Q: My wife and I are expecting our first child. I'm excited to be a dad, but also intimidated. My father wasn't a good role model, so I feel pretty clueless about this whole parenting thing. Can you help?
Jim: Author Kent Nerburn once said, "It is much easier to become a father than to be one." Maybe that's one of the reasons why so many dads feel overwhelmed.
It's easy for dads to feel like they're in over their heads. When your 6-month-old baby starts wailing, you can't make him stop. When your son is failing algebra, you can't make him pass. If your daughter gets bullied, you can't just make all of her hurt feelings disappear. It's much slower, subtle work.
All of which, of course, can make fatherhood so frustrating. In our professional lives, dads frequently hold the reins and make things happen. But parenting often strips fathers of that control. Fatherhood isn't like being a mechanic, as much as we might want it to be. We can't fix things with the simple turn of a socket wrench. Even worse, sometimes we don't know if what we're doing is even working.
Being a successful dad starts by learning your role. Don't try to force your kids down a certain path in life. You have to walk alongside and encourage them in their journey. It's a process that takes a lot more patience, time and commitment than many men are used to.
But at its heart, fatherhood is a relationship. So, remember, gently coaching your kids is the essence of what you're aiming for. Be a coach, cheerleader and champion of your child. For plenty of parenting tips and advice, go to FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: How can I tell whether or not my child is actually addicted to video and computer games? He spends a lot of time gaming, but it's hard to know whether it's really that serious of a problem.
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: When it comes to addictive behavior of any kind, it's better to be safe than sorry. Researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, studied hundreds of video-game-addiction cases. They found that addicted gamers' lives are always significantly disrupted by the games.
That's what you want to watch out for: disruption. Several symptoms of addiction can help indicate if your son's gaming has become something more than just a hobby. These include:
-- A lack of balance, and inability to stop the activity.
-- Isolation, neglecting or lying to family and friends.
-- Problems with school or a job.
-- Weight gain, back issues, carpal tunnel syndrome.
-- Irritability, defending the use of video games at all costs.
-- Ignoring personal hygiene.
-- Changes or disturbances in sleep patterns.
If you notice such signs, get tougher about time limits and actively monitor screen time. It's easier to enforce boundaries if the gaming console or computer is centrally located in your home -- keep it out of the bedroom. If your son is losing sleep, or his grades are slipping, you may need to get rid of the equipment entirely.
Admittedly, these conversations are not easy. If your son is clearly obsessed with the game and acts out with severe hostility when unable to play, you may need to seek professional assistance. Our staff counselors can help with a brief consultation and a referral to a local therapist; call 1-800-232-6459 for more information.
Counseling can uncover underlying problems that may be contributing to an addiction. However, in most cases, gaming can be controlled with consistent enforcement of limits. The goal is teaching your son decision-making and balance in life, not making him happy. Setting limits is loving, even when there's some conflict involved.
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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