realize that establishing boundaries is healthy and universal, then the natural question and discussion ensues of determining where to draw that line. I'm not a fan of relying on gut feelings, Uncle Joe or ratings, as they are often misleading and untrustworthy from a discernment perspective. Better questions to ask are, "Will I become a better person if I play this video game, listen to this song or watch this TV show or movie?" or, "Will it inspire me? Will it encourage me to a life of greater virtue, sacrifice and service of others?" or, "Will it be of benefit to my inner self, my thoughts and my decision making?"
If the answer is no, then help your kids learn that this is where to set the boundary.
Fortunately, with a bit of research (see pluggedin.com), there are a lot of media products that fall within the acceptable and healthy consumption category.
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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