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Cyberbullying has been a hot topic for years. But when all of us, young and old, were thrust in front of our screens due to COVID-19, the experts warned we could see an uptick in this behavior—especially among young people. 

Sure enough, we are six months into the pandemic and Google Trends is seeing an 80% increase in parents searching for help in dealing with cyberbullying. According to a Digital Trends piece that came out in April about Cyberbullying and Distance Learning, research indicated a 70% increase in cyberbullying among kids in the first weeks of social distancing. Statistics indicate that roughly 50%-60% of kids have been cyberbullied. 

Just so we are clear about what we are talking about, let’s define it. Cyberbullying is using any type of digital platform to scare, harass, shame, embarrass, hurt or threaten another person.

With everyone online right now, there are lots of easy targets and the stakes are high. Some kids are taking their own lives because of it, and many others are dealing with anxiety and depression as a result. If you know what to look for and have some precautions in place, you have a much better chance of intervening before the situation takes a tragic turn.

The big question is, what can parents do to address this problem?

If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or disposition, pay attention. Here is a list of 10 signs your child might be the victim of cyberbullying:

  • Appears nervous when receiving a text, instant message or email.
  • Seems uneasy about going to school or pretends to be ill
  • Unwillingness to share information about online activity
  • Abruptly shutting off or walking away from the computer mid-use
  • Withdrawing from friends and family in real life
  • Unexplained stomach aches or headaches
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts 

Now that summer is here, your kids don’t need to be on their screens as much. Deciding how much time you allow your children to use their screens and standing by it can be benefit the entire family. Screen Strong has a 7 Day ScreenStrong Challenge you might find helpful. Think of it as a seven-day cleanse for your entire family to help them kick off the summer.

Once you have completed the cleanse, set the tone for the rest of the summer. Have a family meeting about expectations moving forward when it comes to screen time. Parents say they struggle with this the most because it causes such a huge uproar in the home. 

Think of it like this. When you tell your child to hold your hand to cross the street and they throw themselves on the ground and pitch a fit because they don’t want to hold your hand, you don’t respond by saying, “Ok, you don’t have to hold my hand. Just be careful.” You get your child off the ground and tell them, “You are holding my hand. Period.” It doesn’t matter how big a tantrum they throw, you aren’t going to give in. Why? Because you know the street could be very dangerous. For older teens, it would be like putting them behind the steering wheel with no training and telling them to be careful.

Limits Are Important

Screens have a great place in this world. However, without limits or set expectations, they can negatively impact your children and the entire family for that matter. To create structure around screen usage, be very clear about what appropriate online behavior looks like and define cyberbullying for them. The goal is to create an environment where it is abundantly clear that cyberbullying will not be tolerated. It’s vital that you let them know what to do if they think they are being cyberbullied. Working through this together can strengthen your relationship, too.

Create a schedule of things your kids can do instead of being on their screens. For example, reading is one of the best things they can do to increase their vocabulary and build their imagination. Exercise, getting outside or even doing things inside to get their heart rate up and create some sweat can do wonders for decreasing stress and anxiety along with elevating their mood. Look for activities you can do together as a family. Find ways for your kids to meaningfully contribute to your family and the lives of others who may need help with things like mowing their lawn, weeding their gardens, walking the dog and such. First Things First has a 30 Day Family Activity Challenge you might find helpful.

It’s OK to Ask for Help.

If you do not see change in a positive direction, you may want to seek professional help to deal with this situation. Also, encourage your kids to talk with other trusted adults in their life besides you. Honestly, sometimes it’s just hard to talk with your parents about certain things.*

These are complicated times for sure. As parents, our role is to lead—even when our children don’t appreciate the direction and structure we are giving them. A child or teen’s ability to assess their wellbeing is extremely limited due to their prefrontal cortex not being developed. Instead of being intimidated when it comes to doing what you know is in your child’s best interest to help them thrive, let them know that you get how hard this time is and that you are for them. While they may act like they don’t care about being in relationship with you, don’t be fooled. Knowing that you care, love them unconditionally and are there to listen is powerful—and although they may not acknowledge it—rest assured, they notice.

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

They told us we had a moderate chance of severe weather Easter night and to be weather aware. How many times have we heard that and the weather amounted to nothing to write home about?

Many went to sleep thinking if there was severe weather in the area, storm alerts would go off on phones and weather radios. Sadly, between 11 p.m. and midnight, a severe storm turning into an EF3 tornado ravaged our community. Thousands were left without power and hundreds with homes that were either destroyed or uninhabitable until repairs are made.

While we can see the physical devastation from the storm, there is an invisible aftermath. That aftermath is taking its toll on those who lived through the event, especially the children. It reveals itself in different ways depending on the age of the person. 

I have spoken to a number of parents who shared with me that their children are struggling to go to sleep at night. Some say their teenager, who has been totally independent, is now clinging to them and won’t leave their side. Others just seem lost and afraid. I thought it might be helpful to talk about some ways parents can provide comfort for their children as they try and deal with the trauma.

As children try to cope with what they experienced they might feel increased fear and/or anxiety that shows itself in different ways. It may be in the form of tantrums, crying for no apparent reason, acting in ways that seem defiant, not wanting to go to bed by themselves or not wanting to be alone, period. They could become especially clingy, not wanting to leave a parent’s side. 

As parents try to manage repairs and create some sense of “normal” for their family, this behavior could create additional angst for parents.

Here are some things you might find helpful as you seek to help your child process what happened.

Even though you are juggling a lot of things, be intentional about spending focused time with your children. Although their clinginess may get on your nerves, know that sitting in your lap, holding your hand, snuggling up next to you on the couch or in bed are all comforting to children who have experienced trauma.

For your older children, you may see them somewhat withdraw as they try to process what happened. Provide opportunities for open, honest conversation. Answer their questions as best you can. If your teen asks you if you think this could happen again, tell them the truth: It’s possible, but not likely. Consider how old you are and whether or not you have been in the path of a storm like this before. I have lived through a lot of storms, but nothing like the tornado. This helps give perspective to them as they process their experience. 

If you don’t know an answer to a question, say so. You might be able to find the answer together. Or it may just be a question that nobody really knows the answer to.

Where possible, create routines and structure. These two things can help restore a sense of normalcy for your family. People in general thrive on this because it helps them feel more in control (at least to some degree). 

Acknowledge the grieving that is going on and the loss of innocence for young children. In reality, they will never NOT remember this moment in time. Take care in how you talk with them, and assure them of your protective presence. Giving them the opportunity to write, talk and/or draw about what they are feeling and then explain it to you will help them process their emotions.

Playtime is important. Even in the midst of trying to get things done, take time out to do something fun. This can help to decrease anxiety and stress and help the healing process – even for the adults.

Adapting to change in general is often hard for people. It can be unsettling for everyone, especially children, when you are uprooted from your home and have to live somewhere else permanently or until repairs are complete. Don’t assume they grasp what is going on. Talk them through it by explaining it clearly. You might say, “Because of the damage to our home we are going to have to live in another place for a while, or we are going to have to look for a new place to live.”

If this is the only home your children have known, there will probably be some sadness and anxious feelings that you can actually talk about. However, don’t underestimate the calm that this can bring even to a 4-year-old who may not understand everything. Keep it simple and age appropriate. It helps decrease surprises which tend to increase anxiety in children. You might have to have the same conversation a number of times and that’s honestly to be expected. Be patient.

There are some things that are adult topics such as money constraints that children don’t need to know the details about. You can always say, “We can’t do that right now, but I will remember that you asked about that and when things settle down we will talk about it.”

Limit the amount of exposure your children have to the ongoing news, photos on social media and even conversations that you have around them. It is challenging as adults – triple that for children. All of the ongoing exposure keeps them from being able to recalibrate and settle down.

Take care of yourself. You’re probably really tired of hearing that phrase, but let people cook for you, help you clean up, provide food. Let others do anything that will allow you to conserve energy and be there for your children.

As you move forward, remember that every family is different. It’s normal to feel traumatized, have some flashbacks and feel on edge (hyper-vigilant) after something like this. These symptoms usually will subside or at least decrease over the next few weeks. There really is no easy fix. Things will not get better immediately. But paying attention to how you engage with your children, what you allow them to be exposed to and being intentional about talking with them and being physically close to them will bring comfort.

If they are still struggling to adjust over time, don’t be afraid to seek professional help for them. These things are scary, frustrating and hard to manage for us even as adults. Asking for what you need from others can help you get through the challenges you face. At the same time, it will help you be a healthier parent for your kids.

Although we’re in a time of quarantine, there are just certain jobs that can’t be done from home. While it seems everyone else is working remotely, dressed comfortably in their pajamas, curled up on their couch, and eating their oatmeal, some people still have to “go to work,” like we all used to back in the day. 

First of all, to the folks on the front lines dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak head-on, medical professionals, postal workers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, bus drivers, those working IT so Google Meet and Zoom and other remote-work apps don’t crash, first responders, and everyone else who keeps things running out there on the outside so we are all safe and functional – THANK YOU!

Some of you may find yourselves in a situation where you have to leave your children home alone without adult supervision. So how do you handle them being home alone? (Cue little Kevin McCallister, hands to cheeks, mouth gaping open… )

Of course, leaving a 12-year-old home alone and leaving a 17-year-old home alone are two different things. You’ll need to make determinations based on your children’s ages. (Keep in mind that some states have laws concerning at what age and how long kids can be left home alone.) But no matter how old they are, you’ll want to think of two things: safety and boundaries. And you’ll want to have a good, thorough conversation with them about your expectations before they go solo for your peace of mind and for theirs. Some children are hesitant about staying home alone. This conversation can help them be more confident in their ability to stay home alone

Safety 

When thinking about how to keep your kids safe at home when you’re at work, a good mantra to live by is, expect the best but prepare for the worst. This means you need to prepare your kids for the “what ifs” that probably won’t, but could happen. Here are some tips:

  • Be sure to leave your kids with at least one way of contacting you or another adult if you cannot be contacted during your shift. Hopefully, they are able to call you, but if that’s not possible, make sure they know who to call in the event of an emergency. If you don’t have a landline, hopefully, your child has a cell phone. If not, it might be a good idea to purchase a cheap call-and-text-only cell phone with prepaid minutes. You can grab these at pretty much any store, WalMart, Walgreens, some grocery stores even have them. 
  • Make a list of helpful phone numbers including: 911, phone numbers of trusted adults who can help your kids if something comes up and post it in an accessible place. Include your personal phone number and your work number, even if your kids have them memorized – sometimes memory goes out the window if your kids are anxious or scared. Program them into your child’s phone if they are not already and program them into your “house phone.” 
  • If your children will be home for extended periods, you may want to let one or more of your trusted adults or even trusted neighbors know your children will be home alone and ask them to check in periodically. 
  • Establish some regular check-in times. For example, you’ll call them at designated times to check in and make sure everything is okay. Make it a rule that they must answer calls and that an unanswered call would signify an emergency situation. Let them know what the consequences will be for not responding in a timely fashion. Besides your regular, scheduled calls, make some random calls if possible. This is also where neighbors and trusted adults can help out. Explain that check-ins are not because of a lack of trust, but because you love them and care about their safety.  
  • Instruct your kids on what to do in the case of unexpected situations: 
    • There is a fire or the alarm goes off.
    • A delivery person or someone comes to the door.
    • It sounds like someone is trying to get in.
    • The power goes out.
    • A major storm sweeps through.
    • Toilet clogs, water leaks, and other common household problems.
    • Friends know you’re not home and want to come over.
  • Discuss how and when to use 911. What situations warrant a call to you? What situations warrant an immediate call to 911?
  • As you have the in-depth conversation with your child – ask if they have any questions, anything they are afraid of or unsure about. Are there any situations or scenarios that they want clarity on? They might have different concerns than the ones you thought about.
  • Make sure there is enough food in the house that your kids can eat without a lot of preparation. It is also helpful to give them limits on how much they can eat of what. For example – eat all the snack food in this drawer that you want – this is what I have set aside for your lunch or dinner. Please do not touch things on these two shelves in the refrigerator or in the pantry. Set boundaries on appliances they are allowed to use, such as the microwave is permitted, the stove or oven is not. 
  • Take necessary precautions with any medications (prescription or over-the-counter), alcohol, firearms, tobacco, car keys, lighters or matches. Do not assume your teen will make wise choices if they are accessible. Think of “childproofing” your house, but you’re “teen-proofing.” Take items to work with you that you do not want your teen to access, or lock them up.

Boundaries

Taking safety precautions like these helps protect kids from dangerous situations and outside threats when home alone. But what about protecting your kids from themselves? Even older teens still lack that fully-developed prefrontal cortex in the brain that drives good decision-making. This is a biological developmental reality that parents of teens often forget. Their still-developing brains need the parental guardrails of routines, rituals, and consistency. In a word – boundaries.

Keep in mind, during this unique time, your kids are probably nervous, bored, stir-crazy, cabin-fevered, and hurting for some social time with friends. They might be a little “different” during this time than the teen you are used to. 

Some things to consider when forming boundaries for kids at home:

  • Consider how you’ll handle the issue of your kids’ friends coming over to your house. Besides it being a health risk (why we are quarantining in the first place), kids are generally less apt to respect your rules when their friends are there and you’re not. Whatever you decide, be firm. You are the parent.
  • Establish some boundaries with technology while you’re away. 
    • Internet/Gaming/TV Rules: This is a great time to revisit the parental controls on gaming consoles, televisions, cellphones, and other electronic devices. There are some great ideas here. You might need to consider using monitoring or parental control software to help curb temptations for your kids.
  • One of the best things you can do to keep your child safe is to keep them busy – I mean productive! Make sure before you leave for work, they know what school work needs to be completed, what chores need to be done, how many pages they need to have read in a book, any fun or creative activities that you would like them to do. Then keep them accountable when you get home. Try your best to establish schedules, checklists, and routines for their day. This is what your “check-in” phone calls will be checking in on.

 Keep in mind that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. 

You have to have some dos to go with all the don’ts. If you continue to build your relationship with your kids in healthy ways when you are home – quality time, conversation, meaningful connection – it greatly increases the chances that they’ll respect your rules and stay safe when you aren’t home

*For more parenting resources, including COVID-19 specific resources, go to Firstthings.org.

I’M BORED, MOM! These are words that most adults despise hearing from the kids in their lives. That statement is usually met with, “How can you be bored?” Kids have games, books, iPods, gaming systems. You can’t be bored

Cue speech: “One of the things wrong with today’s generation is that they have No Imagination…”

Guess what? Now, I’M BORED. I have a lot more empathy and understanding for today’s generation. I’m feeling it, too.  Since being quarantined, I have cleaned, organized, read, crafted, DIYed, Netflixed, and Hulu-ed. I can’t think of anything else to do. I’m so bored. Now what?

1 . Get Creative

It may not be easy to come up with ideas. There is a plethora of classes to take online and new things to learn to do. Once you have looked around the Web, sit down and write a list of things you may want to learn how to do. Your list may look like this –

 I want to:

  • Learn Italian.
  • Learn to bake a Cheesecake.
  • Learn how to dance Salsa.
  • Learn to Draw/Paint.
  • Learn how to make a container garden.

2. Connect With Others

Whether you are a person who is dying because of social distancing or you are a person who has enjoyed the time to slow down, staying in touch with those you do life with can be a key to keeping boredom away. There are many ways to reach out and/or stay connected with people.

Some ways include:

  • Writing a letter to a friend — tell them what you like about them, why you miss being around them, what fun things you can do together once this is over.
  • Have a Virtual Brunch or a Virtual Happy Hour on video chat. 
  • Make a homemade card and mail to those you care about.
  • Have a Virtual Dance Party.

3. Practice Gratitude

Seeking gratitude and thankfulness will help you appreciate what you have. I love the memes that remind me: “I’m not STUCK at HOME, but I AM SAFE AT HOME.” That statement reinforces to me that I have options and opportunities where others may not. Make a list of everything that you are thankful for or list five things at the end of each day.

I can now see why kids say, “I’m Bored!” But I’ve learned that boredom is neither a fact or fiction, but rather, a choice of my perspective

I chose NOT to be bored.

School is out! Many of us are working from home and now we are homeschool teachers. But my “students” want to eat all the time! They think the kitchen is a 24/7 restaurant… and they don’t tip! Any other parents struggling with this? If they keep going at this rate then we will be out of food in a couple of days. So what do we do?

Enter the superhero wife! My wife is a rockstar. Yesterday she sat down and made a plan to save our food and get the kids to be a bigger part of household chores. Don’t get me wrong, our kids contribute, but they are seven and four so their contribution around the house is limited to what they can do. During this time when we are all home, things just have to look different and that’s okay. 

So this is what we came up with. We made a list of things that our kids can do around the house like making their bed, sweeping rooms, unloading the dishwasher, reading for 30 minutes (outside of their school reading), exercising (again, outside of school exercise), and so on. Each item on this list will earn them money… no, not real money! My son has some fake money to learn to count with. 

Then we made a list of snacks and food items that they love to eat. We attached prices to these items and portioned them out. The healthier the food, the cheaper the price. Oranges are $2, whereas candy is $80. And you know what? The kids love this idea! They are looking for ways to earn money so they can save up for the sweet stuff.

To keep with their regular schedules, they have their normal breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and dinner, but if they want to eat between these times then they have to do things to earn money to buy more food. This is helping us keep a routine similar to their normal school schedule which helps keep their sanity and ours.

These times are different and how we handle them may look different than normal. Get creative and make your kids part of the process. Let them speak into what you all are doing in the house. You are a family and you are in this together. This time may be stressful but we have an opportunity to make great memories! 
*For more parenting resources, including COVID-19 specific resources, go to Firstthings.org.

When I was 6, I was shopping with my mom when my eyes landed on what I thought was very cool Christmas tape. I told my mom I needed that tape. She said no. I took matters into my own hands and slipped two tape rolls into my jacket pocket.

When we got home, I went straight to my room and started playing with the tape. It didn’t take long for Mom to notice the silence. I vividly remember her knocking on the door and asking me what I was doing. At that moment sheer panic set in because I knew I would be in trouble. I tried to take up as much of the tape as possible before she actually opened the door.

She walked in the room, saw the tape and asked me where I got it, knowing full well where it came from. She didn’t say much more, except these words: “Get in the car.” I knew for sure I was in big trouble. I thought maybe she was taking me to the police station, but we actually returned to the store. We walked in and she asked for the manager. 

She asked me to tell him what I had done. Through tears I explained that I thought the tape was beautiful and when my mom wouldn’t buy it for me, I just took it. I told him I knew it was wrong and apologized. My mom paid him for the tape and then I paid my mom back for the tape with my measly allowance over a period of weeks.

Back then I thought my mom was the meanest mom on the planet, but I have never forgotten that day. 

Fast forward to middle school when I “knew” how smart I was. I wanted to decide for myself when to go to bed, how long I talked on the phone, what chores I would or would not do. They didn’t buy it, not for one second. Again, I knew I had the most unloving parents on the planet, because if they really loved me they would let me do what I wanted to do.

What I didn’t know then, but know now, is they really were loving me.

If you have raised children or you are in the midst of raising children, you know that children, especially the strong-willed ones, will challenge you at every turn. You will hear things come out of their mouths you thought you would never hear: 

“I hate you.” 

“You’re a terrible excuse for a parent.” 

“Who died and made you the boss?” 

“Why do you have to make my life so miserable?” 

“Why couldn’t I be so and so’s child? They really know how to parent.” 

Those words can be painful and cause you to question your parenting skills and whether or not you really are loving them well. But how do your children really know that you love them? Maybe a better question is, what do children need from their parents in order to thrive?

First, children need routines, rituals, consistency and structure. We aren’t talking bootcamp, but we are talking about a routine that children can count on – consistent rules and structure in which they can safely operate.

Kids also need loving accountability. I 100% knew I was going to be in trouble when my mom found out I took that tape because telling the truth and not taking things that don’t belong to us had been drilled into my head for as long as I could remember, but that didn’t stop me from doing the wrong thing. Holding me accountable, standing with me as I told the manager what I had done, and requiring me to pay her back were actually all ways of loving me. She didn’t remind me of my transgression throughout my life. In fact, I really don’t remember her bringing it up again, but I assure you, I have never stolen another thing. It was a safe place to make mistakes and to learn and grow.

Additionally, your child needs you to have the right perspective and know that you are steady. With age, children typically become smarter than their parents, or so they believe. There is an age and stage where you could say the sky is blue and they would tell you it’s not. They know how to navigate the latest and greatest technology and they’re growing like crazy. If you didn’t know their age, you would swear some of them were much older. As parents, remembering exactly how old they are and no matter how smart they seem, recognizing that they only know what a 12 or 14-year-old would know helps you keep perspective and stay the course as the parent.

Many tweens, when left to their own devices (literally), would play video games all night, eat whatever whenever, forget studying and blame everybody else as their life is falling apart. My point is this: They don’t know what they don’t know. It really isn’t their job to like us at this point. They are in the process of figuring out how to do life, but they aren’t quite mature enough to do it on their own yet. Being the parent that doesn’t get incredibly emotional, yet is steady, consistent and supportive during this maturation process is powerful and loving.

In all of these things, holding your child accountable and requiring them to be responsible for their actions is sometimes one of the most painful ways you show love to your children. For them, it doesn’t usually feel very loving in the moment or even after the moment. Sometimes it even takes years for them to realize how loving and painful it was for you as the parent. 

As a parent, you hurt when your child hurts, but ultimately you know that letting them experience what it looks and feels like to be held accountable and take responsibility ultimately builds their self-confidence and helps them learn for the future when they are navigating life on their own.

Keep them safe. When your toddler wants to put their finger in an electrical socket and they throw a huge tantrum when you move them away, it wouldn’t matter how much they cried and carried on, you would be confident in your efforts to keep them safe. As they get older, they throw tantrums in different ways and sometimes we become less confident in our parenting skills and we may wonder whether or not we are loving them well. 

One of the most loving things you can do for you and your child is not to look to them for affirmation that you are loving them well, because it may not seem that way to them. Know this: The parenting journey is full of adventure and sometimes insecurity. Find some people who are ahead of you on the journey who can encourage you and support you in the good and challenging times.  

Last, but definitely not least, tell your child you love them. When things are going great, when things are hard, when they are least lovable or when all they want to do is sit in your lap, tell them you love them. 

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 29, 2020.

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

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.

I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

“What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

“The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

A World Turned Upside Down

Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say – so she never said anything at all.

As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

I had questions:  

  • “Would we have to move?”
  • “How would I afford college?”
  • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
  • “What will my friends think of me?”
  • “Why me?”

I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

“Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

“Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

Teens Need a Strong Support System

In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

“Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

“Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give ‘permission’ to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

  • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
  • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
  • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
  • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
  • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
  • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

“Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them. 

For many years social scientists have been warning society about the cost of family fragmentation. There have been ongoing discussions concerning the impact on children and adults emotionally, educationally, economically, physically and in other areas of life. A 2008 report reveals the economic cost of family fragmentation to taxpayers.

According to The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing, by the Institute for American Values, The Georgia Family Council, The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest, divorce and unwed childbearing conservatively cost taxpayers $122 billion annually. The costs are due to:

  • Increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty,
  • Criminal justice and education programs, and
  • Lower levels of tax revenue from those negatively affected by family fragmentation and increased childhood poverty.

“In 1970 the number of children residing in two-parent families was 85 percent,” said Dr. Ben Scafidi, principal investigator for the report. “In 2005, only 68.3 percent of children reside in two-parent families. This is a dramatic decrease over a short amount of time. Clearly we are seeing the impact.”

Long-standing research shows the potential risks to children from broken homes include:

  • Poverty,
  • Mental illness,
  • Physical illness,
  • Infant mortality,
  • Lower educational attainment,
  • Juvenile delinquency,
  • Conduct disorders,
  • Adult criminality, and
  • Early unwed parenthood.

“This report isn’t just about the money; we are talking about real people and real suffering,” said Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council. “The economic and human costs make family fragmentation a legitimate public concern for all of us. Historically, Americans have resisted the impulse to surrender to negative and hurtful trends. We fight problems like racism, poverty and domestic violence because we understand the stakes are high. And while we’ll never eliminate divorce and unwed childbearing entirely, we can certainly be doing more to help marriages and families succeed.”

The 2008 report sponsors say this is not a slam toward divorced people or single parents. It is purely providing information that we have never had before, and it could be an opportunity for communities to take grassroots prevention efforts to the next level.

So what can YOU do?

  • If you have a teen, encourage them to participate in healthy relationship skills class.
  • If you’re engaged, participate in skill-building classes that teach you how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage.
  • If you’re in a healthy, long-lasting marriage, encourage newlyweds and offer wisdom along their journey.
  • If you belong to a religious organization, look for ways to engage couples and families in ongoing programming that seeks to meet them where they are and give them skills, hope, words of encouragement and a network from which to draw strength in tough times.
  • If you’re in a business setting, make sure your employees know about community resources and encourage them to take advantage what is available.
  • If your marriage is in trouble or distress, seek help.

It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The report states that a 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.1 billion annually. This doesn’t even take into account the heartache and emotional upheaval that could potentially be prevented if this report is seen as a call to action to the people of our country.