Q: My son has always been very open with me, but now that he’s in middle school, I can barely get him to tell me how his day went. How can this worried mom stay connected?

Jim: By the time kids enter middle school, their march toward independence is well under way. It can be a confusing time for parents — as my wife, Jean, and I can attest, since we’ve been living it the past few years!

When a child spreads his wings, it can feel like he’s turning his back on you instead. But that’s not really the case. Your middle schooler needs you as much as he always has — in some ways, more. He just needs you in a different way than he did in his formative years.

That requires us as parents to strike a delicate balance with our middle school children. As author Cynthia Tobias says, you have to relax your grip while never taking your hands off the wheel. If you back off too much, you’ll leave them drifting and flailing. But if you lean in too hard, you’ll push them away or embarrass them.

In practical terms, that means you have to lean in to your son enough to take his problems seriously. The events your middle schooler faces may seem of little consequence to you as an adult, but they can represent a teen’s whole life. So don’t minimize their adolescent struggles. At the same time, you have to relax your grip and not force solutions on them too quickly.

As one middle school student put it, “Don’t be an 800-pound gorilla.” Instead, listen closely to their heart, not just their words, and help them discover an answer.

Q: What’s your opinion of the use of hypnosis in therapy? Is this really a legitimate clinical tool? Are there any spiritual dangers associated with this practice?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: We realize that hypnosis raises concerns in the minds of some people. For our part, we see no reason to regard it as “evil” or “dangerous” in and of itself. In actuality, there’s little or no basis for most of the popular fears associated with this technique. It’s not true, for instance, that a hypnotist can gain control or mastery of another person’s will. In fact, some experts are skeptical about hypnosis’s effectiveness in exerting any kind of influence over its subject. That’s one of the reasons we have reservations about recommending its use.

Used ethically and responsibly, hypnosis is a method of inducing relaxation as a way of releasing the subject’s subconscious mind in an attempt to open the door to deeper personal insight. Under the careful supervision of a responsible and well-qualified professional, it can sometimes be beneficial. Before submitting to hypnosis, however, it’s critical to know the administering therapist and to be familiar with his or her credentials, background, worldview, value system and personal beliefs.

In the wrong hands, hypnosis has the potential to create confusion and to cause more problems than it resolves. It’s also important to add that hypnosis, like any other therapeutic technique, should be rejected out of hand if it takes on questionable spiritual overtones.

If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free call our Focus on the Family Counseling Department. Our counselors are available to speak with you Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (MST) at 855-771-HELP (4357).

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.