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Articles for Parents

Check out these articles that cover a variety of parenting topics. From newborns to teens, we're here to give you guidance when you need it.

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    4 Must-Dos for Parents After Divorce

    Based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Warren Farrell, co-author of The Boy Crisis, says that “Dad’s time trumps Dad’s dime.” 

    “More than 100 psychologists and researchers got together. They wrote in unanimous consent that the children need their father about equally to their mother in the case of divorce,” says Farrell. 

    Farrell explained that for years researchers believed that children did better with an involved father because intact families had more money and lived in better neighborhoods. However, researchers controlled for virtually every variable and found that father involvement plays a vital role in the health of a child. It’s not just about the money he may provide, although that is very important. It is the combination of presence and provision.

    “The degree of difference between the health of a child who has both father and mother involvement, who has four things after divorce is so different from the health of the child that doesn’t,” Farrell says. 

    Farrell goes on to say that whether babies are born prematurely or full-term, the importance of the father being involved is enormous. 

    “Prematurely-born children are more likely to develop their brains better and get out of the hospital sooner and have more psychomotor functioning when the father is visiting the hospital as much as possible, according to research from Yale University,” he says.

    “The father breathing on the child when it’s first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain,” Farrell says “The sooner the father gets involved with the child, a whole nest of neurons in the male brain begins to develop and connect with each other that mimics the mother instinct - overlapping with mother instinct. Oxytocin levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Dads connect emotionally with their children.”

    According to Farrell, in the event of an unavoidable divorce, here are four must-dos for your child to have a reasonable chance of doing well.

    The first one is ensuring an equal amount of time with mother and father. Being in checks and balance mode with each other never means the father going away and working 80 hours a week and coming back when he is exhausted and the children are in bed. Farrell asserts that children need more than a Disneyland Dad or just a visitor on the weekends. They need time, and plenty of it.

    The second must-do is for the mother and father to live within a 20-minute drive time from each other. This gives children greater stability and creates less resentment, because if parents live further away, the kids may have to give up activities or friends in order to see the other parent. 

    It’s also important that children are not able to hear or detect bad-mouthing or negativity from one parent about the other. If one parent responds negatively about something concerning the other one, it can affect the child’s intimacy with one or both parents. Bad-mouthing isn’t just by words, it’s also via body language and tone of voice. Farrell says that many parents will swear that their kids did not overhear them saying something negative about the other parent while on the phone, but the child could detect the difference in the tone of voice, even from another room.

    Finally, it’s beneficial for the kids if parents spend significant time doing consistent relationship counseling, even if it only happens every few weeks. If parents only seek counsel in an emergency, the chances are you need to solve the problem sooner, and you are more likely to make the other parent wrong and you only see the other parent when you are emergency mode. Therefore, you don’t have the chance to think and feel through with compassion the other parent’s best intent to solve the problem and make decisions.

    “Before you make a decision to have a child, do the research on why children need a significant amount of father involvement so that you don’t raise a child on your own and think it is just fine to do so and think that having a stepfather or you doing the father-type of role is going to be enough,” Farrell says. “If you believe your new husband is going to be a better stepfather than the biological father is a father, know that almost always the stepfather perceives himself to be an advisor, and the dynamic between a biological mother and stepfather is one where the biological mother does make the final decision. All of the dad-style parenting that a stepfather could potentially bring to a child’s life, like roughhousing, is likely to be inhibited by a biological mother with a lot more power and potency than she will use with the biological father. There’s a tendency for the stepfather to back out of equal parent engagement and just become a breadwinner.”

    Since research consistently shows that both parents are the best parents, Farrell expresses concern for unmarried biological moms who are living with the father. Farrell wants these moms to understand that when Mom is the primary parent, it often leads to the father being uninvolved and feeling that he is not valued. In situations like this, many fathers leave the child’s life within the first three to four years. 

    A word of caution here: While there is no question that some parents are unfit when it comes to filling the parent role, careful evaluation may be necessary to discern whether an ex is truly not fit to parent, or if it would "just be easier not to have to deal with them." If your thought process is more along the lines of, “I made a mistake marrying them. I want to start life over again without them. I don't like them. I don't like dealing with them,” it might be wise for you to reconsider your stance.

    There’s a big difference between safety and abuse issues and misunderstanding the other parent’s reasoning, thought processes or parenting style. If the goal is for children of divorce to be healthy in adulthood, it is important to follow these 4 must-dos after a divorce when it is possible and safe to do so.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 7, 2019.

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    10 Tips for Getting Fit as a Family

    There seems to be constant buzz about how little time busy families spend together. Even during summertime, between work, screens, music, sports, and other commitments, families stay on the go.

    According to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for Healthier America” survey released in 2015, some 78 million Americans are obese, which puts them at an increased risk of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

    In 2018, the adult obesity rate was at or above 35% in seven states and at least 30% in 29 states - but in 1980, no state had an adult obesity rate above 15 percent. Among children and teenagers, 31.8 percent were overweight or obese and nearly 17 percent were obese, including 5 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 6.5 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 19 who were severely obese. 

    "In order to build a national Culture of Health, we must help all children, no matter who they are or where they live, grow up at a healthy weight," said former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. "We know that when we take comprehensive steps to help families be more active and eat healthier foods, we can see progress."

    Regular exercise, adequate rest and healthy eating can be the difference in a family that lives, plays, learns and works well together and one that does not. 

    “Research shows that children need regular exercise to build strong bones and muscles,” says Teresa Wade, Health and Fitness Director at the Sports Barn. “Exercise also helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day. Habits such as these, established in childhood, help adolescents maintain healthy weight despite the hormonal changes and social influences that can lead to overeating. Active children are more likely to become fit adults.”

    Getting your family in shape does not have to be costly, but it does require you to move away from the screens and do something. Here are some suggestions for busy families who want to get and stay active during the summer months.

    • Schedule a regular time throughout the week for physical activity. 
    • Take turns selecting a weekly family activity. 
    • Start a log of daily fitness activities for each family member. 
    • Adapt all activities to suit those with special needs and preferences. 
    • Help everyone find something active that makes them feel successful. 
    • Buy equipment or toys that promote physical activity.
    • Discover what free and low-cost physical activity spots are nearby (park, bike trail, hiking trail, tennis court, swimming pool, etc.). 
    • Limit screen-time.
    • Use physical activity as a reward instead of food (e.g. Family goes skating). 
    • Emphasize the importance of having fun and learning. Avoid a push "to win." 

    “I encourage families to slow down a bit, schedule time in your week to be active together - actually pencil your family into your planner,” Wade says. “If you wait for it to happen, it isn’t going to happen. Believe it or not, exercise can be fun. Start slowly with something like walking or biking in the neighborhood. When my grandchildren are with me, we often take a walk around the block at night before we go to bed. It is a wind-down time and helps us connect before the end of the day.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 31, 2019.

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    9 Ways to Support Military Families

    Kelli Day met Shawn Campbell her junior year of college at Texas A&M in College Station. 

    “He was already on the military track and dreamed of becoming a pilot. We were working together at a coffee shop when he asked me to go mountain biking and the rest is history,” said Kelli Campbell. “We got engaged a month before he left for officer candidate school and got married a week after he came home after completing school, and had four children Tristan, Kenna, Kate and Donovan, who are now 15, 12, 10 and 5.”

    Shawn became a Marine and flew the CH-53, the Marine Corps’ largest helicopter, known as the Super Stallion. Maj. Campbell was deployed three times in the Middle East during his 15-year military career.  

    In 2016, Campbell went on a routine night-training mission at his home base in Hawaii. Just before midnight, his helicopter collided with another and 12 Marines were killed, including Campbell. 

    “Years ago we decided that if something happened to Shawn, I would take the kids and move to Kansas City where my family lived,” Kelli says. “We went there not knowing if we would stay. Shawn and I had dreams for our kids, plans for things we would do together as a family.”

    While in Kansas, Kelli was introduced to Folds of Honor, an Oklahoma-based charity that provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled service members. Founded by Maj. Dan Rooney, a former Air Force F-16 fighter pilot with three combat tours in Iraq, and current Air Force Reserve pilot, the organization has awarded more than 16,000 scholarships in all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

    “Folds of Honor gave us a way to start over and honor Shawn’s legacy by giving the kids the things we wanted for them,” Kelli shares. “Scholarships from Folds of Honor allowed our three oldest children to attend a school together where they were provided with the educational, extracurricular and personal support they needed. They gave our children a lifeline because they understood their needs at a very difficult time.” 

    While Memorial Day is typically seen as the kickoff to summer, it is also a day to pause and remember that the reason we get to celebrate is because of the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

    “I don’t think Shawn would want us sitting around having a pity party on Memorial Day, but he would want us to stop what we are doing and say the names of people we know who served and gave their life for our freedom,” Kelli says. “We used to make a point of taking the kids to the closest national cemetery to look at headstones and remember friends we had known and lost. We both felt it was important for our children to understand the significance of this day.”

    Kelli describes her husband as “not your typical hardheaded Marine,” but soft-spoken, kind, gentle and fun. She intends to keep her husband’s memory alive for her children by reminding them how he lived and served our country. She also wants to help other families who are on a similar journey. She is currently a regional development officer for Folds of Honor and also serves on their national speakers bureau and Kansas Chapter board.  

    As Americans, our job is not only to keep the memories of these men and women alive, but to come alongside their families and walk with them. Here are just a few of many ways we can support military families:

    • Give respite to the single parent by taking the children for a few hours.
    • Say thank you. These families make a significant sacrifice on behalf of our country. Acknowledging this is huge.
    • Include the sons or daughters of deployed or fallen parents in your parent/child activities. 
    • Organize meals just like you would for a new baby. Set aside one night a week to deliver food to the family.
    • Have your whole block tie yellow ribbons around trees to help everyone remember their deployed or fallen neighbor.
    • Check on the family regularly. The spouse who is left behind needs to know that another grown-up is around even if they don't need anything.
    • Invite the family along on outings with your family even if it's just for a quick ice cream.
    • Think about chores the fallen parent would have normally done. Help with the garbage cans each week or offer to change the oil in the car. Help with the window air conditioners or just getting the Christmas tree into the house.
    • Write letters or send cards to let them know you are thinking about them. 

    We need to intentionally and proactively serve military families. They have made and continue to make it possible for us to reap the benefits of their willingness to serve. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 26, 2019.

    Maj. Shawn Campbell

    Kelli Campbell and her children

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    What Society is Really Telling Our Girls

    Last week I was thumbing through People magazine when I came upon an ad. It featured a bikini-clad woman standing at the edge of a pool with her legs spread apart while a guy stared straight up at her crotch and smiled.

    Then someone sent me two deeply troubling articles. One was about sexting and how you don’t have to literally send pictures to help your partner be aroused. The other was questioning whether porn might be able to actually help people better understand consent. 

    You might be questioning where this reading material came from. If I asked you to guess, my gut tells me you probably wouldn’t guess the source: Teen Vogue. No, I am not kidding. Both of these articles, “Sexting Doesn’t Have to Be So Literal” and “Can Porn Help People Understand Consent?” contain content for mature audiences. These pieces, and others like them, target the curious teens in your life who want to be in the know about today’s culture.

    Few parents I know get super excited about having ongoing conversations about sexuality. Even fewer look forward to talking with their middle or high school teen about pornography. But, if you don’t speak into this area of your child’s life, the culture will do so in a very big way, and you might find much of the information disconcerting and inaccurate. It’s so important that your kids get the information they need from you to have healthy relationships now and in the future. Sadly, our kids believe a great deal of what they read online or in print, and it’s so easy to access. They need guidance to understand whether what they are reading is simply entertainment or helpful information that leads them to make healthy choices.

    For example, in the sexting opinion piece, Nona Willis Aronowitz describes graphically photographing herself in order to get comfortable with her own body image before she shares pictures with anybody else. She goes on to say that “if you are texting with someone, sending nudes is unbelievably commonplace.” Additionally, she quotes sex philosopher, Adrienne Maree Brown from her new book, “Pleasure Activism,” which does not appear to be written for a teen audience. 

    Now for the recommendations for sexting: She says it’s important to determine that the person who will be receiving the pictures is trustworthy. And, “regardless of how serious or intimate y’all are, any worthwhile boo will appreciate the titillation of a beautiful nude, even if they don’t get to bring the image home with them.” There are plenty of teen girls who believe their “boo” is trustworthy when it comes to not sharing nude pictures of her with his friends, only to find out that wasn’t the case.

    At the very end of the article, the author discusses the risk involved in sexting, stating that she is sure parents and others have warned that once you send a nude pic you have no control over where it goes, “so the public embarrassment you worry about could become a reality,” and if you’re under a certain age, sending sexy selfies can count as distributing child pornography. All this comes after a total tutorial on how to take great nudes.

    In the second article on porn and consent, the author wonders if explicit verbal consent in more porn could help people understand the concept better. “Imagine this,” says the writer,  “You’re surfing the Internet, looking for some porn to watch (you know why), and after scrolling for what seems like forever, you finally find a video that fits what you’re in the mood for. You click play and after watching the prerequisite awkward intro, you hear one person in the film ask another, ‘Is it okay if I kiss you?’”

    The author says that porn shouldn’t be used as sex education, but that young people should be educated on how to consume porn in a healthy way. This is an alarming statement considering the significant amount of research regarding the dangers of porn addiction. 

    According to Fight the New Drug, a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts, porn physically changes the brain over time. When one looks at porn, there is a surge of the chemical dopamine that feels really good. Dopamine helps create new brain pathways that essentially lead the user back to the behavior that triggered the chemical release. Porn users can quickly build up a tolerance as their brains adapt to the high levels of dopamine released by viewing porn. Even though porn is still releasing dopamine into the brain, the user can’t feel its effects as much.

    “It is as though we have devised a form of heroin - usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes,” says Dr. Jeffrey Satinover of Princeton University, describing porn’s effect to a U.S. Senate committee.

    Numerous studies indicate that porn is a very significant problem in the U.S. In fact, the Justice Department estimates that 9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have seen online porn. Once you have seen porn, the image remains in your brain.

    The author of the Teen Vogue article cites research from the UK that 60 percent of students in the survey had turned to porn to learn more about sex, and 40 percent of them said porn colored their understanding of what sex is. Young people in the U.S. also report turning to porn when their school sex ed classes don’t equip them for the realities of sex. 

    So, if you think your daughters are purchasing or looking at Teen Vogue online for the fashion, you might want to think again. Their website says, “Teen Vogue: Fashion, Beauty, Entertainment News for Teens,” and it lists the topics of style, politics, culture and identity. I would strongly encourage you to visit the site and read through the content for yourself.

    The middle and high school years are complicated enough for so many reasons, but these articles in Teen Vogue and other publications are troubling for those of us who have been fighting against the sexualization of women. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of advertisements, media and music that sends hypocritical messages about what is acceptable and what is not. What our kids consume shapes the trajectory of their lives. The impact of sexting and looking at porn in their teen years will follow them into adulthood.

    Women who don’t want themselves or others to be seen as objects or commodities have a responsibility to call out these overtly sexual messages that undermine the change for which many have advocated. We have made a great deal of progress in the age of #MeToo, but we still have a long way to go. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 12, 2019.

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    How to Care for Independent Aging Parents

    If you're in the midst of raising children or grandchildren, managing a career and caring for an aging parent or relative, you are not alone. In fact, a 2012 Pew Research report found that about half of all U.S. adults in their 40s or 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child.

    When our parents have strong desires to remain independent and we have strong desires to care for them, it can be a real challenge.

    “I always like to focus on the things that are necessary for aging parents to stay as independent as possible,” says Amy Boulware, (LAP, MSW) Geriatric and Special Needs care manager for Chambliss Law. “The desire to remain independent is so strong, sometimes parents are willing to go to great lengths to keep up the appearance they are doing well on their own. I call this ‘malicious independence.’ They know they aren’t doing well, but they keep it from their family members. The sad thing is, often, they have already lost their independence because they are isolating themselves and not getting to do the things they enjoy doing.”

    Getting older and more fragile is a hard thing to deal with, but things do happen as we age. Boulware believes the goal of providing good care to our parents is to avoid making decisions in the midst of a crisis.

    “If we can help parents think about the things that are becoming more difficult for them such as going to the grocery store, cooking or keeping the house clean, then we can develop a plan to remove some of the burdens and help them stay as independent as possible,” Boulware says. 

    “Most people do estate planning, but few think about doing elder care planning,” Boulware shares. “Inevitably, something happens and then you are thrown into making quick decisions.”

    So, how do you have that hard conversation? Boulware suggests that you begin the process by asking questions like:

    • What are the things that are important to you as you age?
    • How can we work together to help you have quality care later in life? What does that look like for you? 
    • What can you afford?
    • What are the lifelong behaviors or details that make you tick that would be very important to know? For example, do you have a nightly routine, always have a certain snack, use something to help you sleep at night, etc.? There may be routines and rituals that you know nothing about that if discontinued, could cause agitation, fear or frustration for your parent. 
    • Who would you like to designate to make decisions should you become unable to do so? When do you think would be a good time to take care of that? 
    • If we see you struggling, how would you like us to handle that?

    If you try to have the conversation and your parents won’t let you, seek help from a trustworthy third party.

    This conversation in particular is often one we put off because it’s just plain uncomfortable and nobody wants to think about the end of life. Mapping out a plan ahead of time can pave the way for smoother transitions in the future. It can also strengthen your family relationships because the choices your parents make are truly theirs and it will be easier to honor them by following through with their wishes.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 5, 2019.

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    Why Reading to Your Child Matters

    While you might be reading bedtime stories to help your child settle down before lights out, you may be doing much more than just a nightly ritual.

    An Ohio State University study shows that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids whose parents did not read to them.

    Jessica Logan and her team launched into this research after findings from an earlier study indicated that one-fourth of children are never read to, and another quarter were only read to once or twice a week.

    In collaboration with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Logan and her colleagues determined the average number of words in board books and picture books, and then calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through his or her 5th birthday at different levels of reading. They found that:

    • By the time a child is 5 years old, if they have never been read to, they know 4,662 words. 
    • If they’ve been read to 1-2 times per week, their word count increases to 63,570. 
    • Reading to a child 3-5 times per week increases their vocabulary to 169,520 words, and daily reading expands their vocabulary to 296,660 words. 
    • If a child is read five books a day, they know upwards of 1,483,300 words.
    • Children who hear more vocabulary words are better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. They are also more likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily. 

    “This million word gap could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development,” says Logan. 

    Logan contends that being read to is different from everyday communication. Why? It's because books expose children to words that are much more complex and difficult than what they hear by just talking to their parents and others at home. 

    For example, reading a book about animals, where they live and their natural habitat, will introduce words and concepts that are not likely to come up in everyday conversations.

    “The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,”  Logan says. “Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids.”

    If reading hasn’t been a priority in your home, it's easy to start. Here's how. 

    • Visit the library with your little ones for story hour. Get a library card if you don’t already have one so you can take some books home with you. 
    • Look for gently-used books at garage sales or used bookstores. You might even have some friends who have been holding onto books that could use a new home or who would be willing to trade books back and forth. 
    • Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school (age 5), regardless of family income. Register your child to receive a new book each month. (Yes, please!)
    • Make reading an exciting time to connect with your child. Change your voice for the different characters or animals, let your child turn the pages, point to different things on the page as you read about them or ask them to find the thing you are reading about on the page.
    • Place your finger under the words as you read them. This helps your child learn that we read from left to right and will help them visually see the word you are saying.

    Don’t have lots of books to choose from? No worries. Almost any parent with grown children can probably still recite to you word for word certain books that their child asked them to read again, and again, and… again. Happy reading!

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 28, 2019.

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    Sons, Sex and Standards

    An interesting study just released in JAMA Pediatrics should grab our attention. The study, a joint effort between Johns Hopkins University and The Guttmacher Institute, raises a warning flag about boys and early sex.

    Two national surveys showed that between 4 and 8 percent of boys reported having sex before they were 13. Black males were most at risk, followed by Hispanic males. In some metropolitan areas, more than a quarter of young, African American men reported having sexual intercourse before age 13.

    Young men having sex before age 13 usually haven’t received the appropriate sex education and services, and we need a better system to respond to their needs,” says Arik Marcell, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. 

    “The cultural double standard about sexual behavior in the United States, in which it is OK for young boys, but not girls, to be sexually active, has prevented us from effectively addressing male adolescents’ vulnerabilities and their healthy sexual development,” Marcell adds.

    Marcell explained that he has heard boys and adolescents talking about their first sex encounters in a way that suggests they didn’t anticipate, understand or know what was happening or what’s appropriate and what’s not. It is concerning that such early sex experiences happening to boys could be unwanted and influence their future health. Marcell and his colleagues used the survey data to attempt to get a better look at the scale and pattern of this problem across the nation.

    The investigators underscored the importance of recognizing young people’s perspectives, and also noted that reports of whether a first sexual experience was wanted may be influenced by gender and race expectations, stereotypes, peer pressure and coercion. Parental education also appeared to have an impact. For instance, boys whose mothers graduated from college were 69 percent less likely to have sex before 13.

    As to why there are such variations in early sex rates, Guttmacher Institute researcher Laura Lindberg says, "Adolescent males' attitudes and values about their sexuality and masculinity are influenced by the social context of their community. 

    “Our findings reflect that where you live exposes you to different social norms about manhood," she added. "The variation across settings means that programs for young people's development and health need to be tailored and responsive to the communities they are in."

    In many instances, it seems like massive strides have been made when it comes to educating kids about sex, but this study clearly indicates there is still work to be done. All young people need to receive sex education and parents need to be ready to have open, honest and ongoing talks with their kids. 

    The best time to start talking with children about sex is when they are young. Look for teachable moments, such as when you see a pregnant woman or a peer's new brother or sister, as a natural discussion-starter.

    Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:

    • the correct names of sexual organs and body parts,
    • explaining sex and reproduction,
    • personal boundaries,
    • pregnancy, and
    • building healthy relationships.

    If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers, but make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand the question, answer it briefly and simply. Sometimes kids have questions, but they are afraid to ask. This is why it is important for parents to look for opportunities to discuss these important matters.  

    Talking about sex is just as important as talking about drugs and alcohol, smoking, stranger danger and pornography. If this feels overwhelming to you, you might want to practice talking privately with your spouse or another adult first. The most important thing is that conversations are happening and you are an askable parent.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 14, 2019.

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    3 Keys to Deeper Friendships

    Shasta Nelson has spent more than a decade studying loneliness and friendships. Nelson is a healthy relationship expert and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness and Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. She is currently working on her next book, “The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time,” to be published by HarperCollins Leadership.

    Nelson surveyed people to find out how fulfilling their friendships felt from one to 10, with 10 being the most meaningful satisfaction. About 60-70 percent respondents rated their relationships five or below.

    Nelson realized that while people might be in friend relationships or marriage relationships, there was a gap between the kind of relationships people want to have and the kind they actually have. In fact, 80 percent of the complaints about friendships centered around wanting more and deeper connection. She found that people know more people than ever before and are supposedly more connected, yet they are lonelier than ever.

    A 2018 CIGNA study of 20,000 people found that nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone. Additionally, 1 in 4 rarely or never feels as though people really understand them, and 2 in 5 Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful.

    According to Nelson, modern day loneliness is not because we need to interact more with people; It is due to lack of intimacy. Frientimacy is a relationship where both people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way. When people say they are lonely, Nelson doesn’t believe that answer is to go out and make more friends, but to deepen current relationships.

    “I ask people this question: ‘Do you feel as loved and supported as you need at this point in your life?’” Nelson says. “If the answer is yes, that’s fabulous, but often the answer is no. When that is the case, I encourage them to consider who in their life they would want to build a more meaningful or closer relationship with and then make a list. Start prioritizing those relationships. 

    “Some people say they have no names to put on their list. For these folks, their journey right now is to get out and meet people who have the potential to be future friends. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Going to places you already frequent like school, work, faith-based or civic organizations - proximity and geography matters. Then be intentional about getting to know them better. The second way is to reach out to people you know and ask them if there are people they think you should know. Take advantage of opportunities for introductions to meet new people at their party, book club, discussion group, etc.” 

    Nelson says the more insane your life is, the more you need meaningful friendships. 

    “Often when I am speaking to moms’ groups, I ask them to write what they remember about their mom and her friends,” Nelson says. “A good 70 percent of women have a hard time completing that assignment. I suspect it happens partly because so many moms try to nurture their friendships at a time that doesn’t inconvenience their kids. However, 30 years down the road, your daughters can’t tell me who your friends are. Friendships need to be modeled. Don’t downplay that part of your life. Deep, meaningful friendships make us better.”

    Once you have identified people on your list, Nelson says to then practice the three things that are the basis of every healthy relationship: positivity, consistency and vulnerability, also known as “the frientimacy triangle.” 

    1. Positivity is about feeling supported, kindness, acts of service, affirmation - all the things that make us feel good. 
    2. Consistency is the hours logged, the history built, interactions and knowing there is consistent behavior in the relationship. This is where trust occurs. 
    3. Vulnerabilit is where we share, reveal, let people beyond the formal living room, talk about what is going well and not so well, history, dreams, and where you feel safe to ask for what you need.

    When we have high levels of each part of the “frientimacy triangle,” we feel seen, safe and satisfied, which is what people want and need. We then have the ability to take existing relationships to a completely different level.

    Our bodies are craving this and are literally dying without connections. World-renowned physician Dean Ornish states, “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine (than intimacy and love) - not diet, not smoking, not exercising, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery - that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes.” 

    According to Nelson, loneliness is as damaging to our bodies as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, the equivalent of being a lifelong alcoholic, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.

    "How you answer the question, ‘How loved and supported do you feel?’ will tell us more about your health 15-20 years down the road than any other factor,” she says.

    If your relationships aren’t where you want them to be, Nelson encourages you to take action and do something different. Not only do we have the opportunity to make our own lives richer, we can enrich others' lives with our positivity, consistency and vulnerability.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 7, 2019.

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    Preparing Your Child for the Real World

    Many college graduates will soon be joining the workforce, some for the first time. The transition can be a real shocker as they face their new reality of 8-hour days, specific start times, no more spring breaks and a limited amount of time for lunch. Plus, some workplaces expect employees to work at a rigorous pace that is foreign to many college students.

    In the adjustment phase, young adults may complain to their parents about workplace practices, demanding bosses, irritating co-workers and deadlines, just to name a few issues. This is nothing new for sure. 

    Anybody who has held a job can probably relate, but here’s where things get interesting. In an effort to be helpful, many parents jump right in to deal with the issue at hand. In fact, you might be surprised at just how many parents are quick to take the reins and deal with the issue themselves.

    In a recent survey of parents of children ages 18-28 conducted by Morning Consult, 11 percent of the parents surveyed said they would contact an employer if their child was having issues at work. Of the parents surveyed:

    • 76% reminded their adult children of deadlines they need to meet, including for schoolwork. 
    • 74% made appointments for them, including doctor’s appointments. 
    • 42% offered them advice on relationships and romantic life. 
    • 16% helped write all or part of a job or internship application. 
    • 15% told them which career to pursue.
    • 14% helped them get jobs or internships through professional network.
    • 14% gave more than $500 per month for rent or daily expenses.

    With the possible exception of giving romantic advice, none of these behaviors on the part of the parent are helpful in preparing a young adult for the real world.

    Instead of jumping in to rescue them, it would be helpful to assist them in being prepared to deal with real-life work situations. Here's how you can start:

    • When they encounter a difficult professor, process with them potential ways to approach the professor and have a conversation. 
    • Teach them how to make their own doctor’s appointments. 
    • If they have internship possibilities, rehearse with them how to make the initial phone call or introduction and talk with them about potential interview questions. 

    If they believe they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately at work, get a good understanding of what is happening. Then:

    • Attempt to walk through the situation with them, but realize the situation is not yours to handle. 
    • Ask them what they think they need to do besides quit, which sometimes ends up being an option if nothing else works, and then help them figure out an action plan they can execute by discussing the pros and cons of all viable options. 
    • If you don’t think you have the knowledge or skill set required to help them decide how to move forward, connect them with someone you believe has the knowledge to do so. Avoid the temptation to make the call yourself. 

    It can be painful to watch your young adult deal with difficult and sometimes very complicated circumstances, especially if they are a hard worker and what they are walking through seems unjust. However, it is not healthy or helpful to jump into circumstances they need to learn how to handle themselves. Life is for sure not fair, and this will likely not be the last time they have to navigate dealing with a difficult situation. 

    Whether your adult child is still in college or in the workforce, writing papers for them, calling them to make sure they are awake, reminding them of deadlines or interfering at work does not prepare your child for the reality of living an independent, productive life. Doing these things will make them more dependent on you and less prepared for dealing with what life hands them on their own.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 31, 2019.

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    The Dangers of Overparenting Your Child

    The largest college admissions scandal in history has many people shaking their heads in disgust. 

    In hopes of getting their kids admitted to prestigious schools, parents used bribery, paid off test administrators to change test scores and paid athletic directors and coaches to add names as potential recruits for sports teams. This is troubling on so many levels. 

    Many kids actually worked hard to earn their way into college, but they may have lost their place to someone whose parents worked to play the system. This scandal exposes significant problems in the college admissions process, along with another major dilemma affecting many young people today: overzealous parents trying to snowplow the roads of life for their children.

    One parent arranged for someone else to take a college entrance exam for his son. He told the third party it was imperative that his son never know about it. Imagine being the son who thought he earned the score on that test, only to find out from the media that his father made it happen. Talk about robbing someone of their confidence

    Parents who do things like this often say the motivation behind their behavior is wanting the best for their child, but at what cost? Keep in mind the definition of success for one child might look very different for another. Parents who create a false sense of accomplishment for their child aren’t helping; they are hurting. In the end, these young people will pay a hefty price for their parents’ actions whether they knew about their parents’ actions ahead of time or not.

    Warren Buffett once told a group of Georgia Tech students, “If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.” Buffet realizes that money can’t buy love or happiness, nor does it guarantee success. 

    When parents don’t allow their children to fail and learn how to pick themselves up and keep putting one foot in front of the other, they are doing an extreme disservice to their children. Failure is a part of life and can be incredibly motivating when one isn’t afraid of taking risks. Allowing them to experience failure and supporting them as they regain their footing is a very powerful confidence-builder.

    Parents have to ask themselves if the motivation behind the behavior is self-serving. For example, does it just make you look good as a parent or is this in your child’s best interest? 

    If your child has no aspirations to attend college, none of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering you do will change that. In fact, it will likely take a huge toll on your parent-child relationship instead.

    So what can parents do?

    See your child for who he/she is in their gifts, talents, dreams and passions. They will likely have different passions and areas of giftedness that may take them on a path for which you haven’t prepared. You may even be tempted to tell them, “You will never be able to support yourself doing that.” 

    Instead of saying those words, help them know what it will take to succeed. Encourage them and put parameters around where you must draw the line, then be brave enough to let them try. Even if they fail, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable experience. It also doesn’t mean they can’t change their direction if they decide what they are doing isn’t working.

    Pediatrician and author Meg Meeker shared these thoughts in a blog post addressing this issue:

    “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where, or if, your child goes to college. It matters that he is prepared and equipped to lead a healthy adult life. Give him that and you will have given him more than an Ivy League education ever could.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 24, 2019.

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    What Your Child Needs to Know Before Starting Kindergarten

    Many parents feel pressure to make sure their child is actually kindergarten-ready. But, are they really focusing on the things that ultimately prepare their child for future success?

    Knowing their name, being able to tie their shoes and going to the bathroom by themselves are important for sure. But did you know that social competency skills such as being able to listen, share material with others, solve problems with their classmates, cooperate and be helpful are every bit as important, perhaps more so?

    Researchers from Penn State analyzed 753 children in Durham, N.C., Seattle, Nashville and rural Pennsylvania and found that children who were more likely to share or be helpful in kindergarten were also more likely to obtain higher education and hold full-time jobs nearly two decades later. Kids without these social competency skills were more likely to face negative outcomes by age 25, including substance abuse problems, challenges finding employment or run-ins with the law.

    The researchers found that for every one-point increase in a student's social competency score, he or she was:

    • Twice as likely to graduate from college;
    • 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
    • 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job by age 25.

    For every one-point decrease in the child's score, he or she had a:

    • 64 percent higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
    • 67 percent higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
    • 52 percent higher rate of binge-drinking;
    • 82 percent higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and an
    • 82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.

    The research shows that high-quality relationships and rich social interactions in the home, school and community prepare children well for the future. Never underestimate the importance of a stable home in the life of a child.

    No matter your child's age, you can help them learn what they really need to know. Parents and extended family, child care providers and neighbors - everyone really - can help young children develop these social-emotional skills.

    Try these strategies to help children develop social/emotional competence:

    • Let them figure out how to solve their own problems (within reason).
    • Instead of making decisions for them, help them make decisions.
    • Teach them about emotions and help them understand other people's feelings.
    • Give them opportunities to learn what it looks like to share with others.
    • Provide experiences where they can be helpful.
    • Teach them how to express themselves appropriately with direction.
    • Be intentional about giving them instructions and helping them follow through on what you asked them to do. This will serve them well when it comes to listening and following instructions in the classroom.
    • Give your child the chance to engage in activities with others where they learn to cooperate without being prompted.

    Providing these opportunities is beneficial, far beyond kindergarten. Although it may be easier for adults to make these things happen for their children, easy isn't always best. Step back and see what they can do - that's some of the best kindergarten prep you could ever do.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 17, 2019.

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    How to Handle Grief

    It’s been 10 years since Ron and Nan Deal unexpectedly said goodbye to their middle son, Connor.

    “You never expect to outlive your children,” says Ron Deal. “We actually joked about the fact that Connor, who was 12 at the time, was the healthiest of our three boys. The other two could come down with the flu and Connor kept on trucking. One day, he got a headache. We gave him ibuprofen and sent him to bed early. Ten days later he was gone.”

    The Deals have no idea how Connor contracted MRSA, an infection that is very difficult to treat.

    “I love talking about Connor and at the same time, I hate talking about him because it is so incredibly painful,” Deal says. “I now talk about life before Connor died and life after Connor left us, and I long for the innocence of before. I am keenly aware now that life can turn on a dime and you will never be the same.”

    When talking about the grieving process, Deal shares that early on, it felt as if they were buried up to their necks in mud.

    “You can’t walk and can’t move,” Deal says. “In the beginning, I think my wife and I grieved similarly, but as time moved on, we have grieved differently, which has meant we have to pay really close attention. After Connor’s death, I went for years literally not able to experience joy of any kind. My wife didn’t smile or laugh for a year. The grief just consumes you and you feel like a shell of a person. 

    “My sister saved us,” Deal says. “We really went numb for a couple of years. She would show up once a month for an entire year just to be with us. The kids were thrilled because she would cook for them.

    “Once we got to the 3-year, 5-year marks, I found that I could compartmentalize my grief to some degree, but then out of nowhere a song or a smell would take me right back to that place,” Deal shares. “Nan has carried it with her 24/7 like a parka you never take off.”

    The Deals learned they had to be intentional about talking and engaging with each other. Through the grieving process, Deal says they learned many other lessons, too.

    Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss is a must-read for anyone entering into a hard space with someone who is grieving. If you haven’t walked this road, just show up. Step into the living room and be present. You can’t fix it.” 

    When you lose somebody, studies show that about a third of people in your life are helpful. Deal learned it was his job to seek out the therapeutic third and hang around them.

    He found that sometimes even extended family members weren’t part of their third when their grief was big. During the early years, the Deals were never at home for the holidays or on Connor’s birthday, but they made it a point to go be with safe people or get involved with an activity where the day passes quickly.  

    Deal maintains that in any loss in our lives, we need to find an expression of that loss equal to the magnitude of the loss. You have to find some radical way of blessing other people.

    “Give expression to your grief and sadness, especially those you share it with,” encourages Deal. “You will be tempted to isolate yourself. Don’t do that. You have to get outside yourself.

    “Through a crazy series of events, we ended up going to Ghana, West Africa, working with a ministry that rescues trafficked children,” Deal says. “They raise and educate them. We decided to build an art center in Connor’s name that provides therapeutic, emotional and psychological support for them in the healing process. We get to go once a year and be with the children. Connor would love it! He was artsy and musical. There is a lot there that is him. My grief is alive when I am there. I can’t get Connor back, but I can bless others. These are children who have been sold into slavery. To be a small part of rescuing them and helping them heal is such a joy.

    “Serving others is not denying your own sadness; if anything, it’s saying I know what I am going through and I need to do something with this energy. You do that with tears and you do that with action.

    “We had a counselor to help guide us through this,” Deal says. “The seasons change and with it comes a new little hurdle. It’s helpful to have a professional to walk with you over the course of time.

    “The grieving process is not a sprint or even a half-marathon. It’s a full-on marathon and you have to stay after it. There are lots of ripples from the grieving. Some are beautiful and some are painful. It is a long road. Over the last 10 years we have seen beauty out of the ashes, but it doesn’t get rid of the ashes.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 17, 2019.

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