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 Feel the joy of healthy relationships.

Find relationship resources for teens, couples, parents, co-workers & all combinations.

Who We Are

First Things First (FTF) is a non-profit organization that provides healthy relationship skills through classes, events and multimedia outlets. 

We aim to be a community resource for the Chattanooga area and beyond by providing the most up-to-date research, content and educational experiences to all.

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Classes & Events

First Things First holds a number of events and classes throughout the year on topics ranging from dating to marriage to co-workers and everything in-between. Check back frequently for newly added classes and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Stories

Providing real tools for real relationships means we hear a ton of really amazing stories. Here are a few people who chose to connect with First Things First and feel the joy of healthy relationships.

  • Justin Washington, Work Smart, Live Well and OH Baby! Participant

    - Justin Washington, Work Smart, Live Well and OH Baby! Participant

    "I am a HUGE fan of First Things First because when I first moved to Chattanooga in 2014, I had a lot of struggles, but First Things First helped me get on the right track. I attended a Work Smart, Live Well workshop and learned a lot of skills that helped me have confidence and better communication on the job.

    I also gained a deeper knowledge of how your personal life can affect your work life and vice versa. If you’re in toxic relationships with friends or loved ones, they can take a toll on your overall mood, attitude and focus which will inevitably interfere with your motivation and performance on the job.

    Also, when my wife and I found out we were pregnant a few months ago, we realized we needed to work out a few things to keep our marriage prioritized and our careers focused in order to bring our baby into a healthy, thriving home. We went to the First Things First website and signed up for OH, Baby! It was a great date night for us and it was great insight for what to expect when we bring home our first child.

    First Things First gives the community hope. When someone wants to make a change in their life, but they don’t know what they don’t know, First Things First is there to help."

  • Tiffany Cantrell, Teacher at Ridgeland High School

    - Tiffany Cantrell, Teacher at Ridgeland High School

    "I have been an educator at Ridgeland High School for two years and in that short time I have seen tremendous, positive changes in my students as a result of their participation in the First Things First’s healthy relationship skills classes.

    The students of Ridgeland are exposed to a number of wonderful programs in our community but none of those programs reaches our students the way First Things First does.

    My students get so much more out of the classes than healthy relationship skills and helpful tips for being successful after high school. They learn about themselves and gain an appreciation for the unique characteristics that make them who they are. I have seen a huge boost in their confidence and self-esteem, which is evident in both their school and personal lives.

    First Things First has not only helped to foster relationships among classmates, it has brought me closer to my students. I have had special opportunities to get to know each of them on a more personal level which has helped me to more effectively teach them. First Things First has made a huge impact on Ridgeland and the students, and I look forward to their visits each year. I hope that they can continue to develop and offer these beneficial classes for teens for many years to come."

  • Felicia and Eundra Porter, Maximize Your Marriage Participants

    - Felicia and Eundra Porter, Maximize Your Marriage Participants

    "My husband and I were having major problems. Our marriage was in crisis. I saw an advertisement for a First Things First class on a bus, so I encouraged him to call and see what we could do.

    We went to Maximize Your Marriage, and it was eye-opening to me. Or really, for both of us. There were some things in my mind that I thought were happening in our marriage, but after attending that class I realized our problems were all about a lack of communication. Until that point, I didn’t know if I was really going to stay or walk away.

    Without First Things First, I believe, we honestly would not be married today. Or, at the very least, not as happily married."

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    What Society is Really Telling Our Girls

    Last week I was thumbing through People magazine when I came upon an ad. It featured a bikini-clad woman standing at the edge of a pool with her legs spread apart while a guy stared straight up at her crotch and smiled.

    Then someone sent me two deeply troubling articles. One was about sexting and how you don’t have to literally send pictures to help your partner be aroused. The other was questioning whether porn might be able to actually help people better understand consent. 

    You might be questioning where this reading material came from. If I asked you to guess, my gut tells me you probably wouldn’t guess the source: Teen Vogue. No, I am not kidding. Both of these articles, “Sexting Doesn’t Have to Be So Literal” and “Can Porn Help People Understand Consent?” contain content for mature audiences. These pieces, and others like them, target the curious teens in your life who want to be in the know about today’s culture.

    Few parents I know get super excited about having ongoing conversations about sexuality. Even fewer look forward to talking with their middle or high school teen about pornography. But, if you don’t speak into this area of your child’s life, the culture will do so in a very big way, and you might find much of the information disconcerting and inaccurate. It’s so important that your kids get the information they need from you to have healthy relationships now and in the future. Sadly, our kids believe a great deal of what they read online or in print, and it’s so easy to access. They need guidance to understand whether what they are reading is simply entertainment or helpful information that leads them to make healthy choices.

    For example, in the sexting opinion piece, Nona Willis Aronowitz describes graphically photographing herself in order to get comfortable with her own body image before she shares pictures with anybody else. She goes on to say that “if you are texting with someone, sending nudes is unbelievably commonplace.” Additionally, she quotes sex philosopher, Adrienne Maree Brown from her new book, “Pleasure Activism,” which does not appear to be written for a teen audience. 

    Now for the recommendations for sexting: She says it’s important to determine that the person who will be receiving the pictures is trustworthy. And, “regardless of how serious or intimate y’all are, any worthwhile boo will appreciate the titillation of a beautiful nude, even if they don’t get to bring the image home with them.” There are plenty of teen girls who believe their “boo” is trustworthy when it comes to not sharing nude pictures of her with his friends, only to find out that wasn’t the case.

    At the very end of the article, the author discusses the risk involved in sexting, stating that she is sure parents and others have warned that once you send a nude pic you have no control over where it goes, “so the public embarrassment you worry about could become a reality,” and if you’re under a certain age, sending sexy selfies can count as distributing child pornography. All this comes after a total tutorial on how to take great nudes.

    In the second article on porn and consent, the author wonders if explicit verbal consent in more porn could help people understand the concept better. “Imagine this,” says the writer,  “You’re surfing the Internet, looking for some porn to watch (you know why), and after scrolling for what seems like forever, you finally find a video that fits what you’re in the mood for. You click play and after watching the prerequisite awkward intro, you hear one person in the film ask another, ‘Is it okay if I kiss you?’”

    The author says that porn shouldn’t be used as sex education, but that young people should be educated on how to consume porn in a healthy way. This is an alarming statement considering the significant amount of research regarding the dangers of porn addiction. 

    According to Fight the New Drug, a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts, porn physically changes the brain over time. When one looks at porn, there is a surge of the chemical dopamine that feels really good. Dopamine helps create new brain pathways that essentially lead the user back to the behavior that triggered the chemical release. Porn users can quickly build up a tolerance as their brains adapt to the high levels of dopamine released by viewing porn. Even though porn is still releasing dopamine into the brain, the user can’t feel its effects as much.

    “It is as though we have devised a form of heroin - usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes,” says Dr. Jeffrey Satinover of Princeton University, describing porn’s effect to a U.S. Senate committee.

    Numerous studies indicate that porn is a very significant problem in the U.S. In fact, the Justice Department estimates that 9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have seen online porn. Once you have seen porn, the image remains in your brain.

    The author of the Teen Vogue article cites research from the UK that 60 percent of students in the survey had turned to porn to learn more about sex, and 40 percent of them said porn colored their understanding of what sex is. Young people in the U.S. also report turning to porn when their school sex ed classes don’t equip them for the realities of sex. 

    So, if you think your daughters are purchasing or looking at Teen Vogue online for the fashion, you might want to think again. Their website says, “Teen Vogue: Fashion, Beauty, Entertainment News for Teens,” and it lists the topics of style, politics, culture and identity. I would strongly encourage you to visit the site and read through the content for yourself.

    The middle and high school years are complicated enough for so many reasons, but these articles in Teen Vogue and other publications are troubling for those of us who have been fighting against the sexualization of women. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of advertisements, media and music that sends hypocritical messages about what is acceptable and what is not. What our kids consume shapes the trajectory of their lives. The impact of sexting and looking at porn in their teen years will follow them into adulthood.

    Women who don’t want themselves or others to be seen as objects or commodities have a responsibility to call out these overtly sexual messages that undermine the change for which many have advocated. We have made a great deal of progress in the age of #MeToo, but we still have a long way to go. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 12, 2019.

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    How to Care for Independent Aging Parents

    If you're in the midst of raising children or grandchildren, managing a career and caring for an aging parent or relative, you are not alone. In fact, a 2012 Pew Research report found that about half of all U.S. adults in their 40s or 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child.

    When our parents have strong desires to remain independent and we have strong desires to care for them, it can be a real challenge.

    “I always like to focus on the things that are necessary for aging parents to stay as independent as possible,” says Amy Boulware, (LAP, MSW) Geriatric and Special Needs care manager for Chambliss Law. “The desire to remain independent is so strong, sometimes parents are willing to go to great lengths to keep up the appearance they are doing well on their own. I call this ‘malicious independence.’ They know they aren’t doing well, but they keep it from their family members. The sad thing is, often, they have already lost their independence because they are isolating themselves and not getting to do the things they enjoy doing.”

    Getting older and more fragile is a hard thing to deal with, but things do happen as we age. Boulware believes the goal of providing good care to our parents is to avoid making decisions in the midst of a crisis.

    “If we can help parents think about the things that are becoming more difficult for them such as going to the grocery store, cooking or keeping the house clean, then we can develop a plan to remove some of the burdens and help them stay as independent as possible,” Boulware says. 

    “Most people do estate planning, but few think about doing elder care planning,” Boulware shares. “Inevitably, something happens and then you are thrown into making quick decisions.”

    So, how do you have that hard conversation? Boulware suggests that you begin the process by asking questions like:

    • What are the things that are important to you as you age?
    • How can we work together to help you have quality care later in life? What does that look like for you? 
    • What can you afford?
    • What are the lifelong behaviors or details that make you tick that would be very important to know? For example, do you have a nightly routine, always have a certain snack, use something to help you sleep at night, etc.? There may be routines and rituals that you know nothing about that if discontinued, could cause agitation, fear or frustration for your parent. 
    • Who would you like to designate to make decisions should you become unable to do so? When do you think would be a good time to take care of that? 
    • If we see you struggling, how would you like us to handle that?

    If you try to have the conversation and your parents won’t let you, seek help from a trustworthy third party.

    This conversation in particular is often one we put off because it’s just plain uncomfortable and nobody wants to think about the end of life. Mapping out a plan ahead of time can pave the way for smoother transitions in the future. It can also strengthen your family relationships because the choices your parents make are truly theirs and it will be easier to honor them by following through with their wishes.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 5, 2019.

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    Why Reading to Your Child Matters

    While you might be reading bedtime stories to help your child settle down before lights out, you may be doing much more than just a nightly ritual.

    An Ohio State University study shows that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids whose parents did not read to them.

    Jessica Logan and her team launched into this research after findings from an earlier study indicated that one-fourth of children are never read to, and another quarter were only read to once or twice a week.

    In collaboration with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Logan and her colleagues determined the average number of words in board books and picture books, and then calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through his or her 5th birthday at different levels of reading. They found that:

    • By the time a child is 5 years old, if they have never been read to, they know 4,662 words. 
    • If they’ve been read to 1-2 times per week, their word count increases to 63,570. 
    • Reading to a child 3-5 times per week increases their vocabulary to 169,520 words, and daily reading expands their vocabulary to 296,660 words. 
    • If a child is read five books a day, they know upwards of 1,483,300 words.
    • Children who hear more vocabulary words are better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. They are also more likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily. 

    “This million word gap could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development,” says Logan. 

    Logan contends that being read to is different from everyday communication. Why? It's because books expose children to words that are much more complex and difficult than what they hear by just talking to their parents and others at home. 

    For example, reading a book about animals, where they live and their natural habitat, will introduce words and concepts that are not likely to come up in everyday conversations.

    “The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,”  Logan says. “Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids.”

    If reading hasn’t been a priority in your home, it's easy to start. Here's how. 

    • Visit the library with your little ones for story hour. Get a library card if you don’t already have one so you can take some books home with you. 
    • Look for gently-used books at garage sales or used bookstores. You might even have some friends who have been holding onto books that could use a new home or who would be willing to trade books back and forth. 
    • Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school (age 5), regardless of family income. Register your child to receive a new book each month. (Yes, please!)
    • Make reading an exciting time to connect with your child. Change your voice for the different characters or animals, let your child turn the pages, point to different things on the page as you read about them or ask them to find the thing you are reading about on the page.
    • Place your finger under the words as you read them. This helps your child learn that we read from left to right and will help them visually see the word you are saying.

    Don’t have lots of books to choose from? No worries. Almost any parent with grown children can probably still recite to you word for word certain books that their child asked them to read again, and again, and… again. Happy reading!

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 28, 2019.