Q: Our daughter started attending a new school this year and she's struggling to develop healthy friendships. What can we do to help her seek out connections with kids who will be positive influences?
Jim: Much of what our children learn about friendships comes from us as parents. This often happens unconsciously, but it helps a lot if Mom and Dad take a strategic, intentional approach.
The first step is to work on guiding your child in developing strong positive virtues herself. In other words, point her toward becoming the kind of person who can BE a good friend. As you model these virtues yourself and discuss them with her, your daughter will pick up on what to look for in others who will help her steer clear of heartache. Some of the most important qualities you can build into her (and your) character include honesty, respect, loyalty, compassion and acceptance.
The second step is building your child's confidence. A healthy self-esteem positions her to make wise choices about her connection with others. Support her in this by affirming her strengths and highlighting when she does something well. Spending quality one-on-one time with her illustrates that you value her as a person and enjoy her company.
You can also enhance the process by involving your child in socially interactive activities. When I was a teen I was all about competitive sports. One of my two now-adult sons played some football for a while, but they both also found peer connections through chess club and science groups -- and even cotillion!
Encourage all this growth by inviting your daughter's friends (and their families) over for a meal -- say, a different child every other week.
Making friends can be a challenge for any of us, at any age. The simplest formula is to remember the classic Golden Rule: "Treat others the way you want them to treat you."
Q: My kids are really interested in TikTok. I've seen lots of headlines about it. What do I need to know as a parent?
Adam Holz, Director, Plugged In: In the hyper-competitive social media arena, TikTok reigns supreme as the go-to digital destination for young users -- topping the likes of Snapchat and Instagram, as well as YouTube and Netflix.
And "users" is a very accurate name for those engaging on this short-form video platform. The average TikTok user in 2023 spends a whopping 95 minutes daily watching its quick-hit videos, visiting the site on average 8 times a day.
So what's the hook? User-created videos run the gamut of virtually anything you can think of (and that's true with other short-form video platforms, too). Many try to get a laugh. But many also include profanity and sexually suggestive images, although nudity and explicit sexual content are banned. Other potentially harmful behaviors (like eating disorders) and worldviews may be reinforced as well.
That said, the content itself is just the first layer of concern. Another is how TikTok invites users into a non-stop video binge. The platform's algorithm observes what people watch, then serves up an endless digital buffet of similar stuff. TikTok is about consumption -- often the "mindless" variety.
Experts are increasingly sounding a warning when it comes to TikTok and other apps like it. Recent research indicates that already-short attention spans are being further obliterated. And social scientists have shown many correlations between social media use in general and negative mental-health outcomes such as anxiety, depression and suicide.
Setting limits -- when, where and what young users see -- is critical. But for many families, the best way to steer clear of these pitfalls is to delay initial use of social media apps such as TikTok as long as possible.
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 jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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