Mobile Toggle
btn-shop-fathersourcehomepage-btnbrn-free-resources
rsstwfbenews

The Father Factor

subpage-image

Christopher A. Brown

Chris is President of National Fatherhood Initiative. He is married to Kayla, has two teenage daughters and lives in Texas.
Find me on:

Recent Posts

What Parents Should Really Fear

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

In my last post in this blog, I asked parents to identify the top three things they most fear and to rate their level of fear for each one. I then described a study of parents that identified the top 10 fears that most parents have for their children and asked parents how their fears mapped to those top fears.

what_parents_really_should_fear_12092014I made the point that many fears of parents are unfounded. I then laid out six steps that help parents determine whether the fears they identified are ones they should be worried about. Central to these steps is taking the time to examine the evidence for the prevalence of poor outcomes for children related to parents' fears. If a parent fears, for example, that his or her child will drown, the parent should locate data on the prevalence of drowning for children of his or her child's age. I pointed parents to several excellent sources for data on children's health that they could use to examine the evidence.

One of these sources for evidence is the non-profit Child Trends. As luck would have it, Natalia Pane, a Child Trends research scientist and statistician, read my post and sent me an email to draw my attention to a book she's written called The Worry Clock: A Parent's Guide to Worrying Smarter about The Real Dangers to Your Child. I checked it out and realized what a great resource it is for parents. So I asked Natalia whether I could write a follow-up post to draw wider attention to the book, and she gave me her blessing.

I really appreciate when really smart scientists make their research easy to understand using stories, concepts, and analogies. Natalia uses the concept of the Worry Clock to illustrate how much parents should worry about dangers to their children. Specifically, she focuses on the ultimate fear for a parent -- his or her child's death. She uses the Worry Clock to present the data on the leading causes of death for children in different age groups. As a result, there is a Worry Clock for each age group. As Natalia describes it, the Worry Clocks are:

Sixty-minute clocks that present the most common causes of death and their relative importance, based on frequency of death. The idea is that if you are going to worry for one hour, the clock presents the amount of time you might spend on each cause of death, if you were to follow the actual data. For example, if car accidents account for half of all possible ways children die, then the Worry Clock would suggest spending half of the hour -- thirty minutes -- worrying about car accidents.

If you have an infant, for example, you should worry most about suffocation and strangulation (27 minutes). Your next most significant worry should be about homicide (14 minutes). Other causes of death shouldn't worry you much as no other cause represents more than six minutes in the Worry Clock for Infants.

I highly encourage you to read the book. It provides great insights, including:

  • Parents should think twice about where an infant sleeps.
  • A baby's inconsolable crying is common, but it is also a frequent cause of homicide, the second-leading killer of infants.
  • Drowning in a home pool is particularly dangerous for toddler boys.
  • Electrical outlets are less deadly than most parents probably believe.
  • One out of every six preventable deaths throughout childhood is gun-related.
  • Teenage driving is the most significant worry across a child's life.

Perhaps most importantly, Natalia provides practical advice, based on evidence and common sense, for how parents can protect their children from the leading causes of death in each age group. That's another thing I really appreciate -- when scientists help people apply research in practical ways. Bravo, Natalia!

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Office of Child Support Wants Your Input

When it comes to father involvement, one of the most significant pieces of child support legislation ever could soon be implemented by the federal government. Does your organization work closely with dads and parents who owe child support? If so, you have a chance to positively affect those dads, parents, and their children. 

office-of-child-support-wants-your-helpThe latest issue of the Office of Child Support Enforcement's Child Support Report describes 6 areas of the legislation that are part of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (Public Law 113-183) and that will  affect the federal child support program. The most significant of the the areas in terms of father involvement is Section 303: Sense of the Congress Regarding Offering of Voluntary Parenting Time Arrangements. It reads:

Congress finds that:

  1. establishing parenting time arrangements when obtaining child support orders is an important goal that should be accompanied by strong family violence safeguards; and
  2. states should use existing funding sources to support the establishment of parenting time arrangements, including child support incentives, Access and Visitation grants, and Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood grants.

As such, this legislation could pave the way for additional funding for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood grants at the state level and for father involvement work within programs focused on access and visitation.  

The federal government wants to hear from you on this legislation that they'll consider in issuing a report on the legislation to Congress. I encourage you to support this legislation and to provide additional feedback, such as more funding to expand states' efforts to not only establish parenting time arrangements but also to help parents be better parents through parenting education. You can review the process for providing feedback here.

What, exactly, is a parenting time arrangement? It's an agreement (sometimes called a parenting time order) that clearly defines how and when a child will spend time with his or her never married, separated, or divorced parents. These agreements are often included in a broader parenting or access and visitation plan that describes custody arrangements and other agreements between parents. These agreements have been around for some time. Many state governments and court systems have procedures, guidelines, and laws in place for establishing and enforcing such arrangements. (For examples, see the guidelines and laws in Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas.) Most guidelines and laws include consider the impact of domestic violence on such arrangements. In cases where parents can't agree on an arrangement, some state courts have enforceable minimum standards that ensure both parents spend some time with their children. (For an example, see the minimum parenting time standards in Utah.)

This federal legislation could give state governments and court systems that are behind the curve on this issue the push they need to be more progressive. But when it comes to states that already have strong procedures, guidelines, or laws in place--and that are already using funds to support such arrangements through, for example, access and visitation programs--the impact of this legislation could be more symbolic than practical. Before you provide feedback, I encourage you to become familiar with parenting time guidelines in laws in your state or county--and the impact of domestic violence on them--so that you will understand the potential impact this legislation could have on the dads and families you serve. You should also think about what would help your organization reach and help more fathers to be invovled in their children's lives. 

Regardless of whether this legislation is more symbolic or practical when it comes to your work and that of your organization, I hope you'll agree that even a symbolic gesture on the part of the federal government is better than nothing at all.

6 Steps to Deal with Fears for Your Children

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

What frightens you the most as a parent when it comes to your children's health? Before you read any further, take a few minutes to write down your top three fears using a broad definition of health that includes physical, social and emotional health. Then, rate your level of fear for each one on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being "not fearful at all" and 10 being "very fearful."

fear_dad_11172014
What I fear most is that my children will get in a horrible accident that will change their life for the worse or even end it. When my younger daughter Jillian was 2 years old, we were playing on the living room floor with Daizy, a Labrador-Greyhound mix we had rescued from the pound only days before. This get-to-know-you play session suddenly turned into one of my scariest parenting moments. As Daizy laid down to rest in front of me, Jillian scurried around my back and, in coming around to the front of me, startled Daizy. Daizy lept up and accidentally swiped Jillian's face with her paw. For a moment, it seemed nothing was wrong because Jillian's only reaction was to close her eyes and look stunned. But then, the blood started flowing down her face -- appearing to originate from one of her eyes -- and she began to cry and scream.

After a moment of indecision, I quickly removed my shirt and placed it over her face. Fortunately, a couple of EMTs lived two houses down from us. I grabbed Jillian and ran over to their home and, as I ran, prayed they were home. I knocked on the door and, thank God, both of them were home. I explained what happened and partially removed my shirt from Jillian's face so they could assess the injury. The blood started to flow once more. I reapplied my shirt until one of the EMTs wrapped Jillian's head in so much gauze it looked as though she was wearing a turban that had slid down her face.

By this time, I feared the worst -- Daizy has slashed Jillian's eye and she'd have permanent damage. Being EMTs, my neighbors assured me that they had seen much worse and not to jump to conclusions. One of them rushed us to the nearest hospital for treatment. Fortunately, Daizy had only caused a gash above Jillian's eye and slightly scratched the inside of her eyelid. The eye itself was unharmed.

I'm generally not a fearful parent. Even though I fear accidents the most, I rarely think about whether they might happen. But every once in a while, the scar that Jillian still has from that awful day reminds me how much I love my children and don't want any harm to come to them.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national poll on parents' top health concerns. The 2014 poll asked parents to rate how big of a problem 26 health concerns are for children and teens in their community and, separately, for children and teens across the country. They rated each concern as a "big problem," "somewhat of a problem," or "not a problem." The survey is a kind of proxy for what parents fear when it comes to children's health.

According to the 2014 poll, the following eight concerns appeared in the top 10 concerns on both lists:

  • Childhood obesity
  • Bullying
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug/substance abuse
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Internet safety
  • Teen pregnancy

Childhood obesity topped both lists, with the others in each list ranking differently in terms of level of concern.

Now, look at the list of your top three fears. Are they included in the list of eight above?

A much more important question is whether your level of fear for each fear is founded. (That's why I asked you to rate your level of fear.) Fears have a nasty way of working behind the scenes to cause stress and guide our behavior in unproductive and sometimes destructive ways. Parents' fears can cause a ton of stress and lead to behavior that damages their relationships with their children. As I wrote in my last post, parents these days are particularly vulnerable to over-protecting and controlling their children's lives. This behavior results from fears (and concerns) they have that, in many cases, are unfounded.

Follow these steps to determine whether any or all of your fears are founded.

  1. Prepare to be wrong. Recognize that you might not need to be as fearful and maybe don't need to be fearful at all. Most people are overconfident in their views. If you won't entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, there's no reason to take another step.
  2. Step back and separate from the fears. Get some distance from your emotions so that you can objectively assess your fears.
  3. Examine the evidence from a broad perspective. Conduct some research on the prevalence in the broader population of the issues underlying your fears. Use reputable, objective sources and not ones that will simply confirm your fears. (To get you started, I provide a list of relevant sources at the end of this post.) Based on what you learn, how do the issues underlying your fears stack up against the data on prevalence of those issues?
  4. Examine the evidence from a narrow perspective. How prevalent are the issues in your community? Your community might differ markedly from the general population. The sources you used in Step 3 might have data on your community, but you might have to find similar sources at the state or county level (e.g. your state or city health department). How do the issues stack up against the data in your community? Even if you've lived in your community for a long time -- maybe your entire life -- you might be surprised how little you know about the prevalence of issues in your own backyard.
  5. Examine recent exposure to events and information that could create biases that support your fears. Has anything happened in your family, friends' families, or community related to your fears? Have you heard a lot recently in the news about incidents related to the issues underlying your fears? Have you been watching movies or television focused on your fears? If you answered yes to any of those questions, consider whether that exposure reflects reality in terms of prevalence of the issues underlying your fears. Realize that you could suffer from the availability bias in which people rely on recent exposure to specific events and information to form their opinions even when those events and information are out of the norm.
  6. Step back once again and consider all the evidence. If you have a friend who is a particularly objective person, share what you learned and ask him or her for input.

As you read through those steps, you might have thought "Ugh! It's going to take a lot of time to complete them, and I just don't have the time." It will take some time, but not as much as you think. Regardless, when it comes to your children, taking time to examine whether your fears are founded is vital to understanding whether the stress they cause and the behavior that results from them is worth it to you and the relationships you have with your children.

Here are some websites on children's health for further reading:

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Research to Application: Framing and the "No Choice Option"

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

research_to_application_post_3The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here. To access the second post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on no choice options (a form of framing) into your work with fathers. Integrating this research could help you help fathers to be more persistent in sticking with the behaviors of an involved, responsible, committed father.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at info@fatherhood.org. We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

The Research
Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow [1] captures the research on the biases humans suffer from in making decisions, regardless of the decisions they make. He describes how we rely on two cognitive systems when making decisions. System 1 “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” We often call it our “gut instinct.” System 2 “allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations” and involves deliberate choice. We often call it our “rational side.”

We primarily rely on System 1 to make most of our decisions. The good news is that our gut reactions are right most of the time. But it is inadequate for making decisions that require a lot of thought and energy, which is where System 2 comes in. In addition to being inadequate for making complex decisions, the problem with System 1 is that it often leads us astray—and wildly so—which can get us into all sorts of trouble. 

The reason it leads us astray is that it relies on heuristics, what we often call “rules of thumb.” These rules of thumb give us a starting point from which to base our decisions. The problem is that these rules of thumb are often wholly inadequate for helping us make sound decisions because, while they help us arrive at good decisions much of the time, they can bias our thinking in ways that lead to poor decisions in many instances.

One of the heuristics System 1 employs that biases our decision-making is called the framing effect. Our decisions are influenced by the way in which decisions are presented. Here’s a great example from Kahneman’s book: 

  • Researchers presented doctors with statistics about outcomes for cancer treatment in two different ways—survival rates and mortality rates—and asked them whether they would recommend surgery or radiation as the course of treatment. Specifically: the 1-month survival rate of surgery is 90 percent vs. there is a 10 percent mortality rate in the first month after surgery. Despite the fact that the data are exactly the same, just presented or framed differently, a much higher percentage of doctors selected surgery when framed from a survival than mortality perspective. Why? Because even among people trained to treat cancer, mortality is viewed as bad and survival as good. Survival sounds encouraging while mortality is defeating.

Think about your own life for a moment. If you were given a diagnosis of cancer and presented with treatment options, would you rather the doctor talk about your chances of survival or death?

The point is we’re all subject to biases. The fact that I picked this research to write about is in part influenced by another heuristic called the availability bias. In the past year, I’ve read no less than 3 books on biases!

For the purposes of this paper, framing involves how practitioners present fathers with choices related to being an involved, responsible, committed father, regardless of context (e.g. one-on-one case management or in a group-based program) or topic (e.g. discipline, co-parenting, and child support). Before you read another sentence after this one, take a few minutes to reflect on how you present fathers with choices and write them down.

Chances are you present them with several or many choices to choose from. And each of the choices you present are ones that you’d be fine with them choosing. You might, for example, provide them with several choices for how they can do fun things with their children that they might not have thought about before and ask them to commit to doing one or more of them within a specific time frame. Fair enough. But did you also provide them with the choice to do none of them and maintain the status quo? I doubt it. After all, why in the heck would you want to give fathers an option to do nothing? Wouldn’t that make you a bad practitioner?

To answer those questions, let’s turn to research conducted by Dr. Rom Schrift and Dr. Jeffrey Parker on whether presenting people with a no choice option along with other choices makes any difference in how committed or persistent people are in sticking with their choices (not the no choice option). The results are especially important in working with fathers because one of your primary objectives for fathers should be that they are persistent (committed) in sticking with being an involved, committed, responsible father, generally, and implementing certain behaviors, specifically. Persistence is vital to fathers, particularly those who face challenging barriers to involvement in the lives of their children.

Although these researchers don’t mention framing specifically, their research is all about framing. [2] Using a variety of experiments that addressed different behaviors, they found that offering a no choice option alongside other healthy or pro-social options increased the persistence of participants in sticking to the choices they made compared to participants who were given the same choices but without a no choice option. They found it critical that the no choice option was presented up front with all of the other choices, not before and not after the other choices.

Rules for Application
Use this simple and powerful framing effect to encourage persistence in fathers, particularly in those who face adversity. Here are two simple rules to follow when presenting dads with options on how to be an involved, responsible, committed father in any setting (e.g. one-on-one case management) and on any topic (e.g. discipline, co-parenting, and child support).

  • Rule #1: Ensure that the no choice option is viable, even though it’s not desirable. If a father happens to choose that option, it must not violate a legal agreement, for example, and not result in harm to the father or anyone else.
  • Rule #2: Always present the no choice option alongside other options, not before or after.

Regardless of how you apply the framing effect, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work. And last but not least, share your results with NFI at info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide. 

Resources 
As you apply the framing effect to increase fathers’ persistence in following through on their choices, consider reading the article on Shrift’s and Parker’s research and the books Thinking, Fast and Slow and Nudge

Get the full PDF version of this study today!



Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides with post 1 and post 2 in this series!
 

[1] Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[2] Interestingly and ironically, they use the term “choice architecture” when referring to how they presented choices. That term was coined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008). I used the research in their book as part of the basis for the first paper in this series.

Why Horseplay is Vital for Your Kids

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

When my daughters were toddlers and preschoolers, I played a game with them called "Attack Baby." I'd lie on the floor and let them run at and jump on me. They'd scream at the top of their lungs as they ran toward me. Right after or right before they landed on me, I'd pick them up and throw them to either side of me. (Don't be appalled. I gently laid them on the ground so they'd roll safely across the floor.) Every once in a while, I'd include a tickle or two before I discarded them to either side of me. As I did so, the attacking screams turned to joyful laughter.

why-horseplay-is-vital-for-your-kidsThe objectives of the game for them were to have fun and do as much damage to their dad as possible. My objectives were to help them learn the joy of physical play and how to play and not hurt someone in the process (i.e. learn emotional self-regulation). They sometimes lost control, particularly when they'd gang up on me. My youngest, in particular, would sometimes launch herself feet first and try to pound on my chest or head. Whenever they got out of control and became too physical, I stopped the game and explained that they needed to regain control or that session of Attack Baby was over. As time went by, they learned how to control themselves more consistently and still have a blast. To this day, some 15 years later, they remember Attack Baby with fondness and tell new friends, when describing their relationship with me, how much they enjoyed it.

In the Art of Roughhousing, Dr. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen reveal the benefits of horseplay (rough-and-tumble play), such as how it develops close connections between parents and children, helps solve children's behavior problems, and boosts children's confidence.

Roughhousing is interactive, so it builds close connections between children and parents, especially as we get down on the floor and join them in their world of exuberance and imagination. Most important, roughhousing is rowdy, but not dangerous. With safety in mind, roughhousing releases the creative life force within each person, pushing us out of our inhibitions and inflexibilities... Play -- especially active physical play, like roughhousing -- makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likeable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful... Roughhousing activates many different parts of the body and the brain, from the amygdalae, which process emotions, and the cerebellum, which handles complex motor skills, to the prefrontal cortex, which makes high-level judgments. The result is that every roughhousing playtime is beneficial for body and brain as well as for the loftiest levels of the human spirit: honor, integrity, morality, kindness, and cooperation.

Unfortunately, this art is becoming a lost one as video games and other technology-based activities play an ever-increasing role in children's lives. Moreover, other changes in children's environments that facilitate horseplay have faded or disappeared, such as schools reducing or eliminating recess and physical education.

But another truly unfortunate factor in this development is the hyper-focus of so many parents today on their children's safety, a focus that negatively impacts their daily interactions with their children.

Sadly, among many of today's families, roughhousing barely limps along on life support. What was once a motto of Safety First has evolved into a fretful new motto of Safety Only. Many parents are more frightened by skinned knees and bruised feelings than life's real dangers: stifled creativity and listless apathy.

This hyper-focus on children's safety is an outgrowth of how parents today over-protect and over-schedule their children's lives. So it's not surprising that children's playtime has, as the authors point out, become "adult-organized, adult-refereed, and adult-structured." Parenting as protection has taken on huge significance despite the fact that the world of today is no more dangerous than in the past. In fact, it's safer for children. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the death rates for children caused by unintentional injuries (e.g. vehicle-related, drowning, and fires) and murder were lower in 2010 compared to 2002. The reduction in deaths of 32 percent from unintentional injuries is staggering! Also staggering is the reduction in murders over an even longer time period. Among teens 15-19, for example, the reduction was 63 percent between 1993 and 2012 and was, in 2012, at its lowest level since before 1970.

I'm not arguing that parents shouldn't be concerned for their children's safety. Situational safety has its place. Being chronically concerned about children's safety does not. Children will get hurt. Bruises, abrasions and broken bones are a natural part of childhood. Parents shouldn't be so concerned about safety that they don't allow their children to be, well, children. Children are wired for horseplay with their parents and other children. It's one of the ways they learn about their world, how to appropriately interact with others, and to have fun. So by all means, enjoy playing a little roughly with your children on a regular basis, and get off the hyper-safety bandwagon.

When is the last time you spent time on the floor playing with your kids?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Global Review Shows Parenting Interventions Need Gumption

A recent global review concluded that parenting interventions must do a better job of including and engaging fathers. It also concluded that evaluations of interventions' impact should include separate analyses of fathers and mothers rather than parents in general. 

Screen_Shot_2014-10-13_at_1.18.36_PMReally? I don't mean to be crass, but these conclusions are not exactly revelations. The review does, however, lend additional credibility to what National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has said for 20 years--that it is vital to engage fathers in parenting interventions separately from mothers (we call them "fatherhood" or "fathering" programs) and that more funding needs to be focused on the impact of father-specific or father-inclusive parenting interventions. 

The team of UK and US researchers examined 199 published articles on parenting interventions that included at least some discussion of father engagement and impact. The researchers uncovered three specific problems when it comes to interventions' inclusion of fathers:

  • Despite the evidence of fathers substantial impact on child development, well-being, and family functioning, parenting interventions rarely target men, or make a dedicated effort to include them.
  • Parenting interventions that have included men as parents or co-parents give insufficient attention to reporting on father participation and impact.
  • A fundamental change in the design and delivery of parenting interventions is required to overcome pervasive gender biases and to generate robust evidence on outcomes, differentiated by gender and by couple effects in evaluation.

It is the final problem that is most damning. It has has led to parenting interventions, focused on mothers, that will never reach their full potential to improve child well-being. There is a gender bias in parenting interventions that reflects a broader, global, damaging bias that says fathers aren't as important as mothers when it comes to child well-being. It is the most pervasive barrier we've encountered in our 20 years of existence. 

How does NFI address this barrier? The first part of that answer is evident to most people. We've created evidence-based and evidence-informed programs, workshops, and other resources designed specifically for and that engage fathers. 

The second part of that answer is not as evident. We've created workshops and other resources that build the capacity or organizations to engage fathers, such as our recently-released Father-Readiness Training Kit™, that transform the culture of those organizations to value fathers as much as mothers in improving parenting behavior and, consequently, child-well being. We've said for many years--preached, really--that because the culture, infrastructure, and staff training of most organizations are designed to serve the needs of women and mothers that they are ill-suited for effectively engaging fathers. They create a mindset that focuses programs, services, and staff on mothers. As a result, organizations must examine and, as is the case in almost every instance, change their norms, the attitudes and beliefs of staff, and improve infrastructure to effectively serve all parents. 

Parenting interventions will never truly be parenting interventions until they are implemented within organizational cultures that value fathers as partners in parenting who are critical to child well-being. The sad fact is it isn't that difficult to do. It simply takes what my grandparents called "gumption." Gumption involves courage, initiative, aggressiveness, and good old common sense. 

The good news is that more organizations than ever are rolling up their sleeves to take a hard, long look at their efforts to improve parenting and child well-being. Several examples include state and local government agencies that have worked with us to integrate fatherhood programming among the organizations they fund. In Texas, for example, we recently completed a project that integrates father engagement in home visiting programs. We helped the state design an approach that, in turn, helped the human service organizations it funds to design customized approaches to engaging fathers. These approaches improved the organizations' use of evidence-based programs, such as Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, and Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, while maintaining fidelity to the programs' models which, not surprisingly, are focused on mothers. (For other examples of how organizations are rolling up their sleeves, click here and here.)

What is your organization doing to build a foundation for effectively engaging fathers?

How much do you know about the range of father-specific resources and customized solutions NFI provides?

How Your Vote in November Could Harm or Help Children

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

As we approach the culmination in November of yet another election cycle, I decided to stake stock of what so many people these days are voting against -- marriage.

how_your_vote_in_november_could_harm_or_help_your_children

A recent analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center reveals that a record share of Americans have never married. In delving deeper into this milestone, the researchers found:

  • In 2012, 1 in 5 adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married. In 1960, only about 1 in 10 adults (9 percent) in that age range had never been married.
  • About half of today's 25- to 34-year-olds (49 percent) have never been married, a fourfold increase since 1960 (12 percent).
  • When today's young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, it is likely that a record high share (25 percent) is likely to have never been married. And this is despite young adults' lack of opposition to marriage. Only 4 percent of never-married adults ages 25 to 34 say they don't want to get married.

Unfortunately, the best intentions often go unrealized. Despite this lack of opposition to marriage among young adults, the "baby train" keeps rolling down the track. As I've noted elsewhere, out-of-wedlock births and age at first marriage are at all-time highs. Moreover, the average age of women when they marry has surpassed the average age at which they give birth to their first child. A primary cause of these trends is that Americans have increasingly "decoupled" marriage and child bearing so that marriage is no longer viewed as a necessary or even desirable context in which to bear and raise children.

The decoupling of marriage from raising children is, however, only one cog in the engine that has driven us to this point. A host of other changes in values, economics, and gender patterns have contributed as well. Many of those changes are good, needed. But what a cog this decoupling is because, sadly, it is children who ultimately suffer from and have no control over it. My concern is that the adults who have control over it now believe that the primary function of marriage is to benefit the adults who enter into it and not to raise the next generation of children. Far too many Americans continue to ignore (or not care about) the evidence that growing up in home with a single, never-married parent, with a once-married but now divorced parent, or with cohabiting parents places children at a higher risk of poor physical, social, and emotional outcomes, which primarily result from father absence. As the Pew Research Center report notes, fewer than half of the public believes we're better off when marriage and children are a priority.

The improvement of child well-being is why National Fatherhood Initiative exists and is why we're so adamant in our support of marriage as the ideal context in which to raise children. Whether a father is married to his children's mother is the most important predictor of his involvement in his children's lives.

It's also why we're non-partisan. Does that sound odd or surprise you? It shouldn't because this position is not just a conservative or a progressive one. It's both. Encouraging couples to marry before they have children is a cause everyone who considers themselves to be a conservative or a progressive (or anywhere in between) should rally around. A conservative should support this cause because it will help re-establish an institution that is in steep decline. Re-establishing marriage as a vital social institution will save government the money it spends on dealing with the consequences of the decline of marriage and the increase in father absence. A progressive should support this cause because it involves the social reform of an institution that is vital to advancing and improving our society. It would allow the government to shift the money spent on the consequences of the decline of marriage and high rate of father absence to improving our society in other ways, such as improvements to our nation's infrastructure and the environment.

So regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, I encourage you to "vote yes" for marriage in the broad, societal sense. And as you consider for whom to vote this November, delve into how the candidates stand on the institution of marriage, and vote accordingly.

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

What's Missing in the Adrian Peterson Story?

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

What in the world was Adrian Peterson thinking when he took a switch -- specifically, a tree branch -- to his 4-year-old son? He wasn't thinking, and that's part of his problem. But there's more to this horrible situation than meets the eye.

boy-discipline-600

I decided to wait nearly a week after this story broke to write this piece because I've learned that these stories are like the proverbial layers of the onion. We learn more and more as the layers peel away over the days, weeks and, sometimes, months after such a story becomes public. This story still has some legs, especially as we wait to see how the legal system will judge Peterson's action. But as is typically the case, the court of public opinion is moving at light speed to render judgment on Peterson, no doubt fueled by the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy domestic-violence incidents, and the lack of appropriate NFL policies that address domestic and family violence perpetrated by its players.

Even though this story continues to unfold, I decided to write this piece now because of what's been absent from coverage of this story -- two vital reasons Peterson acted in such a stupid, harmful manner.

First, Peterson was and still is ill prepared for being a father. Let me be clear. I'm not talking about whether he loves or genuinely cares for his son. I'm also not saying he lacks any knowledge or skill in being a father. What he clearly lacks, however, is an adequate base of knowledge and skills required of a nurturing, loving father, particularly in the area of disciplining a child.

Second, Peterson lacks even a basic understanding of the difference between discipline and punishment. I'll unpack this second reason before I return to the first one.

The evidence for this lack of understanding first appeared in a statement issued by Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, who said, "Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas."

The evidence mounted several days later when Peterson spoke for the first time about the abusive act and said:

"I never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son... I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child."

(Click here for the full text of Peterson's statement.)

Count me in with the crowd who disagrees as you notice how Peterson and Hardin harp on the notion that Peterson "disciplined" his child.

He did not discipline his child. He used a violent, fear-based, abusive form of punishment that was, tragically, used on him as a child.

That Peterson never questioned how he was punished as a child is also part of his problem.

Discipline, which originates from the Latin word "discipulus," means "to teach or guide." To punish means, no pun intended, to "penalize" someone for an offense through pain, loss, confinement, or even death. Taking a switch to a 4-year-old in today's world, or in the world of the recent or distant past, is simply a form of abusive, fear-based punishment meant to inflict pain. It in no way teaches or guides. Anyone who doesn't realize this kind of punishment can injure a child is not in his or her right mind.

Too many fathers, and parents in general, confuse discipline and punishment. They use the terms interchangeably. (Peterson and Hardin clearly fall into this camp.) They default to punishment because they either lack knowledge of effective ways to discipline their children or, if they know of alternatives; they take the easier, swifter path because, quite simply, discipline requires more work than punishment. Discipline requires skill in applying proven techniques. It also requires parents to be calm, patient, and nurturing before, during and after disciplining children, a quality some parents sorely lack. It also requires comfort with failure as parents learn how to effectively apply the techniques of child discipline and which ones work best with their children.

Moreover, when these parents punish -- and there are times when it is appropriate to punish children -- they use violent forms that are unnecessary and place their children at risk for injury, not to mention the damage these forms have on parent-child relationships. These parents lack the knowledge of effective, non-violent forms of punishment.

This specific lack of knowledge and skill in the discipline of children underscores a larger problem, particularly as it concerns fathers and our culture in general. Too many men become fathers without an inkling of how to be a good father. Our culture does a pitiful job of preparing men to be good fathers, and fathers know this. Several years ago, researchers from the University of Texas and Rutgers University conducted the most significant national study to date on fathers' attitudes on fathering. Only slightly more than half of the fathers surveyed "agreed," and less than a fourth "strongly agreed," that they felt adequately prepared for fatherhood when they first became fathers.

As this story continues to unfold, we must not only examine Peterson's culpability and the appropriateness of the actions taken by the NFL and the Vikings in punishing him. We must also examine the culpability of our society for its inadequate preparation of men to be fathers and lack of training for fathers in the knowledge and skills required to be involved, responsible, committed fathers. (National Fatherhood Initiative tried for years, with no success, to work with the NFL in providing fathering training and resources for its players.) While that latter examination doesn't absolve Peterson of his individual responsibility in abusing his child, it at least acknowledges that his action didn't occur in a vacuum. Fortunately, and encouragingly, the legal authorities and the citizens in east Texas who indicted him recognized his action for what it is. Let's hope Peterson will eventually do the same.

How were you disciplined and/or punished as a child? How does how you were raised help (or harm) your style of discipline as a parent today?

For fatherhood leaders, we're here to help you serve the dads you lead. You can subscribe to our ebook service; where we share "How to Discipline Your Child" along with other helpful topics for dads.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Parental Incarceration Might be Worse for Children than Parental Divorce or Death

The longer I'm at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), the more evidence piles up that shows how devastating having an incarcerated parent is for children.

prison500text

Last month researchers released a study that shows having an incarcerated parent might be worse for children than if their parents divorced or died. As reported in USA Today, the study found:

"That significant health problems and behavioral issues were associated with the children of incarcerated parents, and that parental incarceration may be more harmful to children's health than divorce or death of a parent...'These kids are saddled with disadvantages,' said Kristin Turney, the author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at UC-Irvine. 'They're not only dealing with parental incarceration, but also mental health issues. It might make finding a job more difficult, or they may be forced to grow up faster than peers.' Compared to children of similar demographic, socioeconomic and familial characteristics, the study found that having a parent in prison was associated with children's behavioral problems and conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, speech or language problems and developmental delays."

We've known for decades that having an incarcerated parent places children at a greater risk for a host of poor outcomes compared with children whose parents aren't incarcerated. That's the primary reason NFI has equipped hundreds of correctional facilities, halfway houses, and re-entry programs and organizations with programs and other resources to help connect incarcerated fathers to their children and families prior to and after release. The fact that 25 states have standardized our InsideOut Dad® program across their facilities for men is a testament to how vital this work truly is. 

But when I add the results of this study to what we already know about the devastating impact of parental incarceration, I want to ensure that every state department of corrections standardizes on our InsideOut Dad program. I also want every county or city jail that houses fathers and every re-entry program that helps incarcerated fathers reenter society to understand how much impact they can have on improving child well-being by using our programs and resources to help incarcerated fathers be better dads. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But it's an objective worth pursuing. Please join me in achieving that objective.

What are you doing to help the children of incarcerated fathers?

What are you doing to help incarcerated fathers be better dads?

What Every Child Needs

Our mission at NFI is to improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, committed fathers in their lives. It isn't by accident that our mission statement leads with the well-being of children. It's why NFI exists.

Screen_Shot_2014-09-08_at_11.50.51_AM

Yes, we focus on helping organizations build capacity to serve fathers and many fathers come to us for assistance in helping them to be better dads. Our end game, however, is to improve children's current and future lives by connecting them with their fathers, heart to heart.

In pursuing our mission, we recognize that every child, regardless of circumstance, needs certain things in his or her life to survive and thrive. An involved, responsible, committed dad is one of those things. Unfortunately, the message abounds in our culture that a dad is a "nice to have" rather than a "must have" for a child. Any father figure will do, thank you very much. 

While we recognize that not every child will grow up with their dad (and, consequently, that a nurturing father figure can play an important role in a child's well-being), refuting the message that a dad isn't necessary to a child's well-being is a vital part of NFI's work and the work of the thousands of organizations and individuals we partner with that provide direct services to fathers. Together, we recognize that regardless of how "advanced" our society becomes one thing will never change: every child needs a dad.  Watch this inspiring video to see what I mean.


We humans come into the world hard-wired for developing a connection to a dad and a mom, not to one or the other. That's why it's no accident that we see the range of poor outcomes for children caused by father absence. As you work with fathers, recognize that you are nurturing this connection and, in some cases, restoring it. And don't forget to take a few moments, every once in a while, to give yourself a pat on the back for this life-affirming work.

 

How You Can Directly Help NFI Help Organizations that Serve Dads

Headline: Twenty-fifth Edition of KIDS COUNT Data Book Highlights Improvements Since 1990.

As someone who has dedicated his career to improving the well-being of children, that headline caught my attention to say the least. Late last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th annual edition of its KIDS COUNT Data Book, the most comprehensive collection of data on the state of children's well-being. If you're not familiar with KIDS COUNT, it includes data on 16 indicators of child well-being for all 50 states grouped into four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Click here to find out how children in your state fare on the indicators. 

nfi-logoWhile there are certainly improvements, the news continues to be grim regarding father absence. Since 1990, when the foundation released the first edition of KIDS COUNT, the proportion of children growing up in single-parent homes increased by 40 percent! As we've chronicled numerous times in this blog, that's not good for kids. Recently, I highlighted new research in an article for The Huffington Post titled, The Proof Is In: Father Absence Harms Child Well-Being. This new study reveals what National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has known for two decades: the most consequential social trend of our time is widespread father absence in the lives of our nation's children. Father absence actually causes poor outcomes for children. It's not just associated with them.

There is a "father factor" in nearly every social ill facing our children and society. NFI addresses these ills head-on, every day, in the work we do with organizations across the nation. 

But we can't do it alone. We need your help to do this vital work.

NFI isn't government funded. We rely on donations to provide organizations like yours with the free tips and tools they need to help dads. 

Through our Father Factor Blog, social media feeds, the FatherSource™ e-newsletter, downloadable ebooks, and other free resources, we directly equip organizations with practical, actionable information and guidance on fathering that's based on what the latest research shows is effective. 

In just the past few months, for example, we released How to Start a Direct-Service Fatherhood Program, a free downloadable ebook that captures much of NFI's two decades of experience in helping organizations start programs. We also launched the free Research to Application series which provides guidance on how to apply the latest research on human behavior to working with dads. And in September, we'll launch the free FatherSource™ Locator, the first searchable database of more than 1,500 organizations across the country that serve fathers using our resources and programs. It will directly connect fathers to the organizations that can help them.

If you're like me, you want to improve your community by connecting dads with their children. By helping organizations like yours that serve dads, we help you improve your community. Your donation will make your community a better place as we partner with your organization to serve dads.

As we wrap up our fiscal year, please make a donation online by September 30 to help us serve fathers and families through educating, equipping, and engaging all sectors of society to build more and better fathers.

Thank you for understanding how vital it is that fathers have a place to go for help and to locate organizations in their communities that can also help. And thanks most of all for your service to families in your community.

Research to Application: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on autonomy, mastery, and purpose into your work with fathers. Integrating this research could help you better motivate fathers to be the best dads they can be. It could also help you motivate fathers to enroll in and habitually attend your fatherhood program because helping fathers achieve autonomy, mastery, and purpose will add value to your program from fathers’ perspective.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at info@fatherhood.org. We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

The Research

Daniel Pink in Drive [1] captures the research on what motivates humans. He provides insight into the three elements that are crucial to motivating people to take action regardless of the situation. When people feel they have autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their lives generally or around a specific situation (e.g. making decisions about how to parent their children, decisions regarding their jobs, etc.), they are more likely to be motivated, or driven. They are also more likely to feel a sense of well-being.

  • Autonomy means that a person has the freedom to make his or her own decisions. Autonomous people have control over their decisions. Pink points out that being autonomous isn’t synonymous with independence because a person can be autonomous in an interdependent situation, such as parenting in which a father and mother depend on each other to raise their child. Autonomy is critical for engagement.
  • Mastery means that a person has command over something, such as knowledge about how to be an effective parent and skill in how to care for a child’s needs. To attain mastery, a person must desire to become better and better at something that matters, such as how to be a better father and husband/partner. The engagement that comes from autonomy is critical to a person’s desire to master something. For someone to master something, they must understand three things: 1) it is possible to become better at something, 2) it is hard work (a pain) to become better at something, and 3) it is never possible to attain complete mastery, only to get closer to it over time.
  • Purpose means that a person has a reason for doing something and involves determination, as in a person being driven to be a better parent by a greater objective than just being a better parent. Intrinsic motivation (i.e. driven by something inside of them) is crucial to sustained purpose. If someone is only extrinsically motivated (i.e. driven by something outside of them), purpose won’t stand the test of time. Motivation will be fleeting at best.

These three elements are like the legs of a three-legged stool. They work together to support the base of the stool (e.g. the skill someone seeks to obtain), but it is purpose that is the most vital of the three elements. While people who have a high level of autonomy and mastery at something can be very effective at that something, people who have both of those elements and a clear purpose behind what they’re doing are even more effective.

Ideas on Application

This three-element framework is a good one for assessing how well your current fatherhood program motivates fathers. If you don’t yet have a program, it offers a good framework for developing one that will leverage fathers’ motivators. 

A well-designed fatherhood program can give fathers a sense of autonomy and help fathers build toward mastery in fathering knowledge and skills. Regarding autonomy, a program must help them move toward greater engagement in the lives of their children. Here’s how.

  • It should be balanced from a prescriptive and non-prescriptive perspective. It should balance research-based, prescriptive content (e.g. tips) on what makes for effective parenting regardless of fathers’ individual circumstances (e.g. knowledge of child development and how to apply effective discipline techniques) with general guidance that allows fathers to choose how to be good fathers given their individual circumstances (e.g. how to be involved in their children’s lives if they have regular versus limited or no access to their children). If you’ve ever watched the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, think about how Captain Barbossa (the villain) defines the third rule of the pirate’s code known as parley when he captures the beautiful heroine: “The code is more what you'd call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.”
  • It should include wrap-around services necessary for some fathers to overcome challenges that present barriers to a sense of autonomy (i.e. the sense that they have as much control as possible over their fatherhood-related decisions). These are services provided by your organization or partner organizations that address the pressing needs that fathers might have that aren’t directly related to parenting and fathering knowledge or skills, such as the need for a job, a high school diploma or GED, visitation rights, or affordable child support. Because fathers’ needs can be a moving target, it’s essential to assess their needs before, during, and after they participate in a fatherhood program so that your program always has a beat on the pulse of fathers’ most pressing needs.

Regarding mastery, a program should:

  • Be research-based in its content. Simply put, it should include content on what works that is based on research and evidence. (Such programs are alternatively called research- or evidence-informed.) The facilitator of the program (whether delivered in a group-based or one-on-one setting) must be clear with fathers that: 1) it is possible to become better at being a father regardless of circumstance, 2) it is hard work (a pain) to become a better father, and 3) it is never possible to attain complete mastery in parenting and fathering, only to get closer to them over time.
  • Include opportunities for fathers to apply, or at least reflect upon, what they learn. Research shows that parent-education programs with application components are extremely effective. Ideally, fathers would go home after learning a new discipline skill, for example, and try it when their children need to be disciplined and then have the opportunity to share that experience and receive constructive feedback. Unfortunately, that’s not possible for some fathers (e.g. non-custodial) to apply some of what they learn often or at all. Programs should include tools that allow for customized application of what fathers learn, such as action steps fathers can take between sessions, or a close approximation, such as role-plays and time for reflection on how they might or would apply what they learn.
  • Include an alumni component that allows fathers who “graduate” from a program to continue to build toward mastery around parenting, fathering, and related issues (e.g. relationships). Fathers become hungry for more as their sense of autonomy and mastery develops. The organizations that use NFI’s programs have found that fathers often want to re-enroll in a program they have already completed to continue, in large part, their learning. By offering additional programs or workshops of any length in a sequence, your organization can help fathers continue to build toward mastery.

Purpose is a bit trickier. As Pink points out, building autonomy and toward mastery will increase the chances that someone will become more motivated. Certainly a good fatherhood program that addresses the first two legs of the stool will get you two-thirds of the way there. Organizations that run NFI’s programs have found that just by participating in a fatherhood program, fathers develop a greater sense of purpose in being a great dad. We find that the energy and enthusiasm facilitators bring can help fathers find their purpose. Unfortunately, only fathers can find and unlock the intrinsic motivation associated with a greater purpose in being a great dad. 

This is where you must get creative. You must first determine whether fathers are extrinsically or intrinsically motivated to participate in your program. Doing so will help you identify the fathers who, because they’re intrinsically motivated, are more likely to engage with the program and consistently attend and those whose extrinsic motivation, while necessary to get them to attend initially, will make it more difficult for them to engage with the program and more likely to participate infrequently or drop out. You’ll have to spend more time with the latter group to help them find their purpose.

The best time to identify fathers’ motivators is before you start to work with them one-on-one or in a group. Regardless of setting, you could schedule one-on-one time with each father before you start your work with him. If you will work with fathers in a group, you could bring the entire group in for an “introductory session” before the first session. Either way, use the following two-step approach to identify fathers’ motivators.

  • Step 1: Ask fathers either or both of the following questions. What is the main reason you’re in this program? When it comes to being involved in your child’s (children’s) life, what keeps you up at night?”
  • Step 2: Use the “5 Whys” line of questioning to go even deeper and help fathers uncover their truest (or deepest) motivators. It works like this. Ask the fathers either of the questions above. After they provide their answers, and regardless of the content of their answers, simply ask “Why?” or “Why is that?” Don’t say anything else. Don’t pass judgment on their answers. After the fathers’ second answers, again ask “Why?” or “Why is that?” Continue this line of questioning until you’ve questioned their answers five times. By the fifth time, you should have identified fathers’ truest motivators. It’s like peeling back the skin of an onion. Using the 5 Whys can seem awkward at first, but keep at it. 

The beauty of this approach is that it can help fathers unlock the motivators they didn’t even know they had. Fathers whose initial responses might indicate extrinsic sources of motivation might instead (or in addition) have intrinsic sources. Write down their answers so you remember them and so that you can identify the fathers with whom you might need to work more diligently to engage with the program and consistently attend. When fathers encounter obstacles to being involved with their children or attending the program, or are just having a bad day, use what you learn to remind fathers why they’re going through the program. You can also use this approach as the program progresses (e.g. halfway through and at the end of the program) to see whether fathers’ motivators change.

Regardless of how you apply autonomy, mastery, and purpose, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work. And last but not least, share your results with NFI at info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide.

Resources 

As you apply the autonomy, mastery, and purpose framework to increase fathers’ motivation, consider reading Drive and the following book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. This book focuses on the research that shows people can develop and grow throughout their lives, and that nothing is set in stone. It can further inform you about mastery, in particular.

Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides in this series!

[1] Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

Peanut Butter Cheerios #HowToDad is Spot-On Portrayal of Fathers

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post. 

A little more than two months ago, I posted an article on the horrible portrayal of fathers in TV ads by Lowe's and LG. As I noted in that article, the Lowe's ad in particular was one of the worst I've seen in my nearly 15 years of work at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI).

As fortune would have it, not soon after the release of those ads, General Mills Canada launched a web-based campaign for Peanut Butter Cheerios anchored by a series of ads that portray fathers in a completely different, positive light. Known as the #HowToDad campaign, it might be the best father-focused campaign for a consumer brand I've seen. The fact that General Mills Canada produced a series of ads within a broader web-based campaign is very important, but more on that later.

Screen_Shot_2014-08-18_at_11.33.56_AM


The Lowe's ad is, unfortunately, all too common in its portrayal of a dad as an irresponsible, untrustworthy, incompetent adolescent whose children must be rescued by a responsible, trustworthy, competent mom. What makes this ad and the LG ad so insidious is couching the portrayal of the dads within humor because, these companies reason, the use of humor makes it perfectly fine to reinforce this notion of dads as poor parents, all in the name of selling products to moms. (As I pointed out in the article, this approach is disrespectful of moms as well.) Indeed, when NFI contacted Lowe's to voice our disapproval of their ad, Lowe's simply said they were sorry that we took the ad the wrong way, that their portrayal of the dad was all in fun and meant no harm, and that they had no intention of pulling the ad. Interestingly, we didn't ask them to pull the ad. Perhaps they were a bit defensive given their receipt of a petition signed by NFI and other organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada that called Lowe's out on the ad. (For details on the petition, see my previous article.)

At any rate, the #HowToDad campaign turns the tables by showing that dads are competent parents. The campaign transforms Peanut Butter Cheerios into the "Official Cereal of Dadhood." In doing so, General Mills Canada recognizes that the company doesn't have to denigrate dads to sell a product. This campaign reflects the growing influence of dads as moms' partners in raising children in all aspects of domestic life. Dads have taken on a steadily increasing share of the parenting load in recent decades. Dads spend more time than ever with their children generally, grocery and retail shopping for the family, and doing housework (e.g. cooking and cleaning). Dads are also more focused than ever on the desire to balance work and family. Indeed, they're often more conflicted than moms in this regard.

In addition to the overall portrayal of fathers, what I really appreciate is how General Mills Canada uses humor to portray fathers in a positive light -- a stark rebuke to the use of humor in ads like those of Lowe's and LG. I also appreciate that the campaign uses social media to share this positive portrayal across multiple channels used by people of all ages. The #HowToDad campaign is a comprehensive web-based campaign that, in addition to the ads, includes static images, infographics, and videos (e.g. of dads doing inspirational activities with their children) that visitors can share across multiple social media platforms.

It's this kind of campaign for a consumer brand that can make a difference in reinforcing the vital role played by dads. Because consumer brands are bellwethers of popular culture, they have a huge impact on cultural norms including those around parenting. That's why, in the coming weeks, NFI will present a National Fatherhood Initiative Fatherhood Award to General Mills Canada. It's vital that we recognize positive portrayals of dads wherever we see them and call out companies that do dads, moms and children a disservice. Join me in #HowToDad.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Dude, What Science Tells Us About Teen Behavior

Okay. So you'll see in a moment that I "borrowed" from the title of an incredible article (with accompanying video) that you must read if you raise or serve teens. 

As a parent in the midst of raising two teenage daughters, I've had a lot of time to reflect on their behavior and that of their friends. (I've also had many years to reflect on my own behavior during those years.) I'm pretty lucky to have daughters who, for the most part, have behaved about as maturely as a parent could hope for.

what_science_tells_us_about_teen_behavior

Nevertheless, they've done some really bizarre things. And the explanations they sometimes provide for their behavior often leave me wondering whether they'll ever figure out certain things. You've undoubtedly had this experience as well if you serve teens, especially those who have entered your organization's door because of destructive behavior. Let's face it. When teens are in the throes of a crisis, we can hope they figure it out, but we really don't know whether they will.

A common focus of discussion about the teen years involves whether the behavior we see in teens is primarily or exclusively related to modern adolescence--a cultural construct of the modern age--or whether there is, in fact, a biological basis for their behavior. As an anthropologist, I'm confident in saying that it's a bit of both. The fact that we no longer ask children to move quickly--almost instantaneously--from childhood to adulthood, for example, has created a excruciatingly long period of time in which it is acceptable for teens to act like, well, teens and not young adults. As an observer of culture's impact on human behavior, I have come to understand that teens' behavior is a consequence of the influence of their environment (culture) and biology, not one or the other. Moreover, the influence of the environment teens experienced as children (e.g. if they were abused or severely neglected) can act upon their biology (e.g. brain chemistry). But that's a subject for another post. 

Given that we can't entirely blame the environment (e.g. parenting) for teen behavior, the question is how much we can attribute teen behavior to biology. Quite a bit as it turns out. Enter Robert Sapolosky. Dr. Sapolsky is a professor of biology, neurology, and neurosurgery at Stanford University. He's one of the preeminent researchers on the brains of primates and humans. According to Dr. Sapolosky (I love this quote), "The adolescent brain is not merely an adult brain that is half-cooked, or a child’s brain left unrefrigerated for too long." The brain enters a distinct developmental stage that has an evolutionary basis. Sapolskly explains, for example, how and why the teen brain reacts differently than the adult brain to the same expectations of rewards. I encourage you to read Dr. Sapolsky's article "Dude, Where's my Frontal Cortex?" in the latest issue of the online publication Nautilus. You can find accompanying video here.

After reading the article, I came to the conclusion that culture might have caught up with biology in terms of creating a social stage of development that follows the brain's trajectory. This knowledge doesn't change the challenge for parents of teens and those who serve teens. It makes us only a little more knowledgeable. The challenge remains helping teens navigate a time in their lives that is full of excitement, experimentation, and danger.

Do you serve teens or teen parents? 

If so, check out our latest program additions Relationship Smarts Plus and Love Notes! These evidence-based programs are ideal for helping teens and teen parents navigate relationships, perhaps the most significant issue they face during adolescence, especially when they're already parents.

image iStockPhoto

Why Parents Shouldn't Be Concerned About Their Children's Texting

This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post.

My 16-year-old is an outstanding writer. When she asks me to review something she's written, I'm always impressed at the excellence of her spelling, grammar, syntax, and creative word combinations. I rarely have corrections, and when I do they're typically minor.

teen_texting_dad_in_backgroundThe other day as we discussed an essay she'd written for a college-level communications course she's taking this summer, out of the blue she mentioned that her friends get mad at her for using proper grammar when she texts. She laughed as she shared an example in which a friend had a problem with her using a semicolon in a text. (Say what?) I could tell she actually gets a kick out of her friends' reactions and that those reactions don't bother her in the least.

That conversation reminded me of conversations I've had with my wife and friends about the potentially damaging effects of texting on children's literacy. My assumption had been that when children use incorrectly spelled words, poor grammar, change the way words look in print, and substitute symbols and images (e.g. emoticons) to communicate, it will have a negative effect on their spelling, grammar, and reading and writing skills. Logical, don't you think? But given everything I know about cognitive biases and the importance of using evidence to form opinions (see my recent post as an example), I wondered whether my assumption about the effects of texting might be wrong. After all, I couldn't think of any evidence to back up my assumption.

Sure enough, I was wrong. And oh, how wrong I was. A year-long British study published last month in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology examined, the effects of children's and young adults' grammatical "violations" in texting on spelling, grammar, and orthographic processing (the way words should look in print), the latter having a critical role in reading and writing fluency. The researchers used standardized test of spelling and grammar over the course of one year to measure the effects of texting.

The researchers recruited 243 participants and divided them among three groups: primary school (average age approximately 10), secondary school (average age approximately 13), and young adult (average age approximately 21). They found no negative effect of grammatical violations in texting on children's use of spelling, grammar, or orthographic processing. The only negative effect observed by the researchers was on young adults' use of poor word forms (e.g. "does you" instead of "do you"), but even for this age group, the effects of texting were not a cause for concern. This study adds to the body of evidence that has been building for the past five to seven years that texting does not harm children's literacy. Indeed, the British researchers cite no less than six such studies.

The picture that's emerging is one of texting as:

  • An insignificant factor in children's literacy. The most significant factors that influence children's literacy remain the quality of the literacy education children receive in school and at home. Parents should focus on how their children perform on tests of spelling, writing, reading, and comprehension as a true measure of their children's literacy.
  • A language with distinct rules for spelling, grammar, and syntax. Children learn this language just as they learn any other. As they gain fluency in this language, it doesn't harm their use of their native tongue. Texting is not unlike shorthand used by journalists. Like shorthand, texting allows for communication within strict constraints -- shorthand being useful within time constraints with texting being used within time and technological constraints. Ironically, some people refer to texting as "Internet shorthand."
  • Above all a social activity. As such, when children text they do so within a socially constructed world with its own norms for spelling, grammar, symbols, and images, a world that encourages individuality (e.g. children spell the same words differently than other children and even within their own sentences). Developmentally speaking, children use texting as a tool to express their emotions, feelings, and emerging sense of who they are as individuals. They test that expression with immediate feedback from one or many people (via group messaging, for example) and can make quick adjustments if necessary.

Now that I'm better informed about texting and its effect on literacy, I better understand why it hasn't had a negative effect on either of my girls' literacy. (My 19-year-old is majoring in journalism and is also an outstanding writer.) I'm even more amazed that my younger daughter insists on using proper spelling and grammar when she texts. I'm also a bit proud because I see that insistence as a form of "sticking it to the man."

At any rate, this evidence doesn't change my opinion that there is a lot not to like about texting. Children, including my own, can spend a ridiculous amount of time texting. They can also text at inappropriate times. I will always get miffed, for example, when my daughters text while we're eating dinner at a restaurant. I'll never understand why the first thing they do after waking up in the morning is, you guessed it, check their texts (and social media). I'm also bothered by the fact that texting leaves a permanent record, so I've often told my girls to be extra careful with the content and meaning of their texts. After all, I tell them, your texts can come back to haunt you. Nevertheless, I now have a better view of texting and stand, to some degree, corrected. Lol.

How often does your child text?

This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post.

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

Search Our Blog

Topics