In 1999 in Hamilton County, there were 240 teens between the age of 10 and 17 who became pregnant.

Compare that to 98 teens in the same age range in 2013, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. It’s a 59 percent decrease in unwed teen pregnancies. Even in the 18-to 19-year-old age group, pregnancies have dropped from 470 in 1999 to 244 in 2013, a stunning 48 percent decrease.

This is good news… sort of.

The people of Hamilton County are definitely doing some things right in order to see this kind of decrease. However, we cannot forget the 321 children who were born to teen moms in 2013. The breakdown is: 227 18-19-year-olds, 88 15-17-year-olds and six 10-14 year olds.

Research from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies indicates that teen childbearing in the U.S. costs taxpayers — federal, state and local — at least $9.4 billion annually.

Consider these statistics:

  • 66 percent of pregnant teens report histories of dating abuse.

  • Only 30 percent of teen fathers pay child support.

  • Teen mothers are nearly twice as likely to forego prenatal care during the first trimester.

  • Only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before the age of 18 graduate from high school.

  • Daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

  • One in three teens becomes pregnant by age 20.

If a teen mother does not earn a high school diploma or GED, the child will likely spend 64 percent of his or her life in poverty. In fact, a child born to a teen mother who has not finished high school and is not married is nine times more likely to be poor than a child born to a married adult who has finished high school.

Research consistently shows that teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of critical social issues — poverty and income, overall child well-being, responsible fatherhood, health issues, education, child welfare and risky behaviors. As previously noted, there are substantial public costs associated with adolescent childbearing. If more children in this country were born to parents who are ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the United States.

So what can parents do to help prevent teen pregnancy?

First, talk about the facts of life. Communicate your values and convictions about love, sex, commitment and marriage.

If you are having trouble deciding what to talk about, here are some questions teens have said they want to discuss.

  • “How do I know if I’m in love?”

  • “Will sex bring me closer to my girlfriend/boyfriend?”

  • “How will I know when I’m ready to have sex? Should I wait until marriage?”

  • “Will having sex make me popular? Will it make me more grown-up and open up more adult activities to me?”

  • “How do I tell my boyfriend that I don’t want to have sex without losing him or hurting his feelings?”

  • “How do I manage pressure from my girlfriend to have sex?”

  • “Can you get pregnant the first time?”

The good news is more parents are boldly talking about sex and healthy relationships with their teens. As a community, it is critical that we support them in their efforts to raise young people who are well on their way to achieving a successful future and marriage.

When summer approaches many youngsters get excited and look forward to attending camps. And many middle-schoolers are pleading their case for staying home alone.

But exactly how old is old enough?

Surprisingly, only three states have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Basically, the parent decides if their child is mature enough to be unsupervised at home.

Many parenting experts agree that it is not a good idea to leave a child under the age of 9 home alone, but how do you know if your child is ready for this responsibility?

For starters, assess whether your child:

  • Is physically and mentally capable of caring for him/herself.

  • Obeys the rules and makes good decisions.

  • Responds well to unfamiliar or stressful situations.

  • Feels comfortable or fearful about being home alone.

When it comes to safety:

  • Is there an emergency plan and does your child know how to follow the plan?

  • Does your child know his/her full name, address and phone number?

  • Make sure your child knows where you are and how to contact you at all times.

  • Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults in case of an emergency?

After answering these questions, if you feel confident that your child is ready, here are some tips to help him/her feel comfortable and confident about being home alone:

  • Have a trial period. Leave your child home alone for short periods of time to see how they manage by themselves.

  • Role-play potential scenarios. Act out possible situations, such as how to manage unexpected visitors or deliveries and how to talk on the phone without revealing that a parent is not home.

  • Establish rules. Make sure your child understands what is permissible and what is not. Be clear about expectations concerning technology, having friends over, going other places, how late they are allowed to sleep, chores that need to be done and exactly what is allowed while you are away. For example, should they bake cookies in the oven when you are away?

  • Discuss emergencies. What constitutes an emergency in your eyes and in your child’s eyes? Would they know that an overflowing toilet is definitely an emergency? Have you established a code word to use for emergencies?

  • Check in. Have established check-in times in addition to random times that you call to make sure all is going well.

  • Talk about it. Talk with your child about staying home alone and encourage him/her to share their feelings.

Staying home alone is a big deal. Even if you stayed home alone as a child, it is a new day and age. Your child may not be mature or confident enough to handle this type of responsibility right now. If not, look for inexpensive alternatives such as volunteering, community center programs or faith-based organization opportunities. Or perhaps a neighbor or fellow parent would be willing to help out.

Remember, although your child may seem smart, 9 is just 9, and 12 is not considered a young adult. The executive function of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and self-control, doesn’t completely develop until the mid-20s.

While leaving your child home alone may seem like the logical and most cost-effective thing to do, preparing your child for this kind of responsibility takes time. It isn’t too soon to begin the preparation process.

The summer months offer a unique opportunity for families to escape the rat race, enjoy each other’s company and make great memories together.

Instead of business as usual and letting others determine your summer schedule, consider making your own agenda – one that’s full of adventure and fun. This might sound like a pipe dream, but many families know it doesn’t have to be just wishful thinking.

Your first step to summer fun is to consider all of your options. It’s easy to take for granted what is right outside your door when you have lived in the area for a while, but the Tennessee Valley has some real gems that are perfect for family adventures. Here are some ideas to get your list going:

  • If you want an easy drive, check out the Mayfield Dairy or Sweetwater Valley Farm.

  • If your family enjoys the outdoors, your choices are endless. The Tennessee Valley has some of the most beautiful recreation areas around. You could spend the summer exploring parks in the region and probably would not be able to see them all. From Bald River Falls, Cloudland Canyon and Big South Fork to Fall Creek Falls, Chester Frost Park, Lula Lake Land Trust, Chickamauga Battlefield, Pigeon Mountain and the Smokies, whether you love the challenge of a rigorous hike or an easy walk, primitive camping or glamping, or just want to learn about the history of the area, there is something for every skill level and taste.

  • Replace technology with bike rides, swimming, volleyball in the sand, nature walks, beautiful sunsets that are hard to see from inside your house and the opportunity to make new friends. Even if you can’t do this overnight, consider going for the day.

  • Try to visit some of the local attractions that often get overlooked because they are right under your nose. Consider riding the carousel or playing in the fountain at Coolidge Park. Got to the zoo, attend a Lookouts game or play at the Warner Park Splash Park (Families are $5 on Mondays after 5 p.m.). Attend Nightfall or picnic at Movies in the Park at Coolidge Park in July.

  • Gather with friends. Have you ever talked about getting together with someone but didn’t set a date? The next thing you know, the summer is over and nothing ever happened. Make a plan!

  • Read the same book as a family. Let your children choose a book for the whole family to read and talk about it over a family meal.

  • Make a summer scrapbook. Each family member can be responsible for scrapbooking one of your summer events. Or, everyone can do their own thing for all of the summer’s activities.

Don’t be afraid to jump off the merry-go-round of life in order to provide restoration for your family. Spend time this summer with the people who mean the most to you, because life is short. Instead of wishing you had, you’ll be glad to say you did.

The movie Courageous tells the story of four men with one calling: to serve and protect. As confident and focused law enforcement officers, they stand up to the worst the streets have to offer. Yet at the end of the day, they aren’t truly prepared to tackle the challenge of fatherhood. When tragedy strikes, these men wrestle with their hopes, their fears, their faith and their fathering.

“I loved being a part of this movie,” says Renee Jewell, who plays Victoria Mitchell, wife of the lead character, Adam. “The experience was eye-opening and faith-building for me. We worked hard to make the movie very real for people. Whether you are a married, never-married or divorced dad, this movie will speak to you.”

Local folks may recognize Jewell’s face on the big screen because she grew up in Hixson and Ooltewah.

A big takeaway for Jewell from the movie was recognizing how much she appreciated her father for being there for her and encouraging her to follow her dream.

“I remembered my dad talking about wanting to be an artist, but he was discouraged from following that path. He ended up going into engineering,” Jewell says. “I loved the arts, especially music. “Knowing the importance of following your passion, my father encouraged me to follow my dream. What he did for me growing up gave me the opportunity to do amazing things including being a part of this movie.”

An overarching message of the movie is that the decisions fathers make today create a legacy one way or the other.

“Something that hit me while we were filming was that for a long time fathers and mothers alike have been checking the boxes – going to worship, putting food on the table, going to the soccer game – and assuming that is good enough,” Jewell says. “The reality is that isn’t good enough. We need to be pouring into the hearts of our kids engaging them and building relationship with them. Even when things don’t go the way we anticipated, it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility of being the parents our children need us to be.”

The movie is full of intense emotion as well as hysterically funny moments. Its message: It takes courage to be the father children need.

A courageous dad:

  • Invests at least five minutes a day learning how to enhance his fathering skills.

  • Surrounds himself with other like-minded men.

  • Prays for his children.

  • Demonstrates to his kids how a man should treat his wife, and how women should expect men to treat her.

  • Understands his role in disciplining his children.

  • Accepts that his wife and children are healthier emotionally, physically and mentally when he is intentionally present, and acts with wisdom and discernment for their greater good.

  • Teaches his children how to forgive, deal with temptation and to serve.

  • Stands for what is right even when he is standing alone.

“Every father should go see this movie,” Jewell says. “It’s a life-changer.”

There are some very positive trends going on among teens. That’s according to the CDC 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which examines youth and their engagement in risky behaviors,

The survey sampled public and private schools with students in at least one of the grades ninth through 12th in the 50 states (4,138 in Tennessee) and the District of Columbia.

The results indicate:

  • Fewer teens are drinking.
  • Teen smoking is at its lowest level since 1991.
  • Less teens are involved in physical fighting.
  • The percentage of teens that have never had sex has dramatically increased.

Since 1991, the percentage of currently sexually active high school students has decreased from 38 percent to 30 percent in 2015. Even more interesting is the drop in the number of teens who have ever had sex, falling from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015. That means nearly six in 10 teens are choosing to wait for sex – the highest percentage to date. This news follows a press release from the CDC in April stating that teen birth rates are now at an all-time low.

More teens in every high school grade are waiting for sex in greater numbers than ever before.

While this is great news concerning current high school students, a whole new target audience is approaching the high school years. It is imperative that they learn healthy relationship skills and understand the significance of the success sequence: Finish high school at a minimum, get a job and have children after getting married. Research indicates that the success sequence dramatically reduces the chance that youth will live in poverty as adults.

What can you do to help your teen?

  • Model a healthy relationship.
  • Start an ongoing conversation, preferably before they enter middle school. Your tween may be naïve, but the people around him/her are not. You are the best one to educate and influence them when it comes to relationships.
  • Don’t assume your teen will just figure it out when it comes to dating. The world is a complicated place with confusing messages.
  • Talk about how to identify healthy and unhealthy behaviors. For example, healthy relationships don’t involve physical or emotional abuse. Healthy relationships empower people versus exerting control over them. Healthy relationships encourage individuals to grow and be themselves. When you see examples of healthy relationships, point them out.
  • Monitor involvement on social media. Some people in cyberspace are counting on your tween/teen to think they are invincible.
  • Have an open door policy when it comes to answering questions about relationships. If you don’t know the answer, investigate it together. Make sure your child knows there are no dumb questions.
  • Educate your child about how to protect themselves from sexual assault. This includes the danger of excessive drinking, why going to places in groups is a good thing, and why they should not accept a drink from anyone, even a friend.

The trend indicated by the CDC report is great news. It means fewer teens are spending time worrying about pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. It also means they can actually focus on their future while enjoying their teen years.

Dad, don’t forget an important woman in your life on Valentine’s Day – your daughter.

It’s never too early to establish a Valentine’s tradition to express your love to your daughter. A father’s love profoundly impacts a girl, and many believe that a woman takes her relationship with her father (good or bad) to the grave.

The father/daughter relationship plays an integral role in a young girl’s life. It can even give her the self-confidence to deal with challenging life issues. When fathers are not engaged, however, the opposite happens. Research shows the girls often struggle with abandonment issues, lack of self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. They’re also especially vulnerable to predators.

Many women who grow up without a father will float through life, looking for someone to fill that void. Girls who grow up with absent fathers are at greater risk for experiencing problems in school, abusing drugs and alcohol and participating in risky sexual behavior. In fact, adolescent girls without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity – and they’re seven times more likely to get pregnant as a teen.

However, having an active father reduces the risk of early puberty, risky sexual behavior and teen pregnancy. Additionally, strong father/daughter relationships impact a daughter’s ability to trust and relate to men in a healthy way. Daughters who have a healthy bond with their father tend to be more self-reliant and confident and less likely to develop eating disorders. They also tend to perform better in school.

The father/daughter bond is even more important when the father and daughter live in different households.

One woman recalls how special Valentine’s Day was for her as a child. She knew her father would give her a chocolate heart every year. When her father divorced her mother and left, the Valentine’s tradition ended and left her with only memories. Decades later, she still wonders why he quit giving her the Valentine heart.

Keep in mind that little things can mean a lot to daughters. Even traditions such as weekly conversations, writing notes to each other or a daddy/daughter date can strengthen that special bond.

It is important for girls without an active father to have a good, positive and strong male role model in their lives. Think about doing something special for these young girls. Perhaps you could include them in your own family or community activities.

No matter what kind of father you are – traditional, long-distance, stepdad, grandfather, uncle or other father figure – your involvement impacts these young women. Reach out each Valentine’s Day and strengthen the bond you have with your girl.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal” Download Here

Dr. Warren Farrell, psychologist and author of Father and Child Reunion, was intrigued with why children with active fathers do so well. In an attempt to better understand it, he spent more than a decade analyzing worldwide research.

“I knew when I started this research that dads were important, but I had no idea how important,” says Farrell. “We are 100 percent certain that children do better in 26 different areas when they grow up in intact families. Children clearly pay a price when their fathers walk away or mothers keep dads away.”

A father’s impact starts at birth. For example, boys who have contact with their father show greater levels of trust at only 5 or 6 months. A study of black infants found the more interaction the boy had with the father, the higher his mental competence and psychomotor function by the age of 6 months.

As children grow, fathers teach children to have empathy. Dads are usually more firm about enforcing boundaries. Teaching children to take boundaries seriously teaches them to respect the needs and rights of others.

“Fathers also play a huge role in teaching delayed gratification, the single most important highway to maturity,” Farrell says. “When children are allowed to do something without having to do anything to get there, it undermines this process.”

Children with fathers present in the home do better academically, especially in math and science. This is true even if they come from weaker schools. A study by two Harvard researchers found that even when race, education, poverty and similar socioeconomic factors are equal, living without a dad doubled a child’s chance of dropping out of school.

Another study of boys with similar backgrounds found that by the third grade, boys with present fathers scored higher on every achievement test. They also received higher grades. The more years children spend with single mothers, the fewer years of school they complete.

“When fathers are present, children have better mental health,” Farrell says. “They are more likely to get along well with other children, sleep well at night, be trusting of others, and are less likely to be aggressive or participate in risky behavior.”

The National Center for Health Statistics reports that:

  • A child living with his/her divorced mother, compared to a child living with both parents, is 375 percent more likely to need professional treatment for emotional or behavioral problems;
  • Ninety percent of homeless or runaway children are from fatherless homes; and
  • Most gang members come from mother-only households.

“Growing up in an intact family gives children a jump-start in life,” Farrell says. “If a divorce is unavoidable, there are three absolute essentials to give children:

  • Equal amounts of time spent with both parents;
  • The mother and father should live close enough (no more than 15 minutes) that the child doesn’t have to give up friends or activities to see the other parent; and,
  • The child is not able to overhear or detect bad-mouthing of the other parent.

“If these three things happen, children tend to grow up almost as well as children in intact families.”

It’s very helpful if we understand that what dads do or don’t do really matters. Moreover, the way mothers handle it impacts their child’s life forever.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal” Download Here

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

The pressures of fatherhood are great. On any given day, balancing work and family, finances and discipline usually rank at the top of the issue list. For years, our culture has told men that being a good provider equates to being a good dad. However, research is now sending a newsflash that it isn’t all about the money. Children need father presence in their lives.

Many men want to be involved in their child’s life, but “being involved” can mean different things to different people.

Ask yourself the question, “Why do I father my children the way I do?”

So many men are really trying to be great fathers, but it can be a struggle. Sometimes it’s because nobody was there for them growing up and they aren’t sure what it means to be a good dad. A lot of men promise to be more involved with their children because their own father wasn’t involved enough. Unfortunately though, they find themselves hard-pressed because they don’t know what to do. They’ve spent a lot of time talking about what they aren’t going to do – and little, if any time – discussing what they are going to do. So they amble along doing the best they know how.

In an analysis of nearly 100 studies on parent-child relationships, father love (measured by children’s perceptions of paternal acceptance/rejection, affection/indifference) was as important as mother love in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.

Specifically, the studies showed that:

  • Having a loving and nurturing father affected a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as much as having a loving and nurturing mother.
  • If either parent withdrew love, it was equally influential in predicting a child’s emotional instability, lack of self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal and level of aggression.
  • In some studies, father love was actually a better predictor than mother love for certain outcomes. This included delinquency and conduct problems, substance abuse, and overall mental health and well-being.

It’s important for men to learn how to balance providing for and nurturing their family, but many men don’t feel comfortable connecting with their children emotionally. As a result, they spend most of their waking hours away from home.

If you want to make something amazing happen for your family, you can. 

Spending all your time away from them actually defeats the purpose. In many instances, your being there is better than tons of things and busy plans.

If you want to connect with your children more, these tips can help:

  • Ask your children thought-provoking questions. Then listen so you can hear what they are thinking.
  • Some of the best things in life are free. Walking outdoors, horseplay, tumbling on the floor, fishing, riding bikes and flying kites are totally free, great ways to connect. Many times children will not remember things you bought them, but they will remember things you have done with them.

So what’s the payoff for engaging with your kids?

The benefits are significant for both father and child. Children with an involved, loving father are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, and exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior. They’re also more likely to avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy and criminal activity. 

Even though 18 years may seem like an eternity, it’s not. Children grow up really quickly, so maximize precious moments with them.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal” Download Here

Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician and president of the Tennessee Medical Association, is on a mission. When she’s not seeing patients, she’s spreading the word about the danger of opioid use and its impact on people everywhere.

“There were 64,000 deaths in the U.S. last year due to opioid use, and that number is probably underreported,” says Shumaker. “People do not realize how addictive opioids are and that it takes very little to become addicted. We have a very serious problem. It’s like a bathtub overflowing and my goal is to stop the spigot.”

According to a Live Science magazine article, a new study found that most American teenagers who abuse opioid drugs first received the drugs from a doctor. Looking at trends in prescription opioid use among U.S. adolescents from 1976 to 2015, a strong correlation exists between teens taking the drugs for medical reasons and then taking them later for “nonmedical” reasons. In the journal Pediatrics, study author and research professor at the University of Michigan, Sean McCabe, observed findings over the past two decades. He also found that most nonmedical users of prescription opioids also used them for medical reasons in the past.

“According to studies, 1 in 4 prescriptions for opioids is misused. They are not taken, given to somebody else or taken in a manner different than prescribed,” Shumaker says. “Furthermore, 1 in 10 opioid users are at very high risk since the drug hits a sweet spot because of how their brain is wired. Probably one of the most shocking statistics is that it’s not the dose of opioids, but the length of time you take them. If you take them for more than three to five days, the risk of addiction doubles. These medications have their place, but they are horribly dangerous. You may be that one person that it trips that sweet spot and it can destroy your life.”

Shumaker encourages parents to be vigilant with their teens about the opioid epidemic.

“Changes in behavior, in the friends they choose to hang around, or their grades, pay attention,” Shumaker says. “When teens are abusing drugs, their behavior may become erratic and they may become secretive. As parents and those who care about young people, we must place the highest priority on their health and wellbeing and stop being so concerned about invading their privacy.”

Shumaker strongly encourages parents to get rid of old medications – it can keep them out of the wrong hands. The FDA says you can flush opioids. You can also crush them and mix them with cat litter or coffee grounds, then throw them away. Or, you can take them to special drop-off locations in the community. Additionally, if your teen has an injury, seek out methods other than opioids to manage pain. Taking opioids is like playing Russian roulette with your child’s life.

“I don’t think people in general, much less teens, understand the magnitude of danger opioids pose to their life,” Shumaker shares. “The new Fentanyl on the streets, which is often being illegally made, is so powerful. If you touch it, you can stop breathing. Police officers are now having to wear Hazmat suits when making drug arrests.

“This is an enormous problem. Almost no one is untouched by this epidemic. It is in the best interest of our community and future generations for all of us to pay close attention to what is happening with our teens. It is vital to remember that teens’ executive function, which helps us make wise choices, is not fully formed until age 25. We need to be checking in on our teens and helping them make good decisions.”

Thousands of children will soon make the transition from preschool or home to kindergarten. Some children will look forward to this moment with great anticipation, but others may experience some anxiety about leaving familiar surroundings. Regardless of how your child is feeling, parents play a powerful role in helping make the transition a smooth one.

Timing Is Everything

Now is the time to begin emotionally preparing your child (and yourself) for this new phase in life. Your attitude makes a big difference. Even if you are struggling with the idea of your little one going off to kindergarten, your goal is to deal with your emotions appropriately and prepare your child to make the most of this rite of passage.

Tips to Help You Prepare Your Child

  • Visit the school where your child will be attending kindergarten.
  • If your child has not been in the care of someone other than Mom and Dad, allow your child to stay with other trusted adults prior to kindergarten to help them get used to another adult being in charge.
  • Plan activities with other children where your child has to learn to take turns and share.
  • Point out colors and shapes at the grocery store and count apples, bananas or cereal boxes.
  • Encourage active play, especially pretend-play, with other children.
  • Read, read, read.
  • Limit TV, computer, tablet or smartphone screen time.
  • Encourage independence in managing daily tasks. For example, teach your child how to tie their shoes, let them set the table, make their bed, dress themselves, etc.
  • Start your school routine early to help your child adjust to the change in schedule.

Dealing with Your Emotions

If this is your first child or your youngest child headed off to kindergarten, the transition may be more emotional than expected. Guard against behaviors that might upset your child. If you are anxious about being away from your child, talk with other parents who have already experienced it. Instead of going home to an empty house on the first day of school, plan to have coffee with a supportive friend.

While it can be scary to leave your child at school, remember this: Most teachers love children dearly. They care about their social and emotional development as much as they care about their academic growth.

Helping Your Child Through the First Week

The first week can be especially hard for your child. Here are some ways to make it easier:

  • Be supportive. Adjusting to school may take time. Ask, “What was the most fun thing you did in school today?” Then ask, “What was the hardest thing for you?” Only ask this after you have discussed what was fun. Don’t expect your child to tell you every detail.
  • Instill a sense of confidence in your child. Celebrate your child’s successes. It takes time to adjust to new people, new activities and a new environment. Don’t expect perfection.
  • Set aside a time each evening to share your child’s day. See if your child has brought home any drawings, paintings or scribbling. After a few weeks have passed and your child has gotten used to school, ask about play in the classroom, stories the teacher read, recess, etc.
  • Read everything the school sends home. During the first weeks of school, children bring home a wealth of information about routines, important dates and meetings that you will need to know about. Make sure to check your child’s backpack daily.
  • You may want to go over with your child — in a positive, calm way — the information you have supplied to the school on the emergency card. This includes who may pick your child up other than you, where she can go if you’re ever not home, etc.

For more insight on parenting, download our E-book “4 Ways to Stay Connected After Baby.” Download Here

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!