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My Son's a Cyber-Spud

How can I limit his time online?
Dear Lisa,

My teenage son spends way too much time on the Internet instant-messaging his friends. Although we monitor the sites he visits (and have protective software on his computer), I'm worried he's spending so much time online that he's missing out on other activities. Any suggestions?

Welcome to teen years in the 21st century! For our parents, it was our hours on the telephone. I wonder what conversation conduit the next generation will use. Whatever it is, the reason's always the same—relationship. And how can you build friendships without talking? This focus on friends is one telltale sign your son's growing up.

But just because it's natural for your kid to want to spend hours talking with his friends doesn't mean it can't become an unhealthy habit. Inordinate amounts of time devoted to any one thing, at the exclusion of other activities, is cause for concern.

Coincidentally, my husband and I recently had this exact conversation one morning over coffee. It seemed every time I looked up, our daughter was either checking her e-mail or posting comments on her online school bulletin boards. So we came up with a plan to limit her computer use. Our daughter may use the computer for 30 minutes each day after all her schoolwork's completed. She earns extra computer time for every 30 minutes of additional reading.

Here are a few other computer rules at our house. We have the computer in a common open area. Even though we've installed strict protective software, our kids know Dad checks the history and "cookie" files periodically. Occasionally, out of the blue, I'll even ask to read some of our kids' old e-mails. Yeah, I know, parents are supposed to respect their children's privacy. But that doesn't mean blindly granting them the freedom to stray into dangerous territory without monitoring them and being able to rescue them if necessary.

Bedroom Mess Distress

My 16-year-old kid's room is a pigsty! Our daughter leaves clothes, CDs, empty soda cans, makeup, and hair products everywhere. She's always dashing off to the next social activity or her part-time job, and never seems to "have the time" to tidy up. Is the state of her room a battle worth waging, or am I majoring on the minors?

That would depend on whether you or your husband has a strong military background! Joking aside, if you feel your daughter's room reflects her overall self-discipline, you probably should go with the gut instinct that tells you an orderly room is good practice for an ordered life.

But if you feel as though you're already arguing with her all day long about movies, friends, boys, and even bigger issues, then I suggest you leave the responsibility for the state of your daughter's room up to her. Not that you can't influence her choice. Think of a privilege you'd be inclined to grant her anyway—such as the use of your car, a later curfew, or taxi service—and make it conditional upon the cleanliness of her room. Linking that particular privilege with the state of her room leaves the choice of whether to tidy up or not to her. "Mom, can you run me over to the mall to meet my friends?"

"Sure, honey, let's check out your room. Oops. I guess I can't today, perhaps tomorrow your room will look a little neater and I'll be able to give you a ride."

Son Teased About Weight

Our nine-year-old son's a little overweight, and he's become the brunt of teasing from some of the kids in his Sunday school class. Any suggestions on helping him cope with these kids' unkind comments? And how can we help him slim down without harming his self-esteem by focusing on appearances?

I assume you're already trying your best to provide healthy food choices for your son, while still allowing him the joy of being a kid and all the fun stuff that goes along with it, including the occasional junk food and candy. My guess is your son's weight may have more to do with genetics than overeating. Sure, there are exceptions—kids who eat chips and Ding Dongs for lunch, then come home to sedentary activities such as watching television or playing video games. But there also are many children who eat the same amount as every other kid on the block and yet they carry some extra weight. They usually have a relative who struggles with the same issue.

If this is the case, then I suggest you have a quiet talk with your child's teacher so she's aware of what's going on and can monitor the situation in class in a way that doesn't embarrass your child. Then sign your son up for a fun sport, pack healthy lunches, stay away from diets, and pour the rest of your efforts into finding someplace where he shines. If your son discovers he's gifted in drama, guitar, math, or any other particular area, then provide him with as many opportunities as you can for him to grow in excellence in that area.

When I was nine, I was extremely shy and not particularly popular, but I knew that every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I was the best one in my acting class. My husband, Steve, had terrible acne in junior high, but he was first chair in band and practiced the piano two hours daily because he liked knowing he was really good at something.

Ask God to give you insight, then talk to your son about his interests. I believe that once you find what your son loves to do enough to pour himself into it, then he'll understand there's a whole lot more to him than what can be seen on the outside—even if everyone else is blind.

Lisa Whelchel is the author of Creative Correction (Tyndale) and So You're Thinking About Homeschooling (Multnomah). She and her husband, Steve, have three children. Check out her website at www.lisawhelchel.com. E-mail your parenting questions to TCWfeedback@christianitytoday.com, or see page 6 for other ways to contact us.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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