Have you ever wondered why some adult children become distant from their parents? It’s a big issue, affecting 40% of adult children in the United States, according to a study by Cornell University. Surprisingly, it’s often the adult children who choose to end communication.

Digging into this issue, David Brooks, a respected writer for The New York Times, conducted research. He found that parenting styles change over time. What might seem normal to one generation might not feel right to the next. This shift is a major reason why families grow apart.

Karl Pillemer, another researcher from Cornell, explored this topic in his book Fault Lines. He discovered that adult children often point to things like strict rules, favoritism, divorce, and strained communication as reasons for the rift. However, parents may remember things differently, thinking everything was fine and blaming their children for exaggerating.

But don’t worry if you find yourself in this situation, there’s still hope. Whether you’re an adult child who feels their parents fell short or a parent who tried their best, you can mend things if you both want to.

Here are five steps you both adult children and their parents can take to improve the situation:

  1. Communicate Openly: Before discussing feelings, ensure everyone listens without interruption or judgment. It’s crucial to create a safe space where everyone can express themselves using “I” statements to avoid blaming.
  2. Apologize Sincerely: Both parents and adult children should apologize for any mistakes. Parents must genuinely express remorse, even if they didn’t intend to cause harm. Adult children should try to understand their parents’ perspectives.
  3. Forgive and Let Go: Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, but it involves releasing negative feelings. Both parties need to forgive and ask for forgiveness to move forward.
  4. Rebuild Trust and Set Boundaries: Trust takes time to rebuild. Establish clear rules for how to treat each other, respecting personal space and feelings.
  5. Foster Empathy and Understanding: Recognize that everyone has their own perspective. Even if you were a good parent, your adult child might still choose to distance themselves. It’s crucial to listen and understand each other’s viewpoints.

If we don’t try to understand, more families might drift apart. Let’s focus on listening, apologizing, and rebuilding relationships to keep families close.

My family dances together regularly. Cooking dinner? We’re jamming to Usher or Queen. Have twenty minutes to spare before bathtime? We’re grooving around the house to Lecrae or Justin Bieber. It’s a holiday? You can bet at least half of my 32-member family is gathered in the kitchen, singing and moving to yacht rock or 2000s pop.

A few years ago, my sister posted a video of one of our dance fests on social media. The next day, I received a long text from someone sharing how they wished their family could be more like my family… having fun together, laughing, dancing, and making memories. At first, I felt sad for this person. They clearly had a desire for a family environment they had never been able to experience before. Then, I realized they were making an assumption based on one 15-second video. They didn’t see the years of heartache and loss my family navigated through, the arguments we’ve had over politics, religion and parenting, or the moments of frustration and miscommunication that inevitably led to heated conversations and boundaries. It’s true we have fun together, but there’s also a long list of challenges and trials we’ve endured.

Relationship envy is a tricky yet common issue to navigate.

From the gorgeous married couple who travels the world to the family who dances in the kitchen, social media and misplaced assumptions can create a deep-seated game of comparison.

Here’s a truth to remember: Seeing a moment doesn’t reveal the full picture.

In other words, seeing a husband and wife who are caring, considerate, and affectionate towards each other at a dinner party doesn’t mean they haven’t had their fair share of ups and downs. Study after study reveals couples who stick together through hard seasons will inevitably come out stronger and more connected on the other side. Still, we experience relationship envy because we so desperately desire a deep connection with those we love. So often, we don’t know how to build that connection. Then when we see snapshots of others holding hands, laughing, dancing, etc., we assume their relationship is amazing and ours are lacking in some way.

More than eight in ten U.S. adults (83%) say spending time with family provides them a great deal or quite a bit of meaning and fulfillment, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2022. However, a similar survey concluded that Americans only see extended family once a year, typically around a holiday. Likewise, a different survey of 6,000 married couples revealed that 90% of couples enjoy spending time together and find it beneficial for their relationship, but they only go on dates an average of 3 times per year.

What if relationship envy isn’t bred from a lack in our own relationships, but misplaced priorities?

If we desire to have closer, more connected, and “fun” relationships, we have to invest our time, energy, and resources into making those things happen. You can’t enjoy life together if you don’t spend time together. The more time and energy you give to the people you care about, the more memories and experiences you’ll share with them – good and bad.

Likewise, taking the “grass is always greener” approach limits your capacity to see and expand on the positives in your relationships.

Justin Buckingham, a psychology professor at Towson University, and the researcher Lavonia Smith LeBeau developed the “relationship social comparison scale.” They found that people who frequently compared their relationships to others were more likely to experience “low relationship satisfaction, feelings of commitment, and feelings of intimacy.” On a larger scale, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called this “positional suffering,” or the notion that our pain is created not so much by what we have, but by what we have in relation to others. Practicing envy creates feelings of pain, doubt, and dissatisfaction.

What’s the antidote to envy?

Practicing gratitude and self-awareness. Being thankful for what you do have instead of focusing on what you don’t will shift your mindset and point of view over time. Self-awareness allows you to focus on what you do have control over instead of what you can’t control.

To my friend who longs for her family to dance in the kitchen: turn on the music and let loose. If no one joins you, so be it. You can’t control what your family members do or don’t do, but you can be the one to start something new. You can choose to focus on the things your family does to enjoy each other’s company: telling stories, reading, sharing life, eating meals – there’s no right or wrong way to be together. Prioritizing your own relationships will give you less time and capacity to envy others.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Raychan on Unsplash

We are all guilty of phubbing whether we’re aware of it or not.

Answered a text during family dinner? You phubbed. Checked your notifications during a meeting your colleague was leading? Phubbed again. Decided to scroll through social media during your downtime instead of calling your close friend or family member? Major phub.

Phubbing is the act of ignoring your companions or relationships to give attention to your phone or device. In other words, you are snubbing others for your phone. 

While many parents complain of feeling snubbed by their teens for technology, it’s clear adults are also struggling with the distracting screens.

Researchers now have a clear picture of how phubbing impacts adult relationships. A recent tech report released by the Institute for Family Studies found that 1 in 7 parents of teens (15%) use their phones or other digital devices “almost constantly” during conversations, meals, or family events. Also, using a sample of 145 adults, researchers James Roberts and Meredith David found that regular phubbing between romantic partners leads to relationship dissatisfaction.

A new report from the Wheatley Institute surveyed 2,000 married couples. It found that 37% of married Americans (roughly one-third) feel their spouse is often focused on a device in place of having a conversation or spending time together. Interestingly enough, this statistic varies greatly between socioeconomic status. Phubbing is worse among lower-income couples, with 44% reporting their spouse is distracted by their phone compared to only 31% of higher-income couples.

It makes sense that phone usage would create frustration in a marriage, but this study reveals even more.

Couples who experience excessive phone use are less happy about their marriage than others.

Only about 6 in 10 married adults whose spouse is often on the phone (59%) say they are “very happy” with their marriage, compared with 81% of those who don’t struggle with this issue. More so, 1 in 5 married adults (21%) with a spouse who overuses a phone say they are not happy with their marriage, compared with only 8% of couples who do not report the phone as an issue.

Of course, the question has to be asked: Is phubbing the real issue?

Or are there other factors in the marriage that increase the phubbing behavior? According to the Wheatley report, infrequent sex and fewer date nights may be contributing to lower marital satisfaction among couples who have a phone problem. Fewer than half of these couples (44%) have sex at least once a week, and about 1 in 5 of these couples (23%) report that either they haven’t had sex at all in the past 12 months (11%) or only once or twice (12%).

In contrast, couples with greater control over their phones are more likely to report more frequent sex and date nights.

Smartphones get a lot of blame for relationship and mental health issues. There’s no doubt that correlations exist between relationship dissatisfaction, loneliness, anxiety, and smartphone usage. But smartphones themselves aren’t the real issue–phubbing is. Whether couples find themselves using their devices to avoid spending time together or they slowly slide into prioritizing their phones over each other, phubbing is a choice. It’s something to be aware of and practice against for the health of ourselves and our relationships.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash

As my oldest child approaches his fifth birthday, I find myself reflecting on the challenges of raising kids in today’s world. From the moment he was born, I’ve been mindful of how much time he spends in front of screens. It’s not easy in a world where screens are everywhere – TVs at grandma’s, FaceTime calls, and tempting shows that say they’re educational for young kids. But as they grow, so does their exposure and draw to screen time.

Sometimes, I notice that too much screen time leaves him feeling frazzled and hard to soothe. It’s not just my child – studies show that too much screen time can have long-term effects on kids. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently wrote about this in The Atlantic, highlighting how excessive screen time is linked to mental health issues, substance abuse, loneliness, and poor school performance. These problems can stick with kids as they grow up, affecting their careers, families, and society as a whole.

“As the oldest members of Gen Z reach their late 20s, their troubles are carrying over into adulthood,” says Haidt. “And if a generation is doing poorly––if it is more anxious and depressed and is starting families, careers, and important companies at a substantially lower rate than previous generations––then the sociological and economic consequences will be profound for the entire society.”

So, what’s changed in recent years? Smartphones. They’re not the sole culprit, but they’ve played a big role. Alongside smartphones, constant news updates and social media have reshaped childhood. Parents today feel more pressure to keep their kids safe, which often means more screen time indoors. It’s a shift from the days when kids roamed freely outside.

Surveys show that many parents turn to screens because they’re convenient and seem safer than letting kids play unsupervised. But this shift has happened fast, and we’re only just starting to understand its impact. As Haidt puts it, we’ve traded real-world risks for virtual ones that might be even more harmful.

So, what can we do to turn things around with screen time? Haidt offers some suggestions:

  • Limit personal devices: Hold off on buying smartphones and other personal gadgets for kids, especially before puberty.
  • Delay social media: Wait until kids are 16 before letting them dive into social media, where the pressure to perform can take a toll on their mental health.
  • Enforce phone-free zones: Schools should crack down on phone use during class, creating a better environment for learning.
  • Foster independence: Encourage kids to take on responsibilities and make decisions on their own, building confidence and preparing them for adulthood.

While screens themselves aren’t evil, they can lead to problems when overused. It’s time for us to recognize the risks and take steps to protect our kids’ futures.

As the CEO of a nonprofit organization, I often find myself in a room with a variety of community leaders and decision makers. As the mom of a preschooler, I often find myself surrounded by parents of young children. In both kinds of gatherings, education regularly becomes a loud, boisterous and sometimes hostile conversation. Opinions and ideas fly out of mouths like daggers.

“Homeschool is the only way to go.”

“The public education system isn’t all flawed, the teachers are under-resourced.” 

“Private school solves every problem.”

Do a quick Google search of “How to help children in their education.” You’ll find thousands of articles focused on helping elementary aged children read, use their creativity and build their focus. The common thread pulling these articles together? They’re written to parents who are looking to be more engaged with their child’s education at home, outside of a classroom’s four walls.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), when elementary age students have involved and engaged parents, they are more likely to: 

  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education
  • Develop self-confidence and motivation 
  • Have better social skills and behavior

These children are also less likely to:

  • Suffer from low self-esteem
  • Require redirection
  • Develop behavioral issues
  • Make poor decisions

Digging deeper into the research, children achieve more when their parents are engaged regardless of whether they attend a public or private school or are homeschooled. 

With this in mind, please note, I’m not trying to start an education debate. Every child learns differently, every family has different ideals and access to resources, and every educational environment carries its own influential factors.

But, are we asking the right questions?

Whose responsibility is it to make sure children are learning well and receiving the education they need to thrive in society? Going back to the research, parental involvement bears great influence on a child’s educational outcomes. Knowing this, how is our community as a whole supporting students and their parents/caregivers in the educational process?

These questions go beyond the public system, the private schools and the homeschool groups. It involves every aspect of the community– from nonprofit organizations and churches to government agencies and every sector of business. 

Parents’ and caregivers’ responsibility doesn’t end when they choose a school or educational path for their child.

If we truly want to nurture the next generation and provide equal opportunities for all, compassion and support must be provided to parents and caregivers across the board. This investment means success for our entire community.

Let me be the first to say, I don’t have all the answers. Education in and of itself is complex and each situation is different. There are many opinions and experiences that color the educational debate. Regardless of where you stand, there’s no denying the need for parental engagement in the lives of children. 

Helen Keller wrote, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Are we willing to work together toward holistic solutions for the good of the children in our community? Or will we inadvertently build walls of division and create obstacles for opportunity?

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Note: If you’re a parent or caregiver in search of assistance in connecting with your child, First Things First has FREE one-on-one coaching resources to guide you on your journey. Go to FirstThings.org/Coaching or email us at [email protected] to learn more.

I gave a presentation to a local community group last week. At the end, someone in the audience raised their hand and asked, “I keep hearing all this stuff about how lonely we are. Is it really true? And what do we do about it?”

A few days later, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an advisory statement. The headline read: New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States.

Awareness of the rise in loneliness and isolation in our country is the first step to finding a solution. The next steps are to understand why it’s happening and what to do about it. Let’s break it down.

Why is loneliness increasing in our country? Here are a few potential causes:

1: Children have not received emotional connections from parents and caregivers.

A meta-analysis of decades of research on the average American’s “attachment style” reveals today’s adults are more likely to have an insecure attachment style than a secure one. This means we desire relationships, but we are also fearful of them. 

 (Konrath, S. H., Chopik, W. J., Hsing, C. K., & O’Brien, E. (2014))

2: Concerns about societal issues create distrust.

One psychologist who dove deep into Americans’ insecure-attachment trend found a list of fears that people may be wrestling with, such as: war in Europe, trends in technology, school shootings in the news, and the national debt. When society feels scary, that fear can seep into your closest relationships.

3: Technology produces fake intimacy.

It’s no secret–  technology hinders us from creating deep emotional connections. There’s a large body of research revealing the impact of technology on relationships. Staying up-to-date with someone on social media is not the same as having them over for dinner or being a regular part of their life. Technology helps us form digital communities that can hinder us from forming more tangible relationships.

Faith Hill, a reporter and contributor to The Atlantic draws this conclusion in her recent article America’s Intimacy Problem: “All in all, we can’t determine why people are putting up walls, growing further and further away from one another… The good news is that if humans have the capacity to lose trust in one another, they can also work to build it back up.”

What do we do to build connection and trust back up?

Here are a few potential solutions suggested by the Surgeon General and mental health experts alike:

1: Create and use more community spaces.

Playgrounds, libraries, and community centers provide opportunities for human interaction and connection for children and adults. Creating these spaces is half the battle. To experience connection and reverse isolation, we must be willing to use them in our everyday lives.

2: Use connection as a healing remedy.

Because loneliness and isolation are risk factors for several major health conditions, healthcare professionals are well-positioned to assess their patients’ loneliness and isolation and suggest connection and relationship-building remedies.

3: Enable public policies that ensure connection.

At every level, the government can play a role in creating more avenues for connection. Increasing free and easy access to public transportation and providing family leave are a few ways to discourage loneliness and isolation from a systemic level. 

4: Consistently gauge your use of technology.

Only you can prevent fake intimacy from forming in your relationships. How often are you “liking” a picture rather than inviting a friend to coffee? Or scrolling on your phone rather than having a conversation with your spouse?

At its core, the loneliness epidemic has one cure: deep, meaningful relationships. While this ideal has many obstacles, prioritizing relationships is the first step forward. 

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

For the last seven years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for First Things First, Inc. (FTF).

We’re a non-profit dedicated to helping every family have healthy relationship skills to pass down from generation to generation. I’ve served in several roles at FTF, but for the last twelve months, I’ve been honored to serve as President and CEO. 

This is my first of many articles to be published in this column for The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Mitchell Qualls, our Vice President of Operations, is handing me the baton. I will continue to share research-based relationship skills and best family practices with you. I’m so grateful for the dedication and exceptional content Mitchell created over the last two years. I know many families in our community have been encouraged and empowered through his writing.

So, here we are in another time of transition.

A different byline will appear in this column. A new season is approaching. The holidays and the hustle and bustle are right around the corner. If there’s one thing that’s certain to stay the same in life, it’s change.

I’m thirty-two years old, I’ve been married to my husband Daniel for almost nine years, and we have a sweet, rambunctious three-year-old named Strider. At least once a week, my husband and I talk about what we can do to create a more consistent schedule. We’re convinced consistency will make daily life easier and make everything fall into place.

But the truth is, no matter how well we plan, we can always expect change.

We can’t prohibit the flu from taking over our household. We can’t keep the tree from falling down in our yard during a storm. We can’t stop mechanical issues from happening in our car. As much as we might wish it wasn’t true, change is here to stay.

However, we can choose how we support each other when change inevitably occurs.

In 2021, Cleveland Health Clinic reported people experience increased stress symptoms when going through change, and these symptoms increase the more change we encounter.

So, we’ve already determined change is inevitable, and now we know stress is also unavoidable. What’s the solution if we can’t avoid it?

A 2017 research article published in the Innovation in Aging journal through Oxford University Press revealed healthy family relationships can limit stress, increase the production of mood-boosting chemicals in your brain, and create a sense of belonging and unconditional love.

In other words, the best way to deal with life changes and the stress they create is to have a solid support system to rely on.

While we can’t plan for change, we can work toward building stronger relationships and families that will help us weather the storms and enjoy the sunshine on the other side.

According to the Journal of Marriage and Family Review, strong families have six significant qualities in common:

1: Appreciation/affection

2: Commitment

3: Positive communication

4: Time together

5: Strong coping skills

6: Spiritual well-being.

Over the next six weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of these six qualities and suggest ways to assess them in your relationships, along with practical tools you can use to strengthen your family for generations to come.

I look forward to continuing this relationship journey alongside you.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Lots of people believe in the idea of soulmates. You might have seen it in movies or read about it in fairy tales. But is it true? Recent surveys asked around 15,000 adults in the United States about this. Surprisingly, 60% of them said yes, they believe everyone has a soulmate. But is this belief actually helpful when it comes to real relationships?

While the idea of a soulmate is deeply a part of our modern dating culture, relationship experts caution against falling into the trap of what they term the “soulmate model of marriage.”

Some experts say no. They warn against what they call the “soulmate model of marriage.” This idea suggests that everyone has a special person destined to be with them forever. But believing this can lead to problems in relationships. For example, if you think you’re meant to be with someone, you might not try as hard to make the relationship work. And if things get tough, you might give up too easily, thinking you’re not really soulmates.

A recent study involving 615 couples in the United States and Canada looked into this idea. It found that what really makes a relationship last isn’t just fate or strong feelings. Instead, it’s things like being a good person, having faith, and working hard to make the relationship strong.

So, instead of focusing on finding your soulmate, experts suggest these five things to build a healthy relationship:

  • Don’t treat relationships like shopping: Relationships are not something you get and give; they require investment and commitment.
  • Be realistic: Understand that love grows over time through shared experiences and mutual efforts.
  • Understand love: Recognize that lasting love is built on intentional actions, not just emotions.
  • Date well: Prioritize shared values, equal partnership, and effective communication during the dating phase.
  • Learn from breakups: Learn from past experiences without losing hope for future connections.

Remember, soulmates aren’t just found, they’re made. When people actively choose each other, work on their relationship together, and stay loyal, they build a strong connection. So instead of waiting for fate to bring you together, focus on being a good partner and building a strong relationship.

While the idea of finding your soulmate might sound nice, having a healthy, stable relationship is even better.