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The Father Factor

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Assistance Needed: Fatherhood Research & Practice Network Poll

In June 2014, the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN) launched to promote rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs. The FRPN will announce its first grant awards to researcher and program/practitioner teams this fall.  

If you read The Father Factor Blog, you know that NFI's president Christopher A. Brown has written about funding fatherhood research as he serves on the FRPN steering committee. NFI is committed to helping you help fathers. In addition to funding new research, the FRPN plans to offer free technical assistance (TA) to fatherhood programs to strengthen their ability to do evaluation research.

Screen_Shot_2014-05-29_at_12.39.39_PM-1What types of TA for evaluation do fatherhood programs need? The FRPN would like to hear from programs and practitioners.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Develop a computerized management information (MIS) system to track client enrollment, service delivery and outcomes. This is designed for programs that don’t have a system in place and will include a low-cost monthly hosting fee.
  • Offer consulting services for programs to improve use of their MIS.
  • Provide one-on-one consulting services on evaluation for interested programs.
  • Develop measurement tools and research instruments targeted to father engagement, co-parenting and other important outcomes.
  • Create an Institutional Review Board (IRB) for fatherhood programs that do not have access to one or are not connected with a university.
  • Develop a certificate program on evaluation research for fatherhood program staff that qualifies for continuing education credit.
  • Continue to develop videos, webinars and other resources focused on program evaluation and post them on the FRPN website (www.frpn.org). 
  • Develop an evaluation self-assessment tool for programs.
  • Help programs connect with researchers in close proximity who are interested in doing evaluation research projects.

Help the FRPN determine what types of TA the fatherhood field needs by completing the FRPN TA poll! Visit here to get started. We appreciate your time and feedback!


The FRPN seeks to:

  • Promote rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs.
  • Expand the number of researchers and practitioners collaborating to evaluate these programs.
  • Disseminate information that leads to effective fatherhood practice and evaluation research.

Teens, Sex, Fathers, Marriage: All That ‘N a Baby Carriage

Some would say the title of this post is just a bad plan. But what can’t be argued are the facts:

  • Teens are having babies.
  • Teen boys are becoming fathers.
  • Children are growing up in homes without their fathers.
  • Marriage is an option.

The topics of teen pregnancy, teen fathers, and marriage are of the utmost importance to NFI -- particularly because of how closely they align with father absence and child well-being.

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in Why It Matters: Teen Childbearing, Single Parenthood, and Father Involvement, “…teen mothers are at high risk for single parenthood and especially high risk of parenthood without the biological father in the home”. Further, “Reducing teen pregnancy can improve child well-being by in­creasing the chances that children are born into two-parent families and, in particular, families with married parents.”

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Research shows that children have better outcomes when they grow up in a home with two married parents. Studies further indicate that while father involve­ment is important, where the father lives is also important. In one study, the benefit of increasing father involvement was more than twice as great when the father lived with the child than when he lived elsewhere.

But when it comes to teens:

  • The majority of teen mothers (88% in 2010) were unmarried when their child was born.
  • Of those teen mothers who were not married when their child was born, only about one-third (34%) went on to marry by the time their child reached age five.
  • Furthermore, more than one-third (38%) of teens who were married when their child was born split up by the time their child reached age five, and 42% of those who were cohabiting when their child was born split up by then.

In addition, teen mothers living apart from the father of their child report that half of the nonresident fathers met with their child in the past month, and, among those who did, about half visited at least weekly. Recent research also shows that father absence is actually the cause for children having poor outcomes related to a range of physical, mental, and social issues – compared to when their father is involved in their lives

Interestingly, with regard to intergenerational cycles - teen boys who live with both parents initiate sex at an older age compared to teen boys whose father is absent (the former, helping to prevent future, unplanned, teen pregnancies.)

So, it seems decent to conclude that by working to help teens make wise decisions about sex and pregnancy, and how to participate in healthy relationships, we will also, by default, work to reduce father absence and increase the proportion of children who grow up with involved, responsible and committed fathers – all for the benefit of current (or future!) children.

BAM! A match made in heaven.

Looking for programs to work with teens who are, and who are not, already parents? NFI recently launched two new curricula for teens: Download samples of Love Notes and Relationships Smarts Plus.

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.

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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.

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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

Reminder to Mom and Dad: 18 Years Go By Fast

This summer our family has been on a journey. Although it is a positive one with so much to look forward to, I've finally realized that this journey also feels a little too much like a death. For whether the person goes swiftly and easily or slowly and laboriously, in the end, they are gone and it all feels like it went by far too fast.

Thus far I think I've handled things pretty well. I held it together through the rites and passages that have defined this past year:

  • a very emotional ending to his last high school soccer season;
  • a paparazzi-like moment snapping pictures the night of prom;
  • his beautiful graduation ceremony in the very location I had graduated from thirty years prior.

All of it I've taken in stride. Until now.

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We are now on the eve of our son's departure and I'm beginning to lose it. His already early arrival at college for soccer tryouts has become even earlier by pre-tryout two -a-day workouts hosted by the captains of the team. "What?! Are you kidding me?!" was my rational response to the suggestion. Surely soccer does not trump a mother's final wish for a few more moments with her first born son. But apparently it does and the very thing that has caused so much maturity, growth and focus in my son's life, once again robs our family of a few more dinners together, a few more moments of laughter, a few more very precious memories. 

I assumed we would be making the 12-hour trek to his new school together. Instead, a Megabus will snatch my son away and my husband and I will travel with all his stuff a week later. No son to converse with, simply his new bedding and towels, his clothes and, in his words, a drug store full of medicine (ibuprofen and cold medicine to be precise). Instead of a few final conversations on the trip, we will merely act as taxi driver for his belongings.

Regardless of the unusual method of transport, however, we planned it this way. From the moment he's been born we have been in a determined effort to equip him well enough for this journey. The years of admonishing him to brush his teeth, get dressed, go to school, go to church, put his dishes in the dishwasher, eat healthy, go to bed at a decent hour; it was all very purposeful. And then there were the years of lessons: how to read, write and study; how to clean a toilet and mow a lawn; how to say thank you and converse with adults. It was all with a purpose in mind. He is ready to achieve its purpose and it is good.

But even though it is all so good, he's leaving all the same. The grief is palpable and the world in which one family resides under one roof is left behind. I grieve for the younger siblings. I grieve for my husband who has invested so much time and effort to raise a hard-working man and I grieve for me, his mother. I'm so glad he has the privilege of going away to college and of playing soccer but in the end he'll still be gone and whether it be a few months or a few days, it's time for him to leave and there is simply no easy way to say goodbye. It just went by far too fast.

Experienced parents: what's one tip you would give younger parents to help them cherish the moments they have with their children?

Not ready for school to start? Try these previous posts:

 image: iStockPhoto

NFI’s New Evidence-Based Program Offerings to Serve At-Risk Teen and Young Adult Fathers and Couples

Innovative Partnership to Help Organizations and Communities Teach At-Risk Teens and Young Adults How to Create Healthy Relationships for the Sake of Children.

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), the nation’s leading provider of fatherhood skill-building materials and training, has formed an innovative partnership with The Dibble Institute to offer two programs that will be implemented by community-based organizations across the nation, Relationships Smarts PLUS and Love Notes. The programs help at-risk teens and young adults who are and are not parents learn how to create healthy relationships—and ultimately—healthy families.

Dibble-PR-ImageOrganizations will use Relationships Smarts PLUS to teach teens and young adults how to make wise decisions about relationships, sex, dating, and pregnancy prevention, thus laying the foundation for them to be effective parents when the time is right, and not before. For teens and young adults who are parents, organizations will use Love Notes to help this population with one of its greatest challenges to effective parenting—lack of relationship skills between parents—and to make wise choices (e.g. planned pregnancies) that are also critical challenges they face and essential to building a strong family now and for the future.

Relationships Smarts PLUS is listed on The National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), and Loves Notes (an adaptation of Relationships Smarts PLUS) is currently part of a rigorous evaluation as a pregnancy prevention strategy for at-risk youth, funded by a Tier II grant from the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. Love Notes has also been shown to be effective as part of a rigorous evaluation in which males comprised nearly 70 percent of both intervention and control groups.

NFI president Christopher A. Brown says

“These two new offerings from NFI will help organizations that work with teens and young adults—whether parents or future parents, dads or moms—equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to develop healthy relationships now and in the future and, ultimately, to be the parents their children need or will need them to be.”

About this innovative partnership, Brown says

“We know that there has been a lack of quality programs for teen and young adult dads because our customers have asked for such programs for many years. We could have created our own programs, but after conducting research into the salient issues facing this population—and whether such programs already exist that have been shown through evaluations to be effective with males—we discovered the two Dibble programs which center on healthy relationships. And with that being perhaps the most salient of the issues, it was a no-brainer to make these two programs a part of our offerings. They allow organizations to work with teen and young adult dads separately or couples together, and NFI to continue expansion of our resources for moms focused on improving the relationships between dads and moms for the sake of children.”

For 20 years, NFI has worked to end father absence by creating healthy families across the nation. These two new offerings are one of the many ways NFI continues working to help organizations and communities better serve young families through involved, responsible, and committed fathers.

If you would like to learn more, visit Relationship Smarts PLUS and Love Notes.

Eliminate the Dark and Illuminate Fire Safety

How many times have you been called into your child's room in the middle of the night to soothe their fear of the dark? Whether it's monsters under the bed or odd sounds coming from the closed closet, kids look to their parents to rescue them and protect them from the perceived harms.

1._Dark

Although their night haunts are rarely valid, one fear that we need to consider is keeping them safe in the event of a fire. There are products out there designed to help dads in both of these areas.

One such product is the Life+Gear Safety Night Light. Operating as a regular night-light to help ward off childlike concerns induced by the dark the majority of the time, this innovative product also has a fire safety mode that is triggered by the sound of a fire alarm in the event of a fiery emergency.

When this happens, the night-light goes from lighting paths to the bathroom in the middle of the night and keeping kids calm in their beds to full-on brightness at 10x its normal power. Because fires start out with a golden flame and quickly convert into black smoky darkness, this little wall fixture could be the difference between your family finding the exits in a catastrophe and being unable to see the way to safety.

Since it works with all modern smoke alarms, there is no additional equipment to buy -- simply plug it into a standard wall outlet. The unit does require you to cover both sockets, so make sure you have a centrally-located spare that you do not need to use for other electrical equipment.

2._Light

Because it automatically comes on at dusk and goes off at dawn, you can ensure you are not wasting energy unnecessarily. Of course, the LEDs consume a low amount of power anyway so they are an inherently efficient choice for night light illumination!

This particular product functions as an effective night light even without the fire safety feature, but it works according to its true potential only with a smoke alarm. Thus, you also need to make sure you have fully functioning smoke detectors. The National Safety Council recommends that you place a smoke alarm on each floor of your home and in every bedroom. Additionally, test them once per month and change the batteries at least once a year.

In terms of advancements in the smoke alarms themselves, did you know that there are smart smoke alarms that are wireless and come equipped with voice alarms that are purported to wake children better than standard siren alarms?

3._FirstAlertThe First Alert Onelink Wireless Interconnect Smoke Detector with Voice Alarm comes with a higher price tag than some other voice alarm-capable smoke detectors, but you do enjoy the benefit of wireless connectivity.

If you don't mind or even prefer a hard-wired option, there are great voice alarm smoke detectors available from manufacturers such as KiddeFireX, and BRK. Maximize the investment by purchasing a dual smoke and carbon monoxide detector!

One additional piece of fire safety equipment dads should consider is a fire escape ladder.

4._Tools

These height-diminishing tools attach quickly and easily to most windows and are tidily stored out of the way under a bed or in a closet when not in use. They come in varying lengths to provide for second and third story windows so be sure to select the appropriate size when stocking your bedrooms.

For you and the dads you serve -- here are more tips for teaching kids about staying safe in the event of a fire:

  • Create a family safety plan: Draw a diagram of your home with your child and clearly mark the exits -- at least two for each room. Not only will this activity allow you to spend some quality time with your kids, but you can also take the opportunity to share with them the value of being prepared in the event of a fire. And the more light you can shed on something, the less likely they are to fear it: If it's no longer "unknown," there's nothing to be scared of!
  • If a fire does occur, assure your kids that they don't need to attempt to "rescue" their books, stuffed animals or toys. Things are replaceable but people are not. If they are concerned about your family pets, assuage those worries by establishing a buddy system whereby older kids and adults are responsible for safely vacating your littlest family members.
  • Make sure you go over important numbers with your kids (the fire department, the police department, your local hospital, and 911) and clearly designate external meeting points if you are separated or the parents are not home during the fire.

Open communication and preparation are both essential if you want to help your kids feel comfortable with things they can control and those they cannot. And hopefully by starting a conversation, they'll see that some things (like being scared of the dark) don't even deserve their energy!

What are some other ways you've found to keep your kids calm and collected in the midst of nighttime and emergency-based fears?

A creatively savvy do-it-yourselfer, Rheney Williams writes for The Home Depot and likes to share electrical tips on many topics including Fire Safety. To find out more about the products Rheney talks about in the article, visit Home Depot's Fire Safety page.

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.

Have You Looked Under the Hood Lately?

Like cars, your family’s finances need regular maintenance. Get a free 5-point financial inspection today!

Mechanic or not, you probably know the basics of a car safety inspection: Lights and signals, tires and treads, brake system, fluid levels, electrical and safety components. Similarly, you probably know the basics of a financial inspection: 

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  1. Are you spending less than you earn?
  2. Are you saving for emergencies, retirement, and things you need or want?
  3. Are you buying only what you can afford today (and even trying to buy less than you think you can afford)?
  4. Are you paying down credit card debt if you have it and limiting or eliminating your use of debt to finance your lifestyle?
  5. Are you putting a plan in place to protect your loved ones if something happened to you or your spouse?

Unfortunately, we don’t often look under the hood for a good inspection. Like we talked about in a previous post, us dads are often careful about our family's safety; but, when it comes to our family's financial safety, we may fall short. It’s understandable…life is busy and it can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re not sure what exactly to look for!

For the same reason you take your car to a mechanic, brightpeak financial is offering a free financial check-up to all National Fatherhood Initiative readers.

It involves an online questionnaire you can complete on your own terms, plus a follow-up call from a trained financial guide to help you identify opportunities for improvement and an action plan to help you move forward.

Click here to get started! It feels good to get a plan in place and your family might just think you’re a financial genius, too! 

brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a not-for-profit membership organization of Christians founded more than a century ago, which is based in Appleton, WI 54919-0001.

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Balance Work & Family: Be a Better Husband & Father with Less Effort

Creating Good Habits Makes It Easier to Be an Effective Parent and Partner

One of the most important aspects of being a good parent and partner is being consistent and reliable. Doing well once can be a great thing. Doing well constantly so that your wife can rely on you is a much greater success. As a parent, “saving the day” is a small accomplishment compared to avoiding the need to do so. To use an analogy–it is better to never run out of gas than to constantly run out of gas within a few blocks of a station.

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As a working father, I am often mentally immersed in my work. Doing well at work pays the bills and sets the stage for future earnings that can make my family’s life better. Like many fathers, however, my commitment to a better tomorrow can get in the way of a better today. NFI recently wrote about protecting your family's financial safety, while I'm interested in all things related to fatherhood, sometimes, it helps me to not only think of the big-picture, but it's helpful to think of the daily picture as well. 

For example, my concern about a presentation that may have lasting impact can explain why I failed to make a phone call that I had agreed to make or why I left crib sheets in the washer rather than remember to dry them. Those mistakes are temporary, but their cumulative impact changes the way that my wife runs her life out of fear that she cannot count on me.

Rather than committing significant time to worrying about all of the little things that I may have forgotten at home, I need to use a simpler tactic to do those things that must be done over and over again. I need to create the mental “ping” that my car gives me when I have 40 miles left before I am stranded. That tactic - that “ping” - is habit. Turning certain responsibilities into habit means that you are more reliable and spend less time “saving the day” (or “saving your bacon”).

As I illustrate in my book Covering Your Bases: Forty Simple Plays to Improve Life for Your Stay-At-Home Spouse habits that take just a few seconds and minimal effort can have enormous impact. During my first few years of work, I found myself forgetting something useful (money clip, phone, checkbook, ID badge) about once per week.Eventually, I created a mental checklist that I went through every morning. My list was only seven items long, but if something was missing I knew it before I left.

Committing a number of low-effort/high-impact tasks to habit or making them part of a checklist will make most fathers more effective and save them considerable stress. Fielding a phone call about the fact that there are no clean baby bottles takes more time and energy than programming yourself to be sure that the dishwasher is clean or running when you leave in the morning.

According to author Stephen R. Covey, “Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” When competing priorities of work and parenthood squeeze your time, I believe that there is a fourth consideration – bandwidth (how much one can do). The ability to be both a star employee and fantastic parent can demand all of our focus for long periods of time. Occasional failures or omissions are more common than most of us realize. However, some people’s result in more harm than others.In many cases it is not about whether you fail but about what particular mistakes you make.

As noted above and throughout Covering Your Bases, the biggest cost of mistakes can be the time spent dealing with them. The aftermath of a small error can be larger than the mistake itself and result in both wasted time and a negative attitude that further suppresses your productivity. By making the small, repeatable tasks in your life part of a routine, you will find that you avoid not only the consequences of your mistakes but a prolonged drag on your productivity and attitude.

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How Safe is Your Family?

Life is full of unknowns - focus on what’s controllable.

As a dad, you worry about your family’s safety. That includes physical, spiritual, and emotional safety. But way too many dads unknowingly risk their family’s financial safety. The good news is, you can change that—and it’s simpler than you might think!

NFI-Safeguards_500x500_bpfOCHD073014.2(2)To get you started, brightpeak financial put together a free eBook, “How to Protect Your Family Financially.” Download it now.

The book contains important content, questions, and checklists to help make it easy.  

Consider four major categories of uncontrollable events. Realizing that these events happen and knowing how to plan for them can greatly reduce the hardship you and your family may experience if they were to happen. 

1) Unexpected Expenses include events like your car breaking down or a water heater needing to be replaced.  

2) Accident, illness, or injury that requires medical care or attention. One out of every 4 Americans in the workforce will experience an accident, illness or injury that leaves them unable to work for three months or more (Council for Disability Awareness, Disability Statistics, March 2013).

3) Job Loss. One out of every 2 people will experience job loss at some point during their working years, often through no fault of their own (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Projections, 2010-2020).

4) You or your spouse dying while children still depend on you, financially. The probability of death for men between the age of 35 and 65 is 18%. That’s 1 in 6. For women in the same age range its 11%, or 1 in 10. (Milliman, The Changing Face of Mortality Risk in the United States, 2007). 

Want to learn more? Download the free eBook now!  

brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a membership organization of Christians, created to help young families build financial strength so they may live life with confidence and generosity. Learn more about brightpeak financial hereThrivent Financial for Lutherans is located in Appleton, WI 54919-0001.

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NFI Board Elects New Board Chairman, Looks to Future of Fatherhood

In July, the Board of Directors of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) tapped Andy Schoka, a 5-year veteran NFI Board Member, as NFI’s next Board Chairman. NFI is grateful to outgoing Board Chairman Carlos Alcazar for his steady leadership. 

Thank you, Carlos!

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We don't get to today without great leaders and great leadership. I can't thank Carlos enough for serving as chairman, especially during the transition between Roland Warren and me as president of NFI. During that time, Carlos served as our interim president and spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that we conducted a thorough search to replace Roland. He went above and beyond the call of duty, and I learned a lot from him during that time that has served me well as president.

The Future Looks Bright, Andy!

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As I look back on NFI's two decades and my 14 years of service to this organization and the thousands of organizations and individuals working with fathers and families, I'm thankful for the great leaders who have been involved on our board. I can't think of a more qualified replacement for Carlos. Andy has been an incredibly dedicated board member who was also intimately involved in the transition from Roland to me. He has a great sense for business that will serve him and NFI well as our business model continues to evolve. I look forward to closely working with him. 

I'm thankful and excited to continue working on this national movement with Andy and all of our board members to educate, equip, and engage the culture. Along with our board members and our dedicated staff, we will continue to work diligently to end father absence and truly connect even more fathers to their children in the years to come.

Learn more about NFI and our mission here. Meet all of our board members here.

How Much Do You Know About the Rights of Unmarried Dads?

If you've kept up with this blog, you know that more children than ever are being born to unmarried parents. We know this fact well at National Fatherhood Initiative as we field a number of calls every month from unmarried parents (dads and moms) looking for information on the rights of unmarried dads who often don't have custody (joint or sole) of their children.

how much do you know about the rights of unmarried dadsIf you work with fathers, I'll bet that many if not most of them fall into this category. Unfortunately, most unmarried, non-custodial dads don't know their rights when it comes to their children. That's why I was so pleased to learn about The Rights of Unmarried Fathers, a comprehensive listing of these fathers' rights in all 50 states available for free download from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

This resource describes, for each state, the:

  • Legal definition of a father
  • Paternity registry
  • Alternate means to establish paternity
  • Required information to establish paternity

It also describes:

  • How to revoke a claim to paternity
  • How to access information on the paternity registry

Because some of the unmarried, non-custodial dads you serve might be involved in the child welfare system, I encourage you to pair this resource with Finding Your Way: Guides for Dads in Child Protection Cases, a series of free, downloadable guides for fathers (and that you can give to fathers) that help dads understand their rights and responsibilities, their role in and out of court, how to work with their lawyer, and more. Together, these resources will help you educate unmarried, non-custodial dads so they can be as involved, responsible, and committed as possible in the lives of their children.

How much do you know about the rights of unmarried dads? How much do the unmarried dads you serve know about their rights?

image: iStockPhoto

 

How Messi and Ronaldo Can Make You a Better Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Did the FIFA World Cup capture your imagination? Even if you're not a soccer fan, the fact that the U.S. Men's Team made it out of the "Group of Death" surprised and excited Americans everywhere. Moreover, for the first time in history, the U.S. Men's Team advanced to the knockout round in two consecutive FIFA World Cups.

As a dad who has watched two daughters play club and school soccer for more than a decade, I've developed a passion for the game. (I now play indoor soccer on a team with my oldest daughter--not very well, I might add, but it's a ton of fun.) I watch soccer now more than any other sport.

Screen_Shot_2014-07-16_at_9.56.56_AMAs a result, I've become familiar with two of the game's stars both of who were on display at the Word Cup -- Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Messi and Ronaldo are considered by almost every fan and soccer pundit to be the two best players in the game and two of the best of all time. Together, they've won the past six Ballon d'Or awards as the best player in the game. Messi has won it four times to Ronaldo's two with the non-winner in each year being the runner-up in five of the six years.

So it's clear that among the soccer intelligentsia who bestow the Ballon d'Or that Messi and Ronaldo are the "it" men of the game. Even the casual soccer or sports fan -- even someone who has rarely, if ever, watched a soccer match -- when asked to name the best player in the game will undoubtedly mention one, if not both.

But who is better, really? Before I answer that question, answer the following one quickly -- as soon as you hear it -- and write down your answer.

Who do you think is the better player? We'll come back to your answer later.

The answer to who is better depends on whom you ask. It can be influenced by a host of factors that include allegiance to country or club (Messi plays for Barcelona and Rolando for Real Madrid, two of the world's elite teams), how often you've watched each play matches, knowledge of and experience playing the game and exposure to the opinions of fans and experts.

The fact is it's not easy to separate these two superstars unless you're willing to examine the evidence and not allow extraneous factors to influence your opinion. And therein lies the lesson for how you can become a better parent.

Nate Silver, creator of the website fivethirtyeight.com and author of the best-selling book The Signal and the Noise, is famous for using statistical analyses to separate the chaff from the wheat. To answer the question of which player is better, he compared Messi and other soccer stars by conducting rigorous analyses of the most important statistics focused on player performance.

His analyses included the following:

  • shooting and scoring production;
  • from where on the field they take shots (and how often they score from various distances);
  • how often they set up their own shots and what kind of kicks they use to make those shots (soft or hard);
  • ability to take on defenders;
  • the kind and accuracy of their passes;
  • how often they create scoring chances and how often those chances lead to goals;
  • and how their defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.

He also separated the players' from the effects of playing on their teams (i.e. the influence of how good their teams and teammates are on the players' performance). And this is only a sampling of the data Silver crunched.

After examining the evidence, Silver came to the crystal-clear conclusion that "Lionel Messi is Impossible." (Read about his analyses in this article on his website). The results of his analyses are so overwhelming in favor of Messi as the best player in the world that even Ronaldo can't compare. (In effect, these analyses offer an examination of the two because Ronaldo came in second -- a distant second -- in many categories.) So if someone tries to argue with you that Rolando or anyone else is better than Messi, you can use this ream of facts to show how misguided they are.

Just as these analyses provide evidence that Messi is far and away the best soccer player in the world, so too is there evidence on how to be an effective parent. Unfortunately, some parents don't care enough to examine the evidence or don't know it exists, to their own detriment and that of their children. I am convinced, however, that parents must and can do better at examining evidence about what leads to effective parenting -- if they would only make the effort. They must also teach their children to examine evidence generally so that their children grow into adults who make informed decisions and are skeptical about acting on information (e.g. opinions) in the absence of evidence or that is based on flawed or "cherry-picked" evidence.

I've read several books lately on how people tend to not rely on sound evidence to inform their beliefs and, ultimately, decisions. (In addition to Silver's book, I highly recommend Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.) Humans have a tendency to use heuristics, or "mental shortcuts," to make decisions. Why? Because it's easier to rely on a shortcut than to do the hard work necessary to examine the evidence before making a decision. (Yes, thinking is hard work.) The problem is these shortcuts create biases in thinking that cause us to make decisions -- including those about how to parent -- that have little or no basis in fact.

When I asked you which player you thought was better, what was your initial answer? Unless you said you didn't know (perhaps because you don't follow soccer), you probably had a very confident opinion. What I didn't ask was why you had that opinion. You might be surprised to learn that you quickly -- automatically -- drew on whatever you had ever heard about these two players. You probably relied on the most recent exposure to information about them. If you watched the FIFA World Cup, you might have been influenced by a discussion among the experts about Messi's greatness, that he won the Golden Ball (the award for the outstanding player in the tournament) and that Ronaldo and his Portuguese team performed poorly. (The incredible cross Ronaldo made that led to the tying goal in the final minute of stoppage play against the U.S. not withstanding.) Regardless, the fact is you answered quickly (perhaps after a little thought) based on what was most readily available in your memory.

One of the mental shortcuts parents rely on is called the availability bias. (There are many others that affect parents' decision-making, so this one is illustrative.) Simply put, parents rely on what immediately comes to mind (what's available in their memory) when making decisions about how to parent (e.g. discipline their children). What readily come to mind are how they were parented, how the other parent in the family parents and how other family members (e.g. siblings) and friends parent. Other factors that might influence availability include stories of parenting (good and bad ones) that a parent might have seen on television or in a movie. Or perhaps they just read a parenting book chocked full of opinions about how to be a good parent but that's void of evidence.

Parents succumb to this bias because it requires little effort. It's just easier to make a decision quickly and easily without examining the evidence. Unfortunately, this and other biases can lead to poor parenting. That's why I encourage you to seek out parenting advice that is evidence-based and evidence-informed. I also encourage you to question where the advice you hear comes from and to tell your children to do likewise regardless of topic. If you do both of these things, you will increase the chance that you'll be as effective a parent as you can be and that your children will reach their goals in life as often as Messi finds the back of the net.

What informs your decision-making when it comes to parenting?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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