Q: We usually travel to see relatives at Christmas, but this year we'll be staying home as "just" our immediate household. Do you have any suggestions for making the season especially meaningful?
Jim: I have a couple of ideas. First, I strongly encourage you to slow down. A common complaint about this time of year is that it's too hectic. Parties, events, decorating, shopping -- everything can add up and pack your calendar before you even realize it.
So, I suggest you block out time for quiet reflection on the meaning of the season, as a family. Reserve space for conversation, recollection, and prayer. Turn off the screens and concentrate on each other.
Second, consider who you might invite to join you for Christmas day. Studies show this is the most likely time of year for people to suffer depression, as the joy and glitter highlight the depths of their own loss and pain. It could be the passing of a loved one, or maybe unresolved conflict that has fractured a family. All manner of issues can contribute to the feelings of loneliness and isolation.
I understand this personally. Christmas of my sophomore year of college was a desperate time for me. As an orphan, I had no home to go to for the holiday. So, while my friends were enjoying family feasts, I sat alone in an empty dorm with no heat, eating food from vending machines. I longed for someone -- anyone -- to reach out to me.
There are probably hurting people around you this Christmas season. Reach out to them. Let them know you care and help them feel connected. One simple gesture may be just the ray of hope they need during a lonely and difficult time. And you might make a new family friend in the process.
Q: What do I need to know as a parent about new AI apps like ChatGPT?
Adam Holz, Director, Plugged In: Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest tech trends influencing our world -- and our kids -- today. And it likely will be even bigger moving forward. Just as the internet, smartphones and social media reshaped our society, programs such as ChatGPT already seem poised to be the next quantum leap technologically speaking.
For those unfamiliar with ChatGPT, this interface is one of many programs known as generative AI. They go beyond "old school" search engines such as Google. Instead of just finding information and giving you links to the relevant pages and documents, ChatGPT synthesizes that information for users in a conversational way. For example, you can tell it to give you a 600-word essay summarizing the pros and cons of wind energy -- and it will, usually within minutes.
You might be thinking: "Hmmm, if I was a student today I could see this being very useful." Forget old-school CliffsNotes. This is more like just having ol' Cliff himself typing right next you. Indeed, an app that essentially not only gathers information but formats it conversationally is technology that might make learning certain skills -- such as writing and critical thinking -- seem like a waste of time. (Spoiler alert: We actually need those skills more than ever.)
Our challenge as parents is twofold: to recognize that this technology will make many processes more efficient, but also to equip our kids with the character they need to navigate this changing world ethically and wisely. The temptation to take an AI shortcut is very real for many kids (and, maybe, parents too). Paradoxically, cultivating "old fashioned" virtues such as honesty, integrity, responsibility and a strong work ethic has never been more critical -- even as we help our children learn how to use this revolutionary technology appropriately.
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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