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Avoiding the "No Zone"

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Let's face it -- if you want to raise moral, healthy kids, you have to learn to say "no" to a lot that the modern culture has to offer.

It's becoming more important than ever for parents to set boundaries on television viewing, gaming and Internet usage. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average teen spends 6 1/2 hours a day consuming media. Add in multi-tasking (i.e., playing a video game while listening to their I-pod), and that figure rises to as much as 8 hours a day.

Now that summer is upon us, it's likely that our youth will gravitate to yet more media out of laziness on their part -- and maybe even mom's or dad's. It's just so much easier to let them fill their time with mind-numbing technology than to set limits on both raunchy content and wasted hours. Energy and fortitude are required to say "no" -- but failing to do so does our kids a grave disservice.

However, the danger that comes with setting rules is that you just might be turning your home into a "No Zone." And if you want your kids and their friends to hang-out in your house, you have to go the extra mile to make it inviting and fun. If you don't, yours will be a lonely house, indeed. It need not be that way. You can create an environment that is both wholesome and fun.

The first step is pretty simple: Feed them, and they will come!

Teenagers are eating machines and if you have plenty of what they crave, they will soon make your home a preferred destination. When our children were young, ours was known as the neighborhood "popsicle house." All the kids knew that on a blistering summer day, they could always find an icy treat at the Hagelins. I must have washed off a thousand sticky fingers and just as many sugary cheeks over the years. As the children grew, so did their interest in food! We started stocking pizza, lasagna, sandwich fixings and various kinds of chips and dips -- and of course, plenty of cookies. Lots of them.

The other necessary ingredient in creating an environment that draws children is fun "stuff" to do. Our family has scoured garage sales and pawn shops over the years for toys, games, art supplies, musical instruments and sports equipment. We've transformed our basement from a noisey "garage band" practice room, to art studio, to game room as the children's interests changed. Our most recent purchase was a used foosball table that now finds teams of teens screaming their heads off as they fight to the finish. Such items are actually favored because they offer more group interaction than the boob tube and computer that prevent conversation and eye contact.

A surprising and precious key my husband and I have found to keeping our own teens and their friends hanging at our home is our interaction with them. They help us make the taco and ice cream sundae bars and bake the cookies. We make it a point to get to know each child that enters our home and work hard to build a rapport, listening carefully for clues as to their interests. What we have found is that teens are desperate for caring adult interaction and affirmation.

We've discovered that teens would rather be in a warm, loving home with limits and expectations for conduct than they would be roaming the streets or just sitting in front of the computer screen hour after hour. But they probably won't come right out and tell you that. It's up to you, mom and dad, to take the initiative to create an environment that fosters fun and friendship. Just don't forget the earplugs!

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