Any parent headed home with their first child is probably a bit nervous about this whole parenthood thing. You really want to raise good kids, but unfortunately, each unique baby doesn’t come with its own manual.

Whether you shop local or go to Amazon for parenting help, hundreds of books offer different perspectives on the best way to raise good children. In spite of the many approaches, however, a group of Harvard psychologists found that it really boils down to some very basic strategies.

1. Spend time with your children. 

It’s often tempting to be in the same room with your child as they play with toys or a computer while you check email or social media. That isn’t what the researchers are talking about. Engage them in play, look into their eyes and read a book with them. Learn about their friends, find out what they think about school and that sort of thing. By doing this, you’re teaching them how to show care for another person and that they are a priority to you.

2. Model the behavior you want to see. 

It’s easy to have one set of expectations for children and another set for adults. In some cases this makes sense, but when it comes to teaching your children, they are like sponges. They take in all you do. Everything from how you care for yourself and let others talk to you, to how you deal with a difficult personal situation or how you handle anger teaches them right from wrong and what it means to be an upstanding citizen. When you model the behavior you want to see, it is a powerful thing.

3. Show your child how to care for others and set high ethical expectations. 

Children believe the world revolves around them. When you involve them in caring for others, especially people who are different from you, they learn they will not always be the center of attention and that all people matter. They also see what it looks like to share with others without being selfish.

Even the little moments can teach your child about being an honest and ethical person. When the cashier gives you too much change and you return the money instead of keeping it, they see. Or when your child sneaks something in their pocket after you said they couldn’t have it and you make them return it and apologize – that’s a teaching moment.

 4. Teach your child to be appreciative and grateful. 

Parents usually start with please, thank you and you’re welcome. Giving your child age appropriate chores and thanking them for doing their part also teaches them about appreciation and gratitude. Teaching them how to write thank you notes and to think about others’ feelings and needs is also useful.

5. Teach them how to see beyond themselves. 

Find ways to show them a world beyond their family and close friends. Help them appreciate differences in ethnicity. Talk with them about other places in the world, rituals, customs, living conditions, etc. By doing this you are expanding their world.

The children in the Harvard study thought their own happiness and self-esteem was really important to their parents. Instead of being overly concerned that kids are always happy, you can emphasize how to be kind to others in their world, whether it’s the bus driver, the Walmart greeter or the referee at the sports event. Focusing on these things will help you raise children who are caring, kind, courageous and responsible.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 26, 2017.

People across America paid close attention to news about missing teen, Elizabeth Thomas, and her alleged kidnapper, Tad Cummins. After a nationwide manhunt, authorities continued to uncover evidence of an inappropriate romantic relationship between the girl and her 50-year-old teacher. Experts now believe Cummins had been grooming the student for a while.

This is a parent’s worst nightmare. And unfortunately, headlines like these have become far too frequent.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of parents entrust their children to teachers, coaches and youth ministers. The vast majority of these people truly have a heart to help children. There are some bad apples in the mix, however, which can complicate things.

No parent wants to believe this could happen to their child. But, how do you help your child guard against something like this without scaring them?

According to Kidpower International, an organization dedicated to providing empowering and effective child protection, positive communication and personal safety skills for all ages and abilities, these four strategies can help prevent these types of situations.

Put safety first.

 

The safety and self-esteem of a child is more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. If you suspect there is a safety problem involving children of any age, take personal responsibility and address it. Speak up persistently and widely until someone effectively takes action. Young people in abusive situations need help and protection.

 

Make sure you know what others are doing with your kids.

Some predators actually create opportunities to be alone with children by doing wonderful things with and for them. They may even seem like really nice people with excellent reputations. But don’t just trust people because they are part of a reputable organization or because they are family. Trust your intuition. If something feels uncomfortable, speak up. When in doubt, check it out.

LISTEN to your children and teach them not to keep unsafe secrets.

 

Most abusers build strong relationships with children before anything sexual takes place. Encourage your child to talk to you often by asking supportive questions, being a good listener and not lecturing. Pay attention to what they say. Be very clear that secrets about problems, touch, favors, gifts someone gives them, photos or videos, privileges, time alone with anyone and games are NOT safe. It’s crucial for them to tell you and other trusted adults instead of keeping secrets, even if it will upset or embarrass someone they care about.

 

Make sure you tell your children, “Even if you made a mistake or did something wrong, I will love you and help you. Please tell me about anyone whose behavior makes you uncomfortable, even if we really like this person, so we can figure out what to do to keep everyone safe.”

 

Prepare young people to take charge of their safety by practicing skills.

One quick action can stop most abuse – pushing someone’s hand away, ordering them to stop, leaving as soon as possible, resisting emotional coercion and telling. If children understand these safety rules and have had the chance to practice them in an age-appropriate way, they are more likely to use them if necessary.

An Instagram post from Elizabeth Thomas said, “Every Beauty needs her Beast to protect her from everything but him,” credited to poet N.R. Hart.

Don’t just assume your child knows the signs of an inappropriate relationship. And, don’t assume that they would for sure tell you about something that happened. Be proactive and teach them. Empowering them in such a way can help alleviate any fear they encounter.

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

Parents of young children often discuss among themselves whether they are doing all the right things to help their kids become healthy, happy adults.

How many activities should they be involved in? How much sleep do they really need? Is it bad to fix something different for each child for dinner? Am I a bad parent if I don’t (you fill in the blank)?

While these are all questions worth considering, every person has two basic needs – the need to know who you are and where you belong in the family.

The parent should help each member of the family be who they are as an individual and to understand how to connect and fit in with the rest of the family. This is a great case for not treating every child exactly the same. Personalities, temperaments and needs are different for each family member.

The parent’s role is to lead and the child’s role is to follow. So, how do you know if you are in charge or if your child is running the show?

You may need to reevaluate what is taking place if any of the following scenarios apply in your home:

  • You think it is OK for your child to tell you what to do;
  • Your child’s behavior intimidates you;
  • You change your response because your child throws a tantrum, pouts or withdraws;
  • Fear of your child’s response changes the way you handle something;
  • You allow emotions – such as guilt, fear that your child won’t love you or won’t be happy with you – to dictate your decisions instead of answering the question, “What is in the best interest of my child?”

It’s not healthy for kids to rule the roost if you want to help them grow up and become independent. Even when they push the edge of the envelope, they are still counting on you to lead.

Research consistently shows that healthy families have similar patterns – adults are in charge of the family, each person is able to be close and separated from other family members, and the family expects and adapts to change as needed.

According to the authors of Survival Skills for Healthy Families, each person in the family needs to know three things:

  • How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you are thinking and feeling. As an added bonus, it opens the door for understanding.
  • How to listen – As a listener, you can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, you can react, fight and argue instead.
  • How to cooperate – Teach your children how to find balance between their needs and the needs of other members of the family.

While children are under your roof, they need to know they can count on parents to be in charge. But, they also need to know they belong and how to use their voice. Mastering these skills earlier in life can be a real gift to your entire family – and for future generations.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 26, 2017.

Throughout her teenage years, she often dreamed about what life would be like when she became an adult. The idea of staying up as late as she wanted, doing what she wanted when she wanted to do it, and not answering to anybody in authority over her made her want to fast forward to “that” day.

Then it happened. She was out on her own. Rent, renters insurance, utilities, groceries, a car payment, car insurance, gas, an unexpected tire purchase, doctor visits and more were staring her in the face. This was not at all what she had in mind all those years ago when she dreamed about being out on her own.

She grabbed her phone and texted her parents: “#adultingishard, I don’t like all this pressure. What happened to my paycheck?”

No doubt you have seen some of the “adulting is hard” comments on social media:

  • Coffee, because adulting is hard.

  • Adulting is hard. I don’t get a reward when my bedroom is clean.

  • I stay up really late for no reason. Adulting is hard.

According to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, professor and author of Emerging Adulthood, this young adult is not alone. Many in their 20s find “adulting” difficult, which tends to create a bit of anxiety for parents who are ready for their adult children to take on more responsibility.

In his book, Arnett discusses “emerging adulthood” as a new life stage between adolescence and actual adulthood – 30 is the new 20. The 20s have become a period of exploration and instability where they are trying out all kinds of things before settling down.

For those in their 20s, about 40 percent move back home with their parents at least once, and they go through an average of seven jobs. Arnett contends that emerging adulthood is a worldwide phenomenon.

Parents who are excited to see their young adults launch wonder, “What happened?”

Things have changed! Adulthood is now viewed with a lot of ambivalence. Once you commit, you are there for the rest of your life. The social, cultural and economic conditions have changed a lot, too. Fifty years ago, entering adulthood was viewed as a big achievement. People looked forward to the stability adulthood provided. Now, 50 years later, people don’t look at adulthood in the same way. They see it as stagnation. They think their parents don’t do interesting things anymore. Adulthood doesn’t look very fun.

If you are reading this and freaking out a bit, breathe. According to Arnett’s research, these emerging adults eventually take on adult responsibilities. It’s just a bit later than perhaps you expected.

What can you do to be helpful?

Part of the reason adulthood feels so overwhelming is because for many, they literally go from having everything done for them and paid for to feeling like they are doing it all on their own. Maybe things wouldn’t seem so scary if young adults took on more responsibility over time versus in one fell swoop.

Anybody who is currently adulting can testify that it is hard, but a lot of freedom, adventure, challenges and fun comes with this stage of life. Perhaps there is a takeaway for those in this stage as well. If young people think those living in adulthood seem stagnant and boring, perhaps it is time for those who are actually adulting to show that responsibility, accountability and commitment don’t necessarily equal a dull, stress-filled life. Many believe that living in the adult season of life allows for a lot of freedom to establish who you are and how you want to live life.

The young lady who dreamed about the freedoms of adulthood, in reality, wasn’t that far off. People think that freedom equals no responsibility, but in truth these responsibilities are what give you freedom.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 16, 2017.

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

Of the 76 million children living in the United States, a staggering 60 percent (46 million) of them will experience violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Believe it or not, home life plays a huge part in these statistics. Specifically, children from single-parent homes seem to be at higher risk for adverse childhood experiences than those who live with both parents.

The National Survey of Children’s Health asked parents of 95,677 children under 18 if their kids had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” Nineteen of every 1,000 children living with their two married biological parents experienced that type of behavior. Sadly, the exposure rate was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000) in homes with a divorced or separated mother. These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

In an Institute for Family Studies article, Nicholas Zill, a psychologist and child and family well-being researcher with more than 40 years of experience, writes:

“Experiencing family violence is stressful for children, undercuts their respect and admiration for parents who engage in abusive behavior, and is associated with increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems at home and in school. For children of never-married mothers who witnessed family violence, 58 percent had conduct or academic problems. Among children of divorced or separated mothers, nearly half of those exposed to family violence, 48 percent, had had conduct or academic problems at school.”

So, how do adverse childhood experiences affect children long-term? Do they set the stage for greater difficulty later in life? Are children resilient?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied more than 17,000 adults to find out. It examined the links between traumatic childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current adult health and well-being.

According to that study, exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the ability to form stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase risk for:

  • Experiencing substance abuse;
  • Depression;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer; and
  • Premature death.

In contrast, healthy relationships at home, school and in the community can nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. Children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and grow into productive adults.

What can you do?

  • Create a safe and stable home for your kids.
  • Actively engage in your child’s life.
  • Learn skills to help you manage and resolve conflict.
  • Take parenting classes for various ages and stages.
  • Make sure your neighborhood is a safe place.

Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are among the most powerful and protective forces in a child’s life. So in order to promote healthy child development, we must be diligent to create those safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. As a community, we all share responsibility for the well-being of our children.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2015.

Many children are exposed to abuse, neglect and family dysfunction which experts often refer to as toxic stress. But why can some kids who encounter toxic stress move beyond it and lead a healthy life while others cannot?

That’s the question researchers set out to answer in one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, is called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study.

Originally, the study included more than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California who received physical exams. The members completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current health status and behaviors.

Researchers found that exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the formation of stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase risk for:

  •  Experiencing substance abuse;
  •  Depression;
  •  Cardiovascular disease;
  •  Diabetes;
  •  Cancer; and
  •  Premature death.

Conversely, healthy relationships in the home, school and community nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. In short, children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and become productive adults.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a staggering 50 percent of the 73 million children living in the United States will experience violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18.

The National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, surveyed parents of 95,677 children age 17 and under. It asked whether their child had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” The exposure rate for children living with their two married biological parents was 19 out of every 1,000 children. For children living with a divorced or separated mother, the rate of exposure was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000). These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

In 2012, Tennessee conducted its own ACEs survey through the CDC to see how adverse childhood experiences affected the state’s general population. It found that about 42 percent of residents experienced two or more ACEs. And, 1 in 5 Tennesseeans has experienced at least three categories of ACEs. Emotional abuse, substance abuse and parental separation or divorce are the most common adverse experiences statewide.

There are many opportunities to learn about adverse childhood experiences, their impact on education, the workplace and throughout our community. In addition to learning how to help create safe and stable homes for children and recognize the signs of ACEs in adults, it’s crucial to discover how to promote healing for those who have been exposed to toxic stress.

Tennessee is launching one of the first comprehensive public policy shifts focused on prevention because preventing ACEs in young children before they experience ongoing “toxic stress” can actually lower taxpayer and community costs. Learning about the impact of ACEs can greatly benefit families, companies, nonprofits, agencies and other community and religious organizations.

Since we are all responsible for the well-being of our community’s children, we can promote healthy child development together. For starters, we can help to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments that kids need.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 23, 2017.

In 2001, Regina R. Robertson hated her day job, so she was very thankful, and relieved, when she was ultimately fired. She also felt free to pursue a new path, as a writer. Having begun her career in the music industry, she contacted some of her former colleagues for help. She started out by writing artist bios and press releases. Within a year, she was meeting with magazine editors, including one who told her to “write what you know.”

Robertson’s first national assignment led her to interview three friends, whose names she changed, and write a piece about their experiences of growing up without a father. After the story, titled “Where’s Daddy?”, ran in the October 2002 issue of Honey magazine, she received calls from other friends who asked why she hadn’t thought to include them in the article. At that point, Robertson had the first thought to write a book on the topic.

Over the last 15 years, and while enduring rejection from agents and publishers, Robertson spoke with many women who had stories to share. She decided to focus her book on three areas of father absence: divorce, death and distance.

“Throughout the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but writing these kinds of personal stories was quite different from writing celebrity profiles or entertainment features,” says Robertson, who has served as West Coast editor of Essence magazine since 2006. “When I spoke with friends about the project, some suggested that I try reaching out to women like fitness expert, Gabrielle Reece, and MSNBC host, Joy-Ann Reid, both of whom had grown up without their fathers. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I thought I’d have to cut through layers and layers of the red tape to reach them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.”

Robertson not only got through to those women, but they, and others, were very excited to share their stories.

Her new book is called, He Never Came Home: Interviews, Stories, and Essays from Daughters on Life Without Their Fathers (Agate Bolden).

“I can’t believe it,” Robertson says. “This project has been such a labor of love and so far, the response has been phenomenal.”

“One young woman, Nisa Rashid, shares her story of growing up while her father was in prison. Television writer, Jenny Lee, writes about her father’s suicide, when she was 20. Simone I. Smith, a jewelry designer, talks about her relationship with her late father – a loving, though troubled, man who battled addiction. Reid, who shared her story on Facebook after her father passed away, signed on to write foreword.”

For Emmy-winning actress, Regina King, witnessing her parents’ divorce was very painful, as was her father’s eventual estrangement. Years later, after enduring her own divorce, she realized that she and her ex-husband were not connecting as co-parents. Eventually, the pair agreed that being divided wasn’t healthy for their son. As a result, they began to take the necessary steps to work together and redefine their family.

Sarah Tomlinson, author of Good Girl, also contributes to the book. She gives a raw account of her lifelong quest for a relationship with her father and her own self-destructive behavior. Tomlinson titled her essay, “The Girl at the Window,” which references the place she sat and waited, for hours, on the days he promised to visit.

Robertson even shares her own story about never knowing her father.

“Usually, when I sit down to write, I agonize over every detail. When I wrote the introduction to the book, I was surprised by how quickly the words came to me: My mother raised me on her own, from day one. She’s the only parent I’ve ever had. My father was never in the picture – not for one second, minute or hour. I never met him. There were times when I wondered how a man could leave his family, his kid, and not look back, but I didn’t obsess over my father’s absence. I definitely thought about it, though.”

Robertson is happy and surprised by the way He Never Came Home has already touched people. She hopes her book will help others know they are not alone.

“I hope I’ve written and edited the book that I wished I’d had as a teen,” Robertson shares. “This collection of essays is for all of the fatherless girls and women who’ve ever thought, as I once did, that a piece of them was missing. Life has taught me that no matter the circumstances you’re born into, you are responsible for steering your ship. If I can do it, you can, too . . . and you will. It just takes time.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 16, 2017.

While driving her teen daughters home from school, Mom asked them what they knew about 13 Reasons Why, a popular Netflix series about a teen who commits suicide. The youngest was clueless. The older daughter, however, definitely knew what her mom was talking about.

When Mom told the girls she didn’t want them watching the show on Netflix, the cat-that-ate-the-canary look on her oldest daughter’s face said she was too late. Mom quickly learned that her eldest had already watched not just one episode – but the entire first season. At this point, she felt like a serious mom failure had taken place right under her nose.

Apparently her daughter, along with millions of U.S. teens, found 13 Reasons Why to be very intriguing. Some say they can relate to Hannah’s problems. Others find it entertaining.

However, parents, counselors, teachers and school administrators across the country have extreme concerns about the show. They feel that it may glorify teen suicide, bullying, rape and other behaviors.

On “The Today Show,” Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, psychiatrist and president of the Child Mind Institute, called for the show’s immediate removal, saying teenage suicide is contagious. Koplewicz cited more than three decades of research that shows when kids watch suicide depictions on television, they’re more likely to try it themselves. Sadly, they’re also more likely to succeed in their attempt.

Not surprisingly, Netflix just announced a second season of the show, albeit with a warning card at the beginning. 13 Reasons Why was the most tweeted-about show in 2017. And, the viewership is exactly the audience Netflix is after.

While there are definitely some caution lights surrounding the show, perhaps it’s not all bad. For example, it provides some opportunities for parents to discuss the tumultuous teen years, suicide, bullying, drug abuse and dating violence.

In her post, An Instruction Manual for Watching 13 Reasons Why with Your Teen, therapist Jenny Spitzer includes these recommendations to parents:

  • Validate feelings, whether or not you agree. Actions are up for discussion and you have the last word. But feelings are never up for negotiation.

  • Avoid telling your children their feelings aren’t real. They are, in fact, more intense than the average adult’s. Teens typically lack the ability to see that their problems are temporary, so everything feels like it’s going to last forever. You can tell them that this is not the case until you’re blue in the face—they won’t get it. Often, their brains aren’t wired to understand this yet.

  • Don’t assume they aren’t communicating if they’re not communicating with words. There are lots of ways that people communicate without words—through art, dance, music. People can also communicate with their behavior.

  • Help them effectively use communication tools.

  • Don’t assume they know everything they say they know. Try to stay away from yes or no questions.

  • Ask them to explain things to you. For example, what does bullying mean to you?

  • Discuss similarities and differences between your child’s experience and the experiences depicted in the show.

  • Familiarize yourself with your child’s school policies surrounding these issues. What policies are in place to respond to these issues? Ask about the policy regarding what school counselors can and cannot divulge to parents. Find out exactly what your school counselor would do if Hannah confided in them. Ask what they can and cannot do when they suspect a child is suffering from depression—you might be surprised.

Although it may be uncomfortable, these recommendations are great starting points for open and honest conversations. Your teen needs to hear the truth from you. You also need to hear what is on your teen’s mind. Additionally, consider inviting other adults into your teen’s life who share your values. Then, give them chances to speak into the life of your child.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 14, 2017.

If someone asked you about your family history, would you know how your great grandparents met or what life was like for them growing up?

Chris Cummings’ mom was diagnosed with early-onset dementia when she was 48. He saw firsthand how a family member’s memories can slip away and impact families.

“My mom struggled with multiple sclerosis for many years before the dementia started,” says Cummings. “I took on the role of caregiver to her at a very early age. When she passed away in 2012, even though I spent endless hours with her, I realized there was so much I didn’t know but wanted to know about my mom, yet it was too late.”

While visiting his grandmother, Shirley, Cummings asked how her parents had fallen in love. She had no idea, which seemed odd since she knew all the family history.

“That question caused her to call her sister to see if she knew the answer,” Cummings says. “She did not. Grandmother went on to ask her brother, who did know. Apparently, my great grandfather, Sidney, was on a trip in Texas headed home to Louisiana when his car broke down in Jasper. He didn’t have enough money to get his car fixed so he got a job at the local five-and-dime. A few days later, my great grandmother Minnie walked in the store. They met, fell in love and got married.”

By asking a simple question, Cummings discovered an important piece of family history. This sent Cummings, who actually has a law degree, down a path that ultimately led him to launch greetingStory. He had already created Pass it Down, a digital storytelling platform. He shared his latest idea with genealogy experts about reinventing the greeting card to help families preserve treasured memories the old-fashioned way.

“Experts in the field were intrigued because there is this huge technology gap in families,” Cummings shares. “While people have videos, they often don’t have the written stories that make up their family history. Our concept was to help people capture family memories one greeting card at a time. We also know that loneliness and isolation are huge issues for the aging population. We believed we could use the greetings cards to bring families together and reduce the loneliness and isolation.”

Cummings and his wife married in November 2015. The next month, they moved to Chattanooga because they heard it was a great place to start a business. They raised money to build the company and went through the GIGTANK 365 accelerator for startups. They actually entered Miller Lite’s Tap The Future contest to find the most innovative company in the country, and they finished in the top six applicants out of more than 15,000 companies. The couple first presented Pass It Down in front of FUBU CEO and Shark Tank investor Daymond John at the semifinals in Atlanta and won. Although they did not ultimately win the contest, they walked away with $22,000 and used it to create greetingStory.

“We hope the cards will be the easiest way to sit down with a loved one or friend and spark a conversation about their life stories and help them record their stories,” Cummings says. “I have had so many people tell me how emotional it is to see their grandfather’s signature or that seeing their grandmother’s handwriting brings back so many memories. There is something very special about handwriting a story that is different from recording a video.”

The creatively-designed cards encourage loved ones to share important information. These sample questions offer a glimpse of what you can expect from them:

  • What do you want to be remembered for?

  • When is a time in your life when you had to make a stand?

  • What is a great lesson your parents taught you?

If you’re interested in preserving your family history, you can purchase a box of the cards and return envelopes to mail personally. You can also purchase a subscription and send one, two or four greeting cards per month. When your family member answers the questions and mails the cards back to you, you will be actively preserving your family history one card at a time. In the process, you can spread joy and connectedness as you invite your loved ones to share their unique stories. Future generations will benefit from it as well.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 23, 2017.

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.