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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.

  • Abby Beck, Bradley County High School, Class of 2018

    - Abby Beck, Bradley County High School, Class of 2018

    "What I liked most about the First Things First class was that I could find myself in the worksheets and activities, especially in the towel activity. I honestly found that I was like really controlling during that activity. I wanted to take over. But, the class helped me understand how to overcome that and work with it, and work with other people.

    The class also taught me to work well with others and still be OK with myself. I can overcome struggles or insecurities that I have with myself and with other people in almost any way, whether it’s physically, mentally or emotionally.

    I believe the class will help me in future relationships because I now know how to overcome problems in a variety of healthy ways, and how to make the smartest choices as I prepare for my future. I know I’m a teenager, but there was so much about relationships that I thought I already knew. Turns out, there’s a lot more to it like communication, dealing with conflict, personality types and healthy relationship habits that I didn’t know before that I know now.

    Thanks, First Things First."

  • 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."

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First Things First Presents a Short Film About the Importance of Family

Latest Posts

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    How to Connect at Family Mealtimes

    We live in a day and time when parents feel like they run from one thing to the next seeking to give their children every opportunity to experience life to the fullest. Many people say there's nothing wrong with that.

    The reality is that children and their parents are experiencing high rates of disconnectedness. They are experiencing a lot of life, but at what cost?

    One of the most powerful ways for families to create connection is by sharing regular and meaningful meals together, which offers a variety of benefits. Studies suggest that having meals together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development and has been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school as well as better family relationships. 

    Family meals also help to:

    • provide a sense of family unity and identity.
    • give children an opportunity to express themselves.
    • teach kids to wait their turn to speak.
    • let them hear many different perspectives.
    • show how to agree to disagree on certain topics. 
    • transmit family values and traditions from one generation to the next
    • teach good table manners and etiquette.

    The American College of Pediatricians notes that the daily coming together around the family table:

    • Provides structure for the day, allowing children to feel more secure and safe by knowing what to expect. 
    • Helps parents monitor their children’s moods, behavior and activities, giving insight into the emotional well-being of their children.
    • Allows children to learn and appreciate social interactions, understand the importance of community and experience different ideas while under the guidance of their parents.

    These times together as a family create a bond and shared memories that children carry with them long into adulthood. The key to the success of these gatherings is to make them technology-free zones – no televisions, tablets or cell phones allowed.

    You may already know that family meals are a good thing, but maybe you’re just trying to figure out how to make it happen and what to do with the time you have together. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be dinner, it could be breakfast, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. The goal is for everybody to be together and connect. Making the meal could be part of that or you could even grab something and bring it home.

    If you are at a loss for how to get the conversation around the table going, here are some suggestions to help you get started:

    • Share. Have each person share their best/favorite moment from today or yesterday. Use this time to get updates on each other, friends, co-workers and family. 
    • Ask. What’s one thing you are excited about that is coming up? Who did you notice today and why did you notice them? Is there anything going on in your life or someone else’s life that we can help with? What is the best meal or dessert you’ve ever had?
    • Discuss. If sports are your thing, talk about the latest game or an upcoming championship such as the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup or NBA playoffs. Find ways to talk about things each individual is interested in or would like to learn more about. Maybe it’s that dream vacation or road trip, birthday bash or even how you’d like to spend your time over the weekend.
    • Listen. During the conversations, make the effort to listen without interrupting. Whatever you do, don’t ask a question and then hijack the conversation. We can learn a lot when we’re not doing all the talking.

    It might seem hard to believe that just having a meal together where you are connecting can be such a huge preventative factor for so many things, but it’s true. The key is to be intentional and keep it simple. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 9, 2019.


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    How to Prevent Depression in Teens

    A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds has increased a startling 56% over the last decade. Suicide has become the second-most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults. 

    “Pediatricians have indeed seen a huge increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents over the last few years,” says Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician. “I spend a lot of time talking to parents about lifestyle choices affecting mental health.”

    While no one knows for sure what is causing this dramatic increase in teen suicide, the trend is extremely disturbing. Some experts are referring to this as a public health crisis and wondering why there is not more of an outcry for something to be done.

    Part of the problem may be that no one is clear about what is causing this uptick. It could be technology, violent video games, television shows, bullying, not enough likes on Instagram posts, the ease in which someone can compare their life to their friend’s highlight reel or who knows what else.  

    “It is clear that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to teens and their mental health,” Shumaker says. “I start early talking about letting electronics into the home. It is a portal for both good and evil to enter into children’s lives. And electronics are really not the problem, it’s the all-access pass that so many children have to technology that is the problem.”

    Another issue Shumaker notes is sleep deprivation. 

    “Sleep deprivation is a torture technique and a well-documented trigger for anxiety and depression,” Shumaker says. “Not getting enough sleep leads to more impulsive behavior as well as poor performance in school.”

    The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children and adolescents have no electronics in the bedroom.

    “Allowing electronics in the bedroom means that adolescents spend an enormous amount of time alone, unsupervised and on the internet,” Shumaker says. “This means that fundamentally they are separated from the family, which I believe is another potential cause of depression and anxiety. Having electronics in the bedroom means parents don’t put their kids to bed anymore - their electronics do.

    “We are missing such valuable time with our children and their mental health is suffering from it. We as a culture are abandoning our children to the internet and it is literally killing them.”

    What can we do to help our kids?

    • Your presence matters. Practice what you are trying to teach. Be intentional about disconnecting from your phone and other technology and actively engage with your kids.
    • Set limits with technology use, including amount of time on screens and where technology lives in your home. (And don’t expect your children to thank you for setting boundaries!)
    • Be vigilant about making sure they get enough rest and seriously limit distractions that could keep them awake. Help them make healthy food and exercise choices, as these can impact other areas of life.
    • Talk with them about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and discuss ways to manage them so they are educated not only for themselves, but also for their friends. Contrary to what some believe, talking about these symptoms or the topic of suicide does not increase the risk of suicide.
    • Make them aware of helpful resources both locally and nationally. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) 
    • Suicide Resource Center - The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a whole host of resources for teens and families.
    • Give your teen household responsibilities. You may think your teen already has so much on their plate, but including teens in household chores helps them feel connected and it teaches them responsibility as well as how to manage their time.
    • Create space for your family to do things together on a regular basis. Make sure they are getting helpful information from you, and not just taking their cues from their friends.

    Our children are living in a complicated world for sure. Although no one can definitively say why there is such an increase in suicide among our young people, we cannot afford to sacrifice the mental health or lives of our children. We must be intentional in our efforts to help them. Whether they will admit it or not, they are counting on our guidance to navigate this time in their lives.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 3, 2019.


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    How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor

    In 30-plus years of working with couples and listening to why they have decided to divorce, the reasons include things you would expect to hear such as infidelity, lack of commitment, financial issues, too much conflict, the stress of caring for children with special needs, the impact of the death of a child, substance abuse and physical abuse.*

    Reasons that might catch you off guard are health issues. Sometimes the spouse is too overwhelmed by the health issues of their partner. In other situations, the couple is still very much in love, but the medical bills are draining their life savings. Divorcing makes it possible for them to manage the financial burden. In-laws without boundaries is another reason couples cite for making the decision to divorce.

    Many couples say they just can’t keep living like they have been living and they have done all they know to do. Statistics indicate that only 30% of divorces are due to affairs, addiction or abuse. In 70% of divorces, couples cite disconnectedness even though they love but are not “in love” with their spouse anymore.

    If you find yourself considering divorce, there are some important things for you to think about. Even though you have tried everything you know and nothing has worked to change your relationship, that doesn’t mean you have tried everything. Marriage intensives, one-day experiences specifically designed for couples experiencing distress, and phone coaching are all available and have excellent success rates.

    After trying everything they knew to try and change their relationship, one couple went to tell their pastor they were calling it quits, but he asked them if they would be willing to try just one more thing: a one-day class specifically for couples in distress. They reluctantly agreed, but as a result, they tore up their divorce papers and haven’t looked back. They are now empty-nesters and their marriage is thriving. What they know now is they needed information, tools and a different perspective on how to get out of the ditch they were in. They have no regrets.

    Keep in mind that just because someone has “marriage and family therapist” or “counselor” behind their name does not mean they are for your marriage. Most marital therapists are specifically trained to be nondirective or neutral. The following suggestions can help you choose a counselor whose goal is to keep your marriage intact, if possible:

    • Before setting up the first appointment, ask certain questions to make sure the counselor will help you accomplish your goals of making the marriage mutually fulfilling.
    • Ask to schedule a 10-15 minute phone interview. If the counselor is unwilling to have an initial phone conversation, eliminate that counselor from consideration.
    • During the interview, ask: 
    1. What is your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment, and save your marriage).
    2. What are your credentials and years of experience in marriage counseling? (Answer: a graduate degree in mental health (Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology or Social Work, with clinical supervision in marriage counseling).
    3. Briefly explain your problem, then ask if they have experience helping couples overcome that problem, and ask for their success rate in dealing with your particular issue. (Answer: Experience helping couples overcome that particular problem with more than 75% success).

    After both spouses speak to a few potential counselors, choose the one you both feel most comfortable with and set up your first appointment.  

    Every marriage goes through challenging seasons. If you are unhappy in your marriage, you might want to pay attention to who you are spending time around and exercise caution in who you allow to speak into your marriage. People can be sincere in what they say, but sincerely wrong in the advice they give. Hanging out with people who are recently divorced, dissatisfied in their marriage or unhappy with life in general can place you at higher risk for becoming more dissatisfied and ultimately lead you to believe divorce is your only/best option when it really isn’t.

    *If abuse is an issue in your marriage, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 25, 2019.