First Things First CEO says 10 minutes a day can change a child’s life

Photo by Robin Rudd / Lauren Hall, CEO of First Things First
Photo by Robin Rudd / Lauren Hall, CEO of First Things First

Chattanooga families don't have to travel very far to find quality children's activities. The city itself is a wonderland for parents and their little ones.

Lauren Hall, CEO of the 25-year-old family advocacy group First Things First, says outings that promote togetherness are the glue that helps hold families together. Local research shows that Chattanooga parents feel time-deprived, but broader studies show it only takes a few minutes a day to cement the child-parent bond.

After years in a support role, Hall, a graduate of Southern Adventist University, took the leadership position at First Things First in late 2021. The group, with a staff of 13, is funded through family foundations, individual donors, corporate sponsors and churches. Hall also writes a column in the Life section of the Sunday Times Free Press.

Here, Hall shares tips for strengthening all your significant relationships, whether you're dating or married with children.

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Chatter Magazine: What's your impression of Chattanooga as a family-oriented city?

Lauren Hall: I think Chattanooga is one of the best places to raise children. My husband and I have had opportunities to move, and we refuse because of that. Everything is so close together [here] so you don't have to travel far.

The fact we have the Creative Discovery Museum and access to an aquarium ... it takes the pressure out of the question: "What are we going to do with the kids?" All the parks are free. There are lots of hiking trails to go on. There is so much here in the heart of the city.

There are day trips closeby, too. If you want to go to Dollywood, it's a two-hour drive. If you want to go to Atlanta -- to the Coke museum -- it's only an hour and a half.

There are a lot of fun, free events in our city, as well: free family movie nights, fun stuff you can do on the riverfront almost every weekend. ... Or you can explore a new playground -- there are so many to choose from.

Chatter: How important is family time to maintaining a good marriage and keeping a good bond with your kids?

Hall: It's pivotal. We hosted a free Fall Family Festival last October in Miller Park. It was a five-hour event. There were food trucks and activities for families to do fun stuff together. We surveyed over 200 families and asked them [to name] the biggest parenting challenge [they] face today. Over 60% of them said, "Not enough time to spend with [their] kids."

We took that to heart. ... There was a study released in 2021 that said when children spend 10 minutes a day of quality time with their parents, it increases their emotional and mental wellbeing and their confidence level. Only 10 minutes.

The real way to define quality time is to let your child lead what you are doing. That goes across all ages from 2 years old to 18. Tell your child, "I have 10 minutes while this pizza is in the oven. And I want to do something with you. What are we doing?" You could sing a song together. You could ask each other questions. If they say they want to watch a show, just be there with them, and talk to them about it. It's just about you being focused on your child and taking interest in whatever they want to do.

Chatter: It's clear that First Things First is serving three populations; the dating population, the married population and the parent population. Tell us about that strategy.

Hall: We provide resources that guide people in their relationships so they can lead better lives. Where they are in those relationships could be learning how to find a spouse, or trying to find out if the person they are in a relationship with is the right one. Or, how are they going to prepare for the rest of their lives together. Or, it's keeping the marriage strong if you've been married 25 years. Or with parenting, how do you connect with your child and create that safe environment for them. Security and connection are part of who we are.

Chatter: What guidance would you give people dating in 2023?

Hall: Connections don't happen organically any more. People are meeting online. A really big trend is waiting until later in life to become committed. Younger generations are coming into marriage with more baggage because they have spent more time dating ... and sometimes have the scars to prove it.

Maybe they've been cheated on a few times or they have lost trust with the person they are with. All of those things you can go through in a dating relationship. It shapes the way you are as a person. It effects the way you communicate and handle conflict. Some people don't realize this until they sit down and take a course.

Chatter: What are you doing to support married people?

Hall: We just wrapped up a new strategic plan. For the next three years, we are focusing on low-income and at-risk families. In our vision statement, we say every family should have healthy relationship skills to pass down from generation to generation. ... We want to make sure our programs and services are accessible. ... In 2019, we had over 300 couples take our "Preparing for Marriage" class. Last year, we had over 500 couples.

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