What do young people think about relationships these days? That’s what Dr. Richard Weissbourd, director of the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard and his team wanted to know. They set out to identify young people’s challenges and hopes, and who influences the way they think about relationships. Much of what they found surprised them.

“Based on the responses from our research with more than 3000 young adults and high school students, it is clear that we as a society are failing to prepare young people for perhaps the most important thing they will do in life – learn how to love and develop deep caring, healthy romantic relationships,” says Weissbourd.

Additionally, they found that most adults appear to do shockingly little to prevent or effectively address prejudice against women and sexual harassment among young people. These problems can infect both romantic relationships and many other areas of life.

Weissbourd was troubled that at least one-third of respondents in their most recent survey said:

  • It is rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television;

  • Society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women; and

  • Too much attention is being given to the issue of sexual assault.

“Another finding I think parents will find most interesting – while parents are uptight about having the sex talk with their teen, 70 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds told us they wished they had received more information from their parents about how to have healthy relationships, including how to have a more mature relationship, how to deal with breakups, how to begin a relationship and how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship.”

On the positive side, it appears that teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the size of the “hook-up culture.”

Weissbourd believes one of the biggest takeaways from this research is that a high percentage of young people want guidance about developing healthy relationships.

“I want parents to begin conversations with their teens about love,”Weissbourd says. “The media promotes so many misconceptions about what love looks like. We need to be teaching young people the difference between attraction, infatuation and love.”

Weissbourd believes we should help young people find answers to the following questions: Why can we be attracted to people who are unhealthy for us? How do you know when you are in love? Why and how can romantic relationships become deeply meaningful and gratifying? How can the nature of a romantic relationship and the nature of love itself change over a lifetime?

If you’re a parent, the report also encourages you to:

  • Teach your kids what it means to be respectful in a romantic relationship. Specifically identify what harassment looks like and what it means to be caring, and discuss the characteristics of a vibrant romantic relationship.

  • Step in and proactively address the qualities of a healthy relationship versus an unhealthy one. Intervene when you see inappropriate words or behavior, because silence can be misunderstood as permission to continue an unacceptable behavior.

  • Talk about what it means to be an ethical person. Teach young people the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and how to treat each gender with dignity and respect. This also helps strengthen their ability to develop caring, responsible relationships at every stage of their lives and to grow into ethical adults, community members and citizens.

“For adults to hand over responsibility for educating young people about romantic love and sex to popular culture is a dumbfounding abdication of responsibility,” Weissbourd contends. “Lots of middle and high-schoolers experience trauma at their first and failed attempts at relationships. We need to make sure that kids know that breakups are not the end of the world.

“The huge question for all of us is this: Given the troubling downsides of our neglect of these issues and the large health, educational and ethical benefits of taking them on, how can we not push down this path?”

The results of this study encourage me personally, because this is what we have been promoting for two decades. It’s gratifying to see research repeatedly validate something we have taught teens in the schools and adults in this community for many years: Healthy relationships are key to success, in more ways than one.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 2, 2017.

Jim and Susan* were very purposeful in their decision to let their 6-year-old son play baseball. Jonathan seemed to enjoy the game and actually played well enough to make the All-Star team.

“The regular season ended on a Saturday and All-Star practice began on Mother’s Day,” says Jim. “They practiced every day that week with their first game on Friday. Between Friday and Tuesday, the team played nine games. The general atmosphere was ‘win at all costs.’ The coach spent a lot of time yelling at the kids if they missed a play. There was very little positive encouragement when players did something right.”

After witnessing this, Jim and Susan began questioning their decision to let their son play.

“I knew things were not good when we showed up to a game and our son said his stomach hurt,” Jim says. “I figured it was probably nerves. When we got home, Jonathan went outside and played baseball for a couple of hours. That was when we really knew we had a decision to make.”

Ultimately, Jim and Susan made the joint decision to pull their son off the team. When they told him about their decision, he actually seemed relieved.

Forty million kids play youth sports. Yet according a National Alliance for Youth Sports poll, more than 70 percent of kids who begin a sport before age 8 will not play that sport in middle school.

Michigan State University asked 30,000 kids why they play sports, and they said because it’s fun. And while they value winning, it isn’t why they show up to play.

John O’Sullivan, founder and CEO of the Changing the Game project, says that kids are not becoming better at sports. They are becoming bitter instead. He notes that kids say they quit playing sports because they’re tired of being yelled at and there’s too much emphasis on winning. They’re also afraid to make mistakes. When winning matters to parents or coaches more than anything else, it can totally take the joy out of playing.

“The single most fundamental thing we teach is something I learned from Coach Bruce Brown,” says O’Sullivan. “You can do your part by starting with five simple words: I love watching you play.

Heath Eslinger, University of Tennessee Chattanooga wrestling coach, encourages parents to focus on what is important in the big picture, not just what is important now.

“Improvement in sports happens through repetition,” says Eslinger. “If I play a baseball game, I may never touch a baseball. If that is the case, there is no way I can improve. Repetition comes from play, and that is so much more beneficial.”

Eslinger believes parents need to let their children walk through organic struggles versus placing them in supplemental struggles, which are all the extracurricular opportunities. Organic struggle centers around two things: relationships and responsibility. How you treat people and how you take care of responsibilities will always be around.

Many positives and life lessons can come from playing sports. Before you involve yourself too much though, it’s probably a good idea to examine exactly what you want kids to learn from playing the game. Whether you are a coach or a parent, you get to decide what is more important – winning and performance, or making better people of character.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 11, 2017.

*Not their real names.

When our daughter graduated from high school a few years ago, I asked a number of people in her life to write her a letter to congratulate her on this accomplishment. I asked them to include words of wisdom as she moved into her next phase of life.

I made a scrapbook with the letters and gave it to her as she headed off to college. In my mind, the purpose of the scrapbook was two-fold. In those moments when she struggled during this next phase, we wanted her to remember what she had already accomplished. We also wanted her to remember she was not walking the road alone; that she has lot of people in her court who believe in her.

Unquestionably, every day is a gift. However, certain days mark significant moments in our lives. Whether it’s a fifth grade, high school or college graduation, celebrate each milestone. Each of these moments in life marks a time of accomplishment and of moving forward to the next thing.

Author and speaker John Stahl-Wert says it is important to celebrate milestones for five reasons:

  • As humans we are called to grow. “Becoming more” is essential. We suffer when we don’t grow. Every milestone deserves notice. It is affirmation of an accomplishment.

  • Growth is nourished by encouragement. Celebrate even the small steps because “small is where big comes from.” We guide others toward bigness through encouragement.

  • Acknowledging milestones gives us the opportunity to reflect on where we have been, where we are now and what we can learn from this part of the journey. Our growing and achieving is for the greater purpose of our service to the world. Achievement, in and of itself, doesn’t fulfill, and without reflection, we are trapped by an insatiable avarice to fill a bottomless hole.

  • Nothing locks in learning like a party. It signifies that the accomplishment really matters.

  • Celebrating milestones reminds us to give thanks for everyday moments. When we pause to celebrate something that is noteworthy, the act of slowing down invites us to notice everything else.

It’s been several years since our daughter graduated from high school. Little did we know how impactful that scrapbook would be. It sits on her coffee table and when the going gets tough, it reminds her that people believe in her and that she has what it takes to keep on keeping on.

In a world where it seems like it’s all about the “big wins,” it might be helpful to remember that there is no such thing as a small victory or a wasted loss. Each experience helps prepare us for what lies ahead, so celebrate!

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 28, 2017.

Christi and Matt Broom married in 2005, got pregnant on their honeymoon and welcomed their son Bryan into the world in 2006.

“Bryan was perfect,” says Christi. “I had a great maternity leave over Thanksgiving and Christmas. I planned to return to work in January. It was Sunday morning. I remember waking up at 4 a.m. to feed Bryan and then I went back to sleep until 6 a.m. When I woke up at 6, something was clearly wrong. Bryan looked like he was struggling to breathe, so we called 911. When the ambulance arrived, they checked his vital signs and said everything appeared to be normal. We asked to be taken to the hospital anyway.”

What followed were days of many questions with few answers. Everything the doctors thought it might be, it wasn’t. But one thing was for certain, Bryan was a very sick baby.

“On Monday a CT scan  showed that his brain was swelling which took them in a totally different direction trying to figure out what was wrong with our son,” Christi says. “Although he seemed so sick and fragile, the medical personnel reassured us that babies are resilient. I think everyone thought they would figure this out and we would be taking our baby home soon.”

Another CT scan showed Bryan’s brain continuing to swell, but no one could figure out why.

“They encouraged me to go home and get a good night of rest,” Christi says. “We got home at midnight and at 3 a.m. they called us back to the hospital. When we got there, they told us Bryan’s brain had swollen to the point of death. We both sat in the room totally confused. What had just happened? We honestly believed we would be taking our son home in a matter of days. Nobody had any answers. Everything was a blur.

“Somewhere along the way, we spoke with the organ donation people because every organ in Bryan’s body except his brain was perfect. We decided to donate his organs.”

Christi describes this moment in time as if it were an out-of-body experience. They were just going through the motions. As they walked to their car when leaving the hospital, she realized her husband was carrying a car seat.

“Those next days and weeks were complicated,” Christi remembers. “It was like walking into the unknown and having no idea how you are going to make it through the next minute because life as you knew it has been stolen from you. It was a fearful and confusing time. A handful of people shared that this had happened to them and wanted to offer support. I didn’t even know how to truly appreciate that at the time, but I remember seeing someone I knew who had lost a teenage son years ago. I went up to her, hugged her and said, ‘I remember praying for you, but I had no idea it hurt this bad.’ I felt like I was in a club nobody wants to be in.”

If you are experiencing this pain, Christi hopes what she learned from her journey can help you.

“If you are ever going to get to the other side you have to feel the pain – and that’s the worst part because nobody wants to hurt that bad. The emotional pain is so very real. You want to push it away, but the only way to heal is to allow yourself to feel your way through the pain. It is super scary because you have no idea how long it will take for it to go away. You think you will never be happy again. You can be happy, but you have to be willing to experience the raw emotion versus trying to stuff it and avoid it.

“Sometimes you just have to let yourself cry,” Christi says. “Things would catch me off guard and the tears would flow. I learned that was really okay and part of the healing process.”

Working with a bereavement counselor from Hospice of Chattanooga and someone from the organ donation agency helped the Brooms as well.

Christi also encourages accepting help from others. Let them clean your house, help you pick out what to wear or cook meals for you. Anything you don’t have to make a decision about can make it easier.

Through all of this, Matt and Christi grew closer.

“My husband lost his father at a very early age and his first wife died when their daughter was two,” Christi shares. “Experiencing this helped me understand the pain he had been living with for many years. We leaned on each other a lot. Sometimes we still struggle, but our bond is strong.”

Eleven years later, the Brooms have three beautiful daughters – ages 18, 9 and 5. While the pain never completely goes away, they do experience happiness.

“I remember someone putting a book right in front of my face, so close that I couldn’t see anything else. They said that in the beginning, you only see what is right in front of you. As you slowly move the book further away, you begin to see more. The pain is always there and you see it, but you experience other things too. Our life is rich. We enjoy our children and try to take it all in knowing that every day is a gift.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 3, 2017.

Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic.

When children first start school, parents usually have a pretty clear understanding of how to help their child have a successful year. But when those kids become teenagers, parents sometimes struggle with their role.

Parents usually play a much more active role with younger kids in making sure homework is completed, volunteering in the classroom, dealing with friendships, interacting with teachers and making sure their child gets enough rest. Too often, though, parents believe they can be less involved when a child moves from elementary to middle school.

While parents may want to change how they engage their tween when it comes to school success, research indicates this is not the time for parents to back off. The tween/teen years bring their own unique challenges, and teens aren’t sure how to talk with their parents or any other adult about many of them.

If you want to actively engage your teens and help them have a successful school year, these ideas can help you out.

  • Have a back-to-school discussion about expectations. Ask them what they want to accomplish this year and discuss ways you can help them reach their goals.

  • Establish healthy sleep patterns. When it comes to rest, plenty of research indicates that tweens/teens do not get enough sleep. On average, teens need 9.25 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. For various reasons though, many of them get significantly less than that. You can help with this by teaching them organizational skills. Have them look at their overall schedule of school and extracurricular activities, then develop a plan.

  • If you are still waking your teen for school, purchase an alarm clock – their phone doesn’t count. Make them responsible for getting themselves up in the morning.

  • Set a budget. Instead of constantly forking out money for this and that, allot a certain amount for school supplies, clothing, extracurricular activities, etc. and teach them how to manage this money. If they want to purchase things that aren’t included in the plan, resist the urge to figure it out for them. Instead, guide them in finding ways they can earn the extra cash.

  • Give them added responsibilities such as doing their own laundry, assisting with meal preparation and packing lunches.

  • Talk with them about the qualities of healthy relationships – friendships, dating relationships, relationships with teachers and school administrators. Discuss how to treat people with respect even if they aren’t respectful in return.

  • Avoid handling their problems for your teen. Talk with them about the issue, then help them problem-solve and determine a course of action. Facing a challenge head-on and making it to the other side is a huge confidence-builder.

  • Be clear about your expectations when it comes to bullying behavior. Research indicates parents are often the last to know when this is going on – whether your teen is the bully or the victim.

  • Talk about addiction. Discuss the opioid crisis and the impact of drugs and alcohol. This conversation makes it more likely for your teen to talk with you when they do encounter challenges.

  • Be very clear about your expectations and consequences for lack of follow-through, and avoid putting anything out there that you will not enforce. A great rule of thumb is this: less is more. Remind them that nothing they can do would make you love them any more or any less. Your teen needs to know you believe in them.

The teen years are incredibly challenging because everything in their world is changing. Their brain is growing, their body is changing, relationships are different, and they are establishing their independence while still being dependent in many ways. While they may be taller than their parents and seem smarter, especially when it comes to technology, it’s good to remember that 12 is just 12 and 15 is only 15.

Be present. Keep your eyes wide open. Let them make mistakes. Be there – not to lecture them – but to help them figure out what they could do differently in the future. Stay focused on your goal of launching someone who is capable of caring for themselves and being a productive person.

Even though they may begin to push you away, adolescents need their parents. Don’t be lulled into believing they needed you more when they were younger. The truth is, they need you now more than ever as they navigate the potentially-turbulent teen years.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 13, 2017.

One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is explaining to your children about bad things that happen in our world. How do you talk with children about violence, death and other issues that are often difficult for even adults to handle?

Examine your own feelings first. It is difficult to talk with your children if you have not evaluated your feelings about what has happened.

For example, talking about death makes many people uncomfortable. Our first inclination is just not to talk about it. Somehow we believe that not talking about it will protect our children. The truth is, instead of protecting, we may cause more concern. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children constructive ways to deal with tough situations.

Bad things happen and parents need to be armed with appropriate ways to deal with the bad things that happen as well as the feelings that accompany the situation. Children need information, comfort and understanding to help them process different experiences. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers.

Is Silence Really the Answer?

While your first inclination may be not to talk about what has happened, often the best thing you can do for your child is to engage them in conversation. You don’t have to say everything at once about a topic. It is best if you don’t because children are easily overwhelmed.

When trying to talk with children about bad things:

  • First, listen carefully to your child.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needed.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

What if I blow it?

Sometimes parents choose not to talk about a subject because they think they are going to blow it and saying the wrong thing will harm their child for life. The truth is, sometimes we do blow it as parents and that is okay. It is rare that one conversation will cause irreparable harm.

Tell the truth

Honesty is the best policy. This does not mean that you tell a child everything about a situation. There are some things that a child does not need to know. You should share enough information to help them understand what is happening and to help them deal with their feelings. Whatever you do, do not be dishonest.

Teaching children about feelings

One of the most important aspects of helping children understand bad things is helping them identify and deal with their feelings. Feelings are not good or bad, they just are, but how we choose to deal with those feelings is significant. Children can often sense when something isn’t right. This can produce anxious feelings for a child.

Children seem to intuitively know when something is not right. Children want their world to be neat and ordered. When something seems out of kilter, children tend to react out of fear and anxiety. Parents can help ease some of these feelings by talking about the situation and helping children identify their feelings. This exercise gives children valuable information they can use for the rest of their life. Children need a strong vocabulary of feeling words (afraid, anxious, scared, sad, mad, happy, excited) to attach to what is happening inside. To say, “This is a sad thing,” or “This is scary,” helps children to understand that feelings are natural and normal. This is all part of life.

In this process, the message you’ll want to send your child is, “We can find ways to deal with this.” 

To quote Mister Rogers, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.” Asking questions such as, “When you are scared, what makes you feel better?” helps children begin to process and feel like they have some control over the situation at hand.

There are no cookie-cutter approaches

Finally, experts caution that each child will respond differently to bad situations. Some children will become very quiet while others will become very active and loud. Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition. You know your child better than anybody else. As a parent, your job will be to stand by your child and guide them as they deal with their grief, anger, pain, feelings of uncertainty and sadness in their own way. Our world is a changing place. We can help our children feel safe and more in control by helping them to talk about these issues. Through this process, your child will learn one of the basic rules of life that with time healing can take place and things often get better.

Experts suggest that you:

  • Listen carefully to what your child says.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needs.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

Needs of a Grieving Child (taken from Hospice.net)

  • Information that is clear and understandable at their development level.

  • Reassurance that their basic needs will be met.

  • Involvement in planning for the funeral and anniversary.

  • Reassurance when grieving by adults is intense.

  • Help with exploring fantasies about death, afterlife and related issues.

  • Ability to have and express their own thoughts and behaviors, especially when different from significant adults.

  • To maintain age appropriate activities and interests.

  • Getting help with “magical thinking.”

  • Being able to say goodbye to the deceased.

  • To memorialize the deceased.

Help Your Child Build a Strong Feelings Vocabulary

Happy

Proud

Strong

Important

Cared for

Appreciate

Respected

Honored

Cheerful

Liked

Courageous

Hopeful

Pleased

Excited

Smart

Gloomy

Impatient

Unhappy

Disappointed

Helpless

Uncomfortable

Resentful

Bitter

Sad

Hopeless

Guilty

Unloved

Hurt

Angry

Abandoned

The house is SO quiet and your heart feels a bit heavy. You have definitely shed some tears. You have also stayed awake wondering if you prepared them well to be successful out on their own. Now you consider what you will do with so much extra time on your hands.

While grieving what is no more is certainly appropriate, there is also cause for celebration. Although you may not feel like it, your first move should be to celebrate your accomplishment. You have spent years of your life focused on preparing your children to launch. Now you actually have time to breathe and celebrate!

Parents who have successfully made the leap to the empty nest don’t deny that the first few weeks and sometimes months are a bit tricky. But over time, they eventually found their groove and embraced a new normal. About six months into the empty nest, one parent stated, “If people knew how amazing the empty nest is, they would never divorce.”

In spite of the emptiness you may feel at the moment, here are some reasons to celebrate the empty nest:

  • You can purchase groceries and open the refrigerator door two days later to find you still have food. Or, you can decide you aren’t cooking another meal because you don’t have to.

  • Instead of having to search for your shoes, scissors or tools, they will be where you put them the last time you used them.

  • Walking around the house naked is perfectly acceptable. An empty-nester said one of their favorite things about this season was being able to get their morning coffee in the buff with no worries about who would see them.

  • If you decide you want to go to bed at 8:30, there is nothing stopping you. Seriously, many parents talk about feeling exhausted after so many years of being on the go. Allow yourself some extra shuteye. How much better you feel after a few good nights of solid rest might surprise you.

  • You clean your house and it actually stays clean for more than a few hours.

  • Vacations in the off-season are now a possibility.

  • After years of feeling like you are ships passing in the night, you can reconnect with your spouse. If you are single, you have time to pamper yourself without feeling guilty about it.

  • Instead of always focusing on everybody else’s needs, you can consider your own needs and how you would like to spend your time. Perhaps you want to head back to school, change jobs or volunteer with a group you have had no time to work with until now.

While there are many reasons to celebrate the empty nest, don’t let it shock you if embracing them early on is a challenge. When your identity has been wrapped up in parenting for at least 18 years, it can be difficult to regain your footing. Don’t be embarrassed about talking with those who are further along or asking for their support.

And, if you are thinking, “But I actually enjoyed cooking for everybody and I kind of miss searching for things. It feels odd not to be needed,” that’s okay. Your kids still need you, but in a different way. Plus, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to cook and clean whenever they come home to visit, or down the road when grandchildren arrive. You can invite your family over whenever you want. On the other hand, you might decide to visit them instead – if your new schedule will allow it.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 27, 2017.

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

You only live once! Life is short, make the most of it! Sow your wild oats while you can!

You have likely heard these messages or perhaps said them to your teen or a friend. However, those who take the message to heart without any boundaries often experience ongoing ripple effects from their actions or the choices of those around them. For example, consider Olympian Ryan Lochte’s fellow swimmers that night in Brazil or the young man who took the up-skirt pictures at school and sent them to friends.

In his series, “Guardrails,” Andy Stanley reminds us that friends influence the direction and quality of our lives. Guardrails are things that can protect us from danger, such as going over a cliff.

“The thing that makes friendship so great is the very thing that makes friendship so dangerous,” says Stanley.

He contends that people drop their guard when they are around those who accept them. And, when they feel completely accepted, they are much more open to the influence of the people around them.

Nicholas Christakis, in his TED talk, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks,” also addresses being open to the influence of other people. Christakis’ research shows that non-drinkers who spend time with people who drink significantly increase their chances of becoming drinkers themselves. This also holds true with risk of divorce, obesity, violence, immoral activity and other issues.

An ancient proverb even says, “Walk with the wise and become wise. For the companion of fools suffers harm.”

“Wisdom is contagious,” Stanley asserts. “If you surround yourself with wise people, it is contagious. You will become wiser by just being in their company. A wise person understands that all of life is connected. What you do today, think about today will influence who you are tomorrow. There are no isolated events, thought patterns or relationships.

“When you are with people who live as if life is connected, who make decisions as if life is connected, it will impact how you make decisions, view the world, your morality, your reputation, your family, everything.”

Regardless of age and life circumstance, Stanley offers five “red-flag” scenarios that indicate a need for guiding or protective guardrails.

  • You realize that your core group isn’t moving in the direction you want your life go. Having opposite value systems is a cause for concern.

  • You catch yourself trying to being somebody you are not. If you ignore your values in a certain group, you are moving away from who you really are.  People who know you well may say things like, “When you are around them, you are different.”

  • You feel pressure to compromise your values. If something has never been a temptation before and you begin to actually consider it as an option, ask yourself why.

  • You say to yourself, “I’ll go, but I won’t participate.” Although you may not actually do the behavior, you are there when others do it. A companion of fools suffers harm.

  • You hope the ones you love don’t find out where or with whom you have been. It may not be that you have to defend yourself, but something on the inside tenses up when you think about telling them.

It’s true: You only live once. But, it is also true that your actions and the actions of others can powerfully impact you for the rest of your life. Teaching your teen how to put guardrails in place could be one of the most powerful and long-lasting gifts you give them.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 18, 2016.

One October, Kelly Flanagan’s friend texted him while walking down the makeup aisle to pick something up for his wife. The text said, “Expectations on this aisle are oppressive.”

“That text was unsettling to me,” says Dr. Flanagan, husband, dad and clinical psychologist. “I think it was the combination of having a 4-year-old daughter, and a wife who is very conscious of the media’s influence on young women that made my radar go up. I knew I couldn’t remain silent.

“In my practice I see far too many women, young and old, who believe their worth is wrapped up in the way they look. It is painful to observe what these kinds of messages do to a woman’s self-esteem.”

So, Flanagan traveled to the makeup aisle and the messaging blew him away. The cosmetics industry uses really good words to sell products. Words like: Affordably Gorgeous, Infallible, Flawless Finish, Go Nude, Natural Beauty and Nearly Naked. Flanagan noticed that these words create an unattainable standard for women. Eventually, they inspired a letter to his daughter, which he wrote while sitting in the makeup aisle. The letter clearly resonated with people, as it went viral shortly after he posted it on his blog, Untangled.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Dear Little One,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the makeup aisle of Target … When you have a daughter, you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house – a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence…

“I wrote the letter because I wanted her to know that her worth is not connected to what she does or the way she looks,” Flanagan says. “That kind of thinking is a formula for shame – the experience of believing you are not worthy enough or that success depends on what you do. I wanted my daughter to clearly understand that there was nothing she could do that would make her mom or dad love her more or less.”

Research consistently shows that fathers do influence their daughters and how they view themselves.

Father involvement in the life of a daughter will help prepare her to catch the lies that culture teaches about how to be confident and beautiful,” Flanagan says. “The unconditional, intentional love of a father teaches his daughter that true beauty is on the inside, in her heart. Knowing this from an early age will help overpower the messages she will receive out in the world.”

… Words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world.  Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakable sense of her own worthiness and beauty … I pray that three words will remain more important to you … Where are you the most beautiful? On the inside.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 13, 2014.

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

There is an ongoing debate about whether teen sex is really harmful over time.

Drs. Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush, authors of Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, contend that casual sex during the teen and young adult years affects the ability to bond later in life.

Imagine you adhere a strip of clear shipping tape to your sweater to remove lint. The first time you pull it off, it grabs fuzz and some hair. It still has some stickiness so you continue to use it, but eventually, the tape loses its stickiness.

Similarly, research indicates that sexual activity and having multiple partners hinders the ability to develop healthy, mature and long-lasting relationships.

What does teen sex have to do with brain development? Probably more than you realize.

  • The prefrontal cortex is still developing until the mid-twenties. This part of the brain is responsible for setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies and controlling impulses. It also initiates appropriate and moral behavior.

  • During the teen years, sexual activity triggers chemical reactions within the brain that help shape it.

  • This brain transformation has a huge physical and psychological impact on all things sexual. A person’s decision-making ability, coming from the highest centers of the brain, can lead to the most rewarding sexual behavior. That is, unless premature and unwise sexual behavior during adolescence damages the brain’s formation for healthy decision-making.

Additionally, the authors sound the alarm concerning an apparent relationship between teen sexual activity and depression. Studies indicate that sexually-active teens are three times are more likely to experience depression than their abstinent peers.

Sexually-active girls were three times more likely to have attempted suicide, and sexually-active boys were seven times more likely to have attempted suicide than their virgin friends.

If you want to help your teen’s brain develop in a healthy way, McIlhaney and Bush suggest that you recognize the critical role parents play.

  • Surveys consistently show that teens primarily look to their parents’ advice about sex. Structure, guidance, and discipline from caring adults can positively mold the adolescent brain.

  • Teens need parental support as they take healthy risks, like learning to drive, trying out for sports or going off to college. Activities like these help young people separate from their parents and grow as individuals.

  • If parents or other caring adults don’t guide their teens, their poor choices can negatively impact for their future.

Although it may be complicated and uncomfortable, you can prepare your child for some very real threats to their well-being. These threats include sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and the emotional baggage of seeking to bond with multiple sex partners. Taking these issues seriously and keeping the lines of communication open are essential to healthy relationships in the future.