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The Father Factor

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Why Peanut Butter Cheerios #HowToDad Wins at Cereal and Fatherhood

My daughters love Cheerios. I've had those little circles in my bed and in my shoes for years now. Today, I'm in love with a new Cheerios, Peanut Butter Cheerios, and I haven't even tasted it yet. Here's why...

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General Mills Canada has managed to connect with a dad's desire to engage with his child in a fun way without degrading dads in their new campaign #HowToDad. The new commercial on YouTube reveals exactly what we at NFI hope other brands will do...show a dad as a fully functioning and capable parent...without degrading anyone in the family.

This campaign is more than a fun commercial; from the executive leadership of General Mills Canada on down to the creative folks behind the idea at Tribal Worldwide Toronto point out, “The Cereal category is traditionally more of a health-oriented “Mom” space – even though recent studies show that men do nearly half of the family’s grocery shopping, nothing in the Cereal aisle has ever truly spoken to Dads,” says Jason Doolan, director of marketing, General Mills. “We’ve set out to change that by celebrating what it means to be an awesome dad.”

The #HowToDad campaign was created by Tribal Worldwide Toronto and features a YouTube video showing dads parent differently. The video points to HowToDad.ca for more dad-content. “It just made sense to declare Peanut Butter Cheerios as ‘The Official Cereal of Dadhood,’ because like great dads, Peanut Butter Cheerios lie somewhere in the intersection of awesome and responsible,” says Josh Stein, creative director, Tribal Worldwide Toronto. “Dads are awesome and it’s awesome to be a dad." The campaign mentions that today, dads play a significant role in raising children, and celebrate their contribution. We are presenting General Mills Canada and Tribal Worldwide our NFI Fatherhood Award later this week. Stay tuned to #howtodad on social for more details.

The new commercial opens with the dad asking, "Why should you be proud to be a dad?" He answers his own question, "You know why...because our kids think we're awesome!" What continues is pure genius in its simplest form. The commercial follows dad as he walks through the house and back-yard explaining how awesome dads are...like Peanut Butter Cheerios! Watch the full commercial here.


At NFI, we know more and more dads like you are experiencing the satisfaction and reward of taking a more active role your child's life...and us dads should be celebrated. I love this commercial for its real portrayal of a dad and family. Tribal didn't pick the dumb dad or the passive dad routine to be "funny".

Much like our 10 Ways to Be a Better Dad, the commercial shows the simple ways dads are awesome. The commercial is a reminder that what us dads do impacts our relationship with our child. Watch the commercial and you'll see why the campaign is awesome. In short, it's because it shows how awesome dads are. Being an awesome dad takes at least these 10 things, maybe more:

Screen_Shot_2014-09-22_at_1.47.41_PM1) An Awesome Dad Respects His Child's Mother

Watch closely as the dad in this commercial grabs coffee and passes it to his wife. He says, "Hot stuff coming through...the wife and the coffee." One of the best things you can do for your child is to love and respect mom.

If you're a single dad, my guess is that respecting your child's mother is still a good idea. We've said it before but it's worth repeating: When a child sees parents respecting each other, he or she is more likely to feel accepted and respected. We've written plenty on protecting your marriage. 

tumblr_n8vec3mUco1tf2ynwo1_r1_5002) An Awesome Dad Spends Time with His Child 

How a dad spends his time tells his child what's important to him. If you're "always" busy, your child will feel neglected. Say, "I love you" all you want, but your child will not feel loved. Loving your child means sacrificing other things, but it is essential to spend time with your child. It also means doing things out of your comfort zone. It means doing things that you aren't super-interested in—but you'll get interested—because your child is. 

Kids grow up quickly; missed opportunities are exactly that—missed. Beyond these 7 Ways to Connect with Your Kids, understand like Cheerios says, "An Awesome Dad 'Never Says No to Dress Up'" and "An Awesome Dad Builds the Best Forts."

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3) An Awesome Dad Listens First, Talks Second

In some cases, the only time a dad talks to his child is when he or she gets in trouble. Take time and listen to your child's ideas and problems. Listening helps them feel respected and understood. Begin listening and talking with your child when he or she is young so when difficult subjects arise, they will be easier to handle as they get older. Or, just tell hilarious jokes...because that's what awesome dad does!

Say hello to my pillow friend. Raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood!4) An Awesome Dad Disciplines With Love

All children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. Remind your child of the consequences of his or her actions and provide meaningful rewards for desirable behavior. 

A dad who disciplines in a calm and fair manner shows he loves his child. Get our 8 Things to Know About Disciplining Your Child. Said another way: An awesome dad knows how and when to discipline. "Because being awesome isn't about breaking rules—it's about making them."

Capes were made for dads. So raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood.5) An Awesome Dad is A Role Model

A dad is a role model to his child, whether he realizes it or not. A girl who spends time with a loving father grows up knowing she deserves to be treated with respect by boys, and what to look for in a husband. A dad can teach his son what is important in life by demonstrating honesty, humility, and responsibility. Here's a great example of a role-model dad in case you need one. 

Dads teach the fun stuff. So raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood!6) An Awesome Dad is a Teacher

Too often we think teaching is something others do at a school building. But a father who teaches his child about right and wrong, and encourages his child, will see his child make good choices. An involved dad uses everyday examples to help his child learn the basic lessons of life. Consider the vital knowledge you, and you only, possess with regard to music and classic movies. Consider how a dad can teach about fashion from this commercial: the awesome dad understands the Difference Between a Boy and a Man (see dad in commercial say to his son as he tilts his cap, "Suggestion...that's a Boy...that's a Man...")

Dads are full of wisdom. Let’s raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood!7) An Awesome Dad Eats With His Family

Sharing a meal together can be an important part of healthy family life. In addition to giving structure to a busy day, it gives your child the chance to talk about what his or she is doing and wants to do. It is also a good time for dad to listen. Most importantly, it is a time for families to be together each day. 

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8) An Awesome Dad Reads To His Child

In a world where television and technology dominates, it is important that dad reads to his child. Read to your child when he or she is young. Instilling in your child a love for reading is one of the best ways to ensure he or she will have a lifetime of growth. We wrote a little something called 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome. Let's be honest, it's helpful. In other words, as dads, we "blow their minds." 

Dads never lose. Let’s raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood.

9) An Awesome Dad Shows Affection

Your child needs the security that comes from knowing he or she is wanted, accepted, and loved. Dad, get comfortable hugging your children. Showing affection every day is the best way to let your child know he or she is loved. Remember as the commercial points out, "They (kids) look at us the same way they do superhero's...up...because we're taller."

Balance: it’s what dads do best. Raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dads!10) An Awesome Dad Realizes A Father's Job Is Never Done

Even after your child is grown and ready to leave home, he or she will still look to you for wisdom and advice. Whether it's continued schooling, a new job or a wedding, you continue to play an essential part in the life of your child as he or she grows. Work hard. Dad hard. You can submit for #HowToDad here.

What's the one thing on this list you find the most rewarding?

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.

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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.

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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?

That Time When Ray Liotta Punched Me in My Fathering Face

I don't know "Goodfellas" Liotta. I know "Field of Dreams" Liotta, "Corina, Corina" Liotta, and "Bee Movie" Liotta. As an actor, Liotta is known for punching people in the face. His newest work as the dad in The Identical punched me in the face. His character reminded me of how I can get so many things right as a dad; yet fall prey to the sin of being distant and detached.

Liotta made me think about the root problem of connecting with our kids; the real struggle is managing work and family. If we can learn to manage work and family; we can better connect to our child, and not be like how we see Liotta's character for most of the movie—as a doubting and detached dad.

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At NFI we talk a lot about absent fathers. Our research and mission is all about the effects of father absence. We train leaders so they in turn train dads to be better dads. In The Identical, Ray Liotta's character is a decent dad. He's not phyically absent. He's a country preacher who’s home at night, provides food on the table, a roof over his family, and stability. But, he's missing a crucial piece of the great-dad puzzle. He's cold and emotionally detached from his son. Us dads can get a lot of things right as dads, yet miss the point; that is, to really connect with our kids. Being an involved, responsible and committed father is not just about being physically present, it’s about connecting with your child. 

The Identical is about a son (played by Blake Rayne) of a preacher (Liotta), who rejects his father’s desire for him to join his line of work. Instead of preach, the son loves music and wants to do that silly stuff that people from Tennessee do—like write and sing music. We follow Ryan Wade as he struggles to live out his dream all the while his father is disappointed. There’s secrets to uncover and successes and failures all along the way; but after all is said and done, this is a father-son film. 

As a dad, I can get some things right. I can have an honorable career, provide a roof and food and come home at a decent hour each night. Yet if I'm not careful about how I value my relationship between work and family; I risk having a real relationship with my daughters. Watching the father-son relationship in this movie reminded me to be careful about how I manage work and family. Basically, Ray Liotta punched me in my face.

After watching The Identical, I had to come back to our training programs. We train leaders to teach dads how to manage work and family. Managing work and family means you are able to show you value work AND family. It’s easier to meet both responsibilities if we get these eight things right.

1) Avoid taking work home
Challenge yourself to either not take your work home or do it after the kids are in bed. Train yourself to unplug mentally and physically before you get home. Some days I do this well—some days I don't. The days I do this best are the days I make myself stop in the driveway, and detach from the day's work; so I'm not detached from my girls when I step in the house.

2) Get focused while at work
Every week there's something to attend—a practice or family game night. I have two children in school now. Trust me, I know from experience, it's busy. If you look at your kid’s schedule, there’s probably something you’re missing. Try getting to the office earlier or closing your door. Be careful about how you spend your time at work. Reminder: the point is to get your job done AND get home to be with your family.

3) Put your work and family schedule on one calendar
A wise man once said if you don’t plan to succeed you plan to fail. Prioritize your duties at work and home. Not that I’m perfect at this, but something that seems to work for me is that I use one to-do list for work and home and one calendar for work and home. Take a moment to review the upcoming week. Be intentional about adding the events to your calendar. Don't forget to mark time on your calendar for down time on a regular Thursday evening at home with your kids too. Time marked "busy" doesn't have to be the big events like recitals and dances and whatnot. 

4) Learn when to say yes and when to say no
Be strategic about being a team player and pitching in on tasks. On the other hand, be careful because if you're the guy who says yes to everything you may simply be horrible at delegating—or worse—horrible at being with your family.

5) Put your commitment to family on display 
Take a look at the pictures in your office. My guess is that if you have teenagers, your pictures aren’t of teenagers. If I walked into your office, I’d probably think you had a newborn! Update your pictures. Think about it: if your child is young, display their artwork. It will serve as a reminder to you and guess what everyone will use for small talk and connection? Exactly, you will be reminded of that great artist you have at home!

6) Learn about your office's work-family balance policies
You may have extra time you can use to re-prioritize and be with your family. From use of sick time to flex-time, there may be ways to take time off from work and be with your child when he or she has to go to the dentist.

7) Make career choices with the family in mind
This may sound funny to some, but it happens (or doesn't happen). Consider stress-level and what it takes to gain a promotion before changing roles or positions. Consider your family on all things from location of the job to benefits.

8) Try and be with your family everyday.
Unless you're in prison or deployed, there isn't many more reasons for not seeing your family daily. But, I’m constantly hearing of dads who sell out for position and money over time with his child. There may exist a time and place for this; but it should always be the exception and not the norm. Being a dad means taking time. If you aren’t physically available daily, then consider phone and email as great options. The point is to be available and connected. Know how your child is doing so when something comes up, they can talk to you.

What I saw in watching The Identical was dad who didn’t know how to connect with his child. Of course he loved his son; but for various reasons from his past on down to his own interests, he spent years not really connecting with his son. He spent years disapproving of his son's successes and being detached. Living as a connected dad requires we learn how to value our work AND family. A good dad manages both. Connecting with your child may seem difficult; but let Ray Liotta's character remind you it shouldn't take a lifetime to learn.

What’s one thing from this list where you needs the most help?

Learn more about The Identical and get started connecting with your child by downloading "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child".

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This free eBook is designed to help you and your child become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or to help other dads. In this eBook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

 

 

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.

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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.

 

Never Forget, You are a Father!

Here’s something to put on your wall at work or your bathroom, where you will see it every day. A reminder of the important things in life, as a father. 

Most of us men are good people, but too many of us are not as adept at being good fathers. The difference lies in everyday life and our priorities. Some men are intentional about placing a career ahead of ‘Dadhood’. Many more of us do the same thing, but we do it subconsciously. When your children grow up, they will most likely think of you with love--but will they have your respect? We must occasionally stop, look, and listen to our children and our role as their father.

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Some Things to Ponder:

  • When you’ve been in the office for 60 hours this week, don’t forget you’re a father.
  • When your buddies want you to stop by after work for a drink, do it, maybe. But don’t forget you are a father. 
  • When you are watching the ballgame, and your child asks you a question, remember, you are a father.
  • When you are trying to catch up with maintaining your house, and your young son wants to ‘help’, don’t forget you are his father.
  • When your daughter asks you to take her to the mall, take her. But ask a lot of questions and place limitations first. Remember, you’re her father.
  • When your child needs a hug, or a smile, or a stare-down, remember, you’re their father.
  • When a dance recital is scheduled during the Master’s tournament, remember to record it. The Masters--not the dance recital! After all, you are a father.
  • When you don’t live with your children, at least live for your children. After all, you are their father and they need you.
  • Never forget to be around for the milestones. Is work really more important than the first day of school? Maybe so, around .1 percent of the time!
  • Never forget to discipline your kids when they need it. Be firm but do not yell or shake! 
  • Never forget to ask them how they are doing, at school, with friends, with their siblings, etc. Talk with them--not at them. 
  • Never forget to be respectful to their mother and to be a partner to her, especially for your kids’ needs. 
  • Never forget that neither you, nor your children are perfect. Be patient.
  • Never forget that they are not you. Let them be the person they are, but guide them as their father.

Many of these reminders are reminders your kids may want you to ignore, like disciplining or asking too many questions of them. They want you to ignore those actions for that moment, but they want you to be interested enough to be concerned for them and to mold them.

Understand that you don’t fail as a father if you don’t comply with these reminders 100 percent of the time. It’s the attitude you have as a dad, not 24/7 perfection. For instance, if it were the ninth inning of the World Series and my daughter asked me to do something with her, I would say, “Okay, but wait until this game is over.”  You can explain later why you asked her to wait, if necessary.

As long as you are aware that you are a father, never feel guilty about time to yourself! You need it! You deserve it! And you will definitely be a better father for it! Just carefully balance your children’s need with yours.

For a further look into your role as a dad, see my “Dads Self-Inspection Checklist”. It will help you to decide where and if you may need to improve your fatherly skills.

image: iStockPhoto

 

 

Off to College: An Open Letter to My Son

Son,

Today is the DAY.  The day you have looked forward to ever since you first heard the word and the day that your mom and I have eyed with apprehension. The DAY that you go off to COLLEGE!

Did you know that according to Wikipedia in ancient Rome a collegium was a club or society, a group of people living together under a common set of rules? I point that out for two reasons. 

First, because it implies that college is more than a place of higher education…it is a place of shared experience with its own set of rules and behaviors. Secondly, that you should never, ever use Wikipedia as a source for anything over the next four years.

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With the wistfulness of a man who thinks this day has arrived way too soon, I would like to give you words of wisdom that will see you through the experience. But this day not only marks another significant step in your life, it is significant for me as well. While you become a bona fide college student, I become officially middle-aged.

So, I don’t have words of wisdom as much as I have things that stick in my craw...pet-peeves if you will. You have heard these from time to time your whole life, but I think each could apply to you and the college experience:

  1. Give it 110% - this cliché that is usually spouted by athletes when talking about their level of effort is impossible to reach. While many things can exceed 100% (the national debt is a good example), effort is not one of them. A person can only give all..not all plus 10%.I don’t have to really explain that to you, since you are a Math Major, but I do want to remind you not to put too much pressure on yourself. You are about to be challenged academically in a way beyond anything you have experienced. That is a good thing. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. You will eventually get it. I have complete faith in your ability. Also, don’t over-extend yourself. There will be many things competing for your time and attention. Remember that you can only give 100% of your effort. So learn to say “no” and choose wisely how you spend your time.
  2. You can’t miss it – people often end a dissertation on directions with this phrase which is senseless, because you obviously CAN miss it, which is part of why you need directions in the first place. A college campus is a great place to experience brand new things beyond the classroom. So don’t miss out on those opportunities. Go to an opera. Sign up for intramural water polo. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Eat some sushi. Look for ways (legal, sane ways that is) to expand your world and experience new things. Otherwise you might miss it.
  3. No-Brainer – this is a phrase folks add when talking about something they think is so obvious it requires no thought. I say, “who are they to tell us what we should consider?” You are about to be bombarded with many who might tempt you to disengage your brain and go with the flow. The values and morals you were raised with will be challenged in many subtle ways. You will have to make decisions on your own about a whole range of things. We trust that you will make wise ones. Ones that reflect who you are as a person. Don’t let anyone tell you not to think or what to think. Use your brain and decide for yourself. 

So, there you have it. Three pet-peeves from your middle-aged dad that you may or may not claim as your own. You are welcome to borrow them if you can use them…kinda like that electric razor we share. (which by the way I couldn’t find this morning…is that by chance packed with the rest of your stuff?)

Love,

Dad

image: iStockPhoto 

Football, Family, and Fatherhood: Learn About When The Game Stands Tall

Inspired by a true story, When The Game Stands Tall shows the real-life De La Salle High School's incredible football winning streak and exactly what created the victories. This film is about football, but make no mistake about it, this film is about fatherhood. Let it inspire you to be a better leader for your home and for those around you.

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It's in theaters now, I'll write more about the leadership lessons from this film in an upcoming post. But first, you have to see the trailer! Coaches and parents who watch will be motivated by being reminded of the real reason you put in the time and effort to lead your children—in good times and bad.

“Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard.” —Coach Bob Ladouceur in the movie
When The Game Stands Tall

About When The Game Stands Tall

Inspired by the true story, When The Game Stands Tall brings to life the incredible winning streak of the De La Salle High School football team: 151 straight victories over 12 years. All along the way, as Coach Bob Ladouceur builds his seemingly invincible national powerhouse, he has emphasized purpose and significance rather than streaks and titles.

But when real-life adversity leaves the team reeling, the Spartans must decide if the sacrifice, commitment, and teamwork they have always trusted in can rebuild what is now disintegrating around them.

Get a Sneak Peek of When The Game Stands Tall

Check out these scenes from the new family film that show the real-life world of coaching, football, and leadership.

 

Endorsements

"WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL has the best football action I have ever seen in a movie—and I have seen a lot of great football movies over the years! Coaches, players, parents, and fans are all going to stand up and cheer for this powerful film."
—Bobby Bowden, Retired Florida State head football coach

"When I saw WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL, I thought of a great outline of what high school athletics should be. It shouldn’t be about the statistics, it shouldn’t be about the touchdowns—it should be about the team and the effort that a team puts forth together."
—Amani Toomer, Super Bowl champion and former De La Salle receiver

See more endorsements here.

Follow When The Game Stands Tall!

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Become a Double Duty Dad Today! 

In this film, we see Coach Lad is what we at NFI calll a "Double Duty Dad". With 24 million children growing up in America without their biological father in the home, you can make a difference:

1) to a fatherless child in your circle of influence or
2) mentor another dad.

Your commitment to be a Double Duty Dad will change everything. Visit here to get our helpful eBook.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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