By Lisa Cossey – Courier & Press – June 30, 2015 –   In a perfect world, all marriages would have the “happily ever after” promised in fairy tales. Unfortunately, in the real world, some marriages end in divorce. For families in this situation the divorce may end the marriage, but it does not end the need to raise children together.

Some couples have no issues co-parenting beyond divorce; others have great challenges. For couples who are struggling, there are several things to consider when determining the best way to communicate.

First and foremost, it is helpful to remember to love your child more than you dislike your former spouse. Young children will continue to grow and have birthday parties, holidays, extracurricular activities, graduations, weddings, births of their own children, etc. On all of these occasions for years beyond the divorce, you will most likely have to interact with your former spouse. So why not set a good foundation for communication?

In addition to making your life smoother, parents who are able to communicate and interact well with one another set a good example when the children see parents working together. Remember, you are modeling appropriate communication and behavior for your children; therefore, respectful interactions are key. Some situations can be emotionally charged, and if you find it is too difficult to interact with your former spouse, reframe your thinking about the situation.

The marriage and personal relationship have ended, so think of the relationship now as a business partnership. When communicating, focus on the children and set a matter-of-fact tone using appropriate language. Make requests of your former spouse; don’t make demands.

In addition to showing respect for one another in front of the children, make sure you are respectful when the other parent isn’t around. The two parents may no longer love each other, but the children love both parents. Placing them in the middle to listen to negativity or complaints about the other parent only hurts the children.

Avoid making your child the messenger. This only puts unnecessary stress and pressure on the child. Boundaries should be set and maintained. Let the children be children. Don’t burden them with the adult responsibility of communication between parents.

If communication between parents in person or by phone is something that cannot be managed, email or texting are other options to consider. When using these methods, remember to keep the tone professional and stick to the topic to be addressed.

If you receive an emotional or heated email or text, give yourself a calming period and wait at least an hour before responding. This time allows you to compose your thoughts and rationally respond instead of sending a heated message back, adding fuel to the fire. Remember, you can only control yourself and your responses, so maintain focus on your own behavior and communication.

For parents who absolutely cannot communicate without a breakdown, there are resources available to make necessary communication easier and tolerable. Websites such as and help divorced families with interactions. At, families can create their own family calendar to manage visitation, scheduling of events, and communication between parents.

Healthy marriages and family life are what we strive for. But if “happily ever after” did not work out, consider these options when communicating and building your family life after divorce.

By Katie Omohundro, Courier & Press, June 23, 2015 – Are you thinking about getting your child her first cellphone? Or perhaps you have a child that is already too attached to their electronic device.

Cellphones are a great way to stay in touch with your child; however, there are certainly some challenges that go along with extending this privilege. To help manage these challenges, you might consider having your child sign a cellphone contract.

According to research from the National Consumers League, around 50 percent of “tweens” (kids between the ages of 8 and 12) have cellphones that range from standard, basic phones with no texting or web access to smartphones with limitless possibilities.

How do you know your tween is ready for a phone? Answering a few questions can help you decide.

  • Why does your tween want a cellphone?
  • Does your tween show responsibility and self-discipline in other areas such as school, chores, and sports?
  • Does your tween lose important objects?
  • How much does your tween know about appropriate phone use?

I once read that when teaching children to ride a bike, we don’t start them off with the top-of-the-line 10-speed without training wheels. The same should apply when giving your child their first cellphone.

Once you’ve decided it’s time for your child to have a phone, it’s important to set boundaries. Here are some example items for a contract between you and your child when it comes to cellphone usage:

1. Responsibilities:

  • My parents will know the passwords on my phone. I understand they have the right to look at my phone any time they ask.
  • I will always answer calls from my parents. If I miss a call from them, I will call back immediately.
  • I will keep the phone charged at all times.
  • I will show my parents any harassing phone calls or texts, including those from unknown people.
  • I will hand my phone to one of my parents promptly at ____ p.m. every school night and every weekend night at ____ p.m. I will get the phone back at ____ a.m.

2. Behavior:

  • I understand my behavior on my phone can affect my future reputation. I will not engage in sexting, spreading rumors, or hateful conversations. If my friends try to get me to engage in this behavior, I will show my parents the phone immediately.
  • When I am old enough, I will not text and drive. I know this is very dangerous.
  • I will use good cellphone manners. I will not text when in the company of friends and family. I will turn off my phone (or put it on vibrate) while at the movies, at dinner, or in public.

3. Consequences — The cellphone will be taken away for any of the following:

  • Homework not completed
  • Chores left unfinished
  • Cellphone use at school
  • Ignoring people to be on the phone in public

The best way to get buy-in for the contract is to model the same behavior for your personal cellphone usage. If you text while driving or use your phone late at night, how can you expect your child to behave differently?

Lastly, remember that as a parent, you are the owner of the cellphone your child uses. If your child is not following the contract, the phone should be taken away. After all, you love your child and want the best for them.

by Tiffany Austin, Courier & Press, June 16, 2015 –

When it comes to summer fun, many parents find themselves searching for things that will keep their children happy, busy and interested. Good news! There are plenty of enjoyable and inexpensive activities out there.

Here are some ideas to help parents start an interest list of enjoyable, affordable fun.

First, think “traditional fun.” As parents, we sometimes overthink what would be enjoyable for our child. Sometimes giving your child simple toys like a hula hoop, sidewalk chalk, jump rope, board game or bubbles can go a long way. These inexpensive items can keep your child happy for hours.

Next, take “traditional fun” to the next level. Fill a kiddie pool with water and dish soap and use a hula hoop to make huge bubbles. Use a jump rope for a competitive game of limbo or tug of war. Allow your child to have a game, movie or glamour night with friends. Go for a bike ride along the river instead of around the block. Take lunches to a local park for a picnic. Use a pool noodle to hit floating balloons, or use green, red, blue and yellow spray paint on the grass to make an outdoor Twister board. There are limitless possibilities!

Cool down outdoor fun by adding water to your child’s play. Play a batting game and use water balloons in place of a ball, use a sprinkler during any outdoor game, or begin a water war by using spray bottles, water balloons, etc. as a safe and creative way to drench the opposing team.

At night, take the fun outside. Use a flashlight for a nighttime scavenger hunt. Float glow sticks in the pool for a nighttime swim, or open up a few glow sticks and add the inner liquid to a bottle of bubbles. You can also place glow liquid inside balloons, blow them up and grab a water noodle for some outdoor glow batting fun.

Lastly, if you and your child choose to go to local events, facilities, or attractions, remember there are ways to save on these activities. Take a good report card to a local participating ice cream shop, restaurant, or game center (for example, Chuck E. Cheese) to redeem for free or discounted items/tokens.

Try to visit local establishments on a family night. These nights are offered at some restaurants, local health facilities (like the YMCA), skating rinks and community pools to allow the usage of the facilities at a discounted rate.

In addition, public libraries offer free kid-friendly activities and summer reading programs. As a reward for reaching certain reading milestones during the program, children are usually offered free coupons to take to local businesses to redeem for treats and activities. Also keep in mind websites or apps like Groupon offer meals, items, and tickets to attractions at a discounted price.

These helpful tips can help any parent get started with some safe, inexpensive summer fun ideas for their child. For additional summer fun ideas, search online or use specific websites/apps like Pinterest. Remember, creativity, time, and love go a long way toward helping your child have a fun and memorable summer!

By Parri O. Black, Courier & Press, June 10, 2015 –

Sadly, in nearly every high school, there are invisible kids sitting in classrooms and wandering the halls. In the magical world of super heroes, invisibility is a powerful weapon, but in the real world of everyday teens, it’s often an unperceived sign of trouble.

Recently, a friend joined me to watch students graduate from a Youth First program for teens who are at risk of dropping out of school. They were a diverse group of young people struggling with all sorts of challenges, including difficult home lives, depression, anger, anxiety, substance abuse, and much more. Some were teen moms; others had parents in prison.

My friend, who is just a few years older than the program’s graduates, shared her dismay, saying: “I never saw these kids when I was in high school.”

They were there, but to her, they were invisible. That’s because her sights were set on succeeding in school and in life. She had her own set of problems, but she also had three key assets that every child needs and deserves:

  • Caring adults (preferably parents) who love and support them
  • Dreams and goals for the future
  • Resiliency or the skills to bounce back from adversity

Youth who are raised without these resources face lots of hardships and cause lots of heartache. They become victims of abuse, bullies, school dropouts, unemployable, homeless, addicts, criminals, prison inmates, and those who kill or die as a result of their behaviors.

If we overlook these kids, we become part of the problem, but if we open our eyes, we can become part of the solution. It pays to pay attention to the children around us and make sure they have the support they need. If it’s not a parent or another relative, caring adults in a child’s life can be a teacher, mentor, counselor, minister, neighbor, or friend.

Youth First’s School Social Workers often meet that need. They help motivate students to focus on the future and set goals to achieve their dreams. They also help kids develop coping, communication, and social skills to navigate life’s inevitable challenges.

Unfortunately, when school is out during the summer, many kids are also without a positive role model. Mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters ( or similar programs provide invaluable support for vulnerable youngsters, and there is always a need for more adults who are willing to give a little of their time and attention to a child.

Removing a teen’s well-worn “cloak of invisibility” can sometimes require some specific skill sets. By that age, the problems often seem insurmountable, but as my friend witnessed at the Youth First graduation, given the right kind of support, troubled teens can step into the spotlight and connect to a brighter future.

You can see for yourself by taking the blinders off and volunteering to help a school, church, or community organization devoted to healthy youth development. Caring adults who recognize the invisible kids are true super heroes.

by Callie Sanders, Courier & Press, June 2, 2015 –

Youth First uses the “Why Try” program in area schools to teach resiliency, respect for self and others, and everyday success. Many of the lessons from this program can be carried forward and applied to daily living.

Students receive knowledge and tools that will help them handle stress and cope with difficult situations and differences in others. More importantly, class members create a bond and know they are not alone.

One lesson that usually resonates with students is “Tearing Off Labels.” Canned goods are used to draw an analogy that everyone is labeled. We discuss how some labels are good and some are bad.

In a group setting, students usually do a wonderful job identifying positive and negative labels. Further discussion identifies strategies to receive and keep positive labels as well as skills that can be used to overcome negative ones. Students are given the freedom to choose which label they prefer. They are also challenged to remain open and “not judge a book by its cover” when it comes to differences in others.

The “Why Try” program encourages self-efficacy. Self-efficacy has been defined as one’s belief in his/her ability to succeed in certain situations.

Class members are encouraged to look inward and focus on the “Real Me” through a series of thought provoking questions:

  • What do I like about myself?
  • What do others like about me?
  • What have I accomplished?
  • What are my strengths, goals and dreams?
  • If I had to label myself, what would the label be?

Answers must be positive, and group members are asked to answer questions honestly. This task can be daunting for students with low self-esteem and those who choose to hang on to negative labels.

Therefore, the concept of “self-talk” is introduced. Students begin to understand the power in our thoughts. Are their thoughts positive or negative? They learn that how we view ourselves has a direct correlation to how we treat ourselves and others.

The lesson also teaches four proactive steps to get rid of labels:

  • Stop living up to your label. Prove your label wrong!
  • Remember, it is easy to prove that your label is true; just keep doing the same things.
  • Your label is from the past. Today you either need to keep it or start tearing it off.
  • Let the “Real Me” out so much that past negative labels must be torn off.

These four proactive steps encourage students to use the techniques learned to help face everyday challenges they deal with personally and inter-personally.

Improved self-esteem is a catalyst for better behavior, which can lead to tearing off negative labels and promoting positives ones. The goal is to motivate students to accept themselves and others. I encourage students to embrace their individuality and to not be afraid to embrace others and their differences.

Why try? There is always room for personal growth even when others remain stagnant and hold on to their labels. Never give up!