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

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

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

Family meals also help to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than 29 million Americans tuned in on May 19 to watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and his American bride, Meghan Markle. People attended watch parties, complete with tea and scones, and took in every wedding detail. Viewers blew up social media with comments about everything from Camilla’s hat and the twin boys who carried Meghan’s train to the rendition of Stand by Me and the response to Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon—all of which were fairly harmless.

Then something else happened. People started sharing their opinions about Meghan’s dress (“I think I would have done one more fitting”), makeup (“She could have used a little help with her wedding day makeup”) and other wedding day choices. It’s interesting that now more than ever, our culture encourages young girls to be their best selves, and yet judgment prevails. So the directive is, “Be you, but prepare to be judged.”

Really? It sounds like young girls are getting mixed messages.

It seems many are bent on cutting each other down. It’s almost like it’s become a favorite pastime or sport.

Markle comes across as a very strong and confident woman, but that does not mean she doesn’t fight insecurities of her own. On one of the most meaningful days of her life that really was about what she and her husband-to-be wanted, people felt compelled to give their approval or disapproval. Hopefully, Markle doesn’t care what anybody else thought. What about young girls (or women, for that matter) whose self-confidence is much more fragile? Some brides would be devastated. It’s just plain hurtful.

There must be a lesson for all of us in this. Do we really want girls to be themselves, unafraid to express their individuality? If the answer is yes, we may need to consider a few things.

Perhaps it would be helpful to teach girls how to have a thick skin and remind them that just because somebody says something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Also, they need to know who the truth-tellers are in their life. That way, they can discern if what is being said is accurate and deserves their attention or if it is something they need to let roll off their shoulders.

Most women know how it feels to be cut down, and it doesn’t feel good. Women are often experts at being hypercritical of themselves anyway, and when others pile on the judgment, it complicates life even more. Perhaps the most important lesson we can teach our girls is to be careful about judging others. Everybody has a story, and it is uniquely their own to write.

Dr. Sheri Madigan and her research team wanted to know the prevalence of sexting behavior (sharing of sexually explicit images and videos through technological means) among youth. Between 2006 and 2016, they conducted a meta-analysis, looking at 39 different studies about sexting that included 110,380 young people from all over the world, including the United States.

Studies indicate that sexting has been on the rise among teens while teen sex has declined. Findings from the meta-analysis indicate that:

  • 1 in 7 teens send sexts, 
  • 1 in 4 receives sext messages, and 
  • 41 percent of teens are having sex according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • Additionally, older teens are sexting more often than younger teens.

While boys are often portrayed as the requestors of nude images, studies show that girls and boys are equally as likely to participate in sexting. Plus, most of them use their smartphones versus a computer when they sext.

Compared to boys, girls report feeling more pressure to sext and worry they will be judged harshly whether they sext or not. If they do, there is slut-shaming. If they don’t, they are considered a prude. Boys, however, may see sexting as a way to showcase their social status.  

Many sexters assume the images will remain private, but the research indicates that:

  • 12.5 percent of teens are forwarding intimate photos without the sender’s consent. 
  • Another 8.4 percent of teens had one of their own sexts forwarded without their consent.

According to the research team, these findings raise some concerns and challenges. Teens may feel that sexting is an expectation if everybody else is doing it. When sexting is coerced and images are used as a form of blackmail or a threat, the combination of digital insecurity and the teen brain processes could lead to compromised safety. Since teens’ brains are still developing, their capacity to critically analyze digital tools and apps may not be enough to keep them safe. So, what can parents do to help?

If you’re a parent, Madigan encourages you to talk with your teens about healthy dating relationships, peer pressure, digital security, sexuality and citizenship. Make it an ongoing conversation where you’re being proactive instead of reactive.

Also, discuss strategies for dealing with peer pressure surrounding sexting and the potential consequences of sending sexts. Once someone sends an image or video, there is no control over who sees it. 

Family Zone offers these 10 tips to help you deal with sexting:

  • Have open and honest conversations with your children.
  • Don’t abstain from educating your own children about sex and sexualized behaviors. If you don’t educate them, somebody else will.
  • Do not assume that your child will not pass on a nude photo or take one of themselves and share it.
  • Discuss the risks of sexting, including how they would feel if their photos were shared.
  • Be very clear about the law and criminal consequences with your children.
  • Discuss their digital footprint and what that means.
  • Explain their digital citizenship responsibilities.
  • Warn your children to never share photos with people they don’t physically know offline. Consider providing examples of grooming and pedophilia.
  • Attempt to explore if these behaviors are part of a bigger problem with self-esteem and confidence. Like everyone, children like attention and reassurance, but as parents we need to help our kids find healthier ways to feel good about themselves.
  • Ensure they know who they can talk to and where they can get help if needed. They may not want that to be you, so ensure they have a safe person to confide in.

For tips on parenting get our E-book “How to be a Guide for your Teen” Download Here

If you’d like additional resources to help guide these conversations, here are some good ones: Common Sense Media’s Sexting Handbook, Common Sense Media, Connect Safely, Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership.

A college freshman working as a summer camp counselor called her parents to vent about how bad things were with her supervisor. It was halfway through the program and six other counselors had quit because they were unhappy and not having fun. As the conversation continued, the parents realized their child wanted their permission to quit as well. Although it was a difficult situation, her parents told her to finish her commitment.

Have you ever watched your child struggle with something so much that it made you sick, and you wanted to rescue them? At that moment, what should you do?

  • Swoop in and save them from experiencing further pain?

  • Watch from a distance, knowing this is part of growing up?

  • Move closer and offer to assist them as they work to figure it out?

In many instances, parents are actually “swooping in” instead of letting their children struggle. It could be anything from a tough game, a difficult teacher, a complicated paper, an honest mistake or a friendship gone awry. But are parents really “saving the day?”

Most parenting experts would say these parents are actually hurting their children in the long run. They mean well when they seek to protect their children from experiencing pain, disappointment and/or failure. In fact, the parents’ goal is to set their children up for success. But unfortunately, young people who are never allowed to fail, experience consequences or problem-solve become adults who are ill-equipped to deal with adversity, setbacks and failure.

An ancient Chinese proverb says. “Failure is the mother of success.”

Think about it.

How many times has difficulty motivated you to keep on trying until you figured it out? Whether it was memorizing a recital piece, learning a football play, writing a paper or tying shoes, how did you feel when you finally accomplished the task? More than likely, you felt a sense of pride, newfound confidence and perhaps a little more independent. All of these are important ingredients for success in life. Consider how you would have felt had your parent swooped in to do these things for you.

Beginning with the end in mind, besides academics, what do you want your child to learn this year? If helping your child to be confident, independent and unafraid of failure is your goal, it may require some restraint on your part.

Here are some tips for when your children fail:

  • Unless they are in harm’s way, avoid fixing it for them.

  • Allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions, even when it is painful to watch.

  • When they do fail, address what happened and ask what they would do differently next time.

  • Instead of taking matters into your own hands, go with your child and stand with them as they learn how to discuss an issue with their teacher.

Failure can be a powerful motivator. Instead of viewing your child’s failures as a direct reflection of your parenting skills, see them as steps toward future success.