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The Father Factor

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How Your Vote in November Could Harm or Help Children

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

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 Great Leaders Know That Others Don't

I never played high school football. My football career took place over a short span of four years, from the age of 9 to 12. Some call this peewee football; but not me. Peewee isn't accurate for what I learned about football, leadership, and life in those short years. As I watched When the Game Stands Tall, I was reminded of three things great leaders know that others don't.

Coach Lad knew what great leaders know. After winning 151 games in a roll, the film starts at the end of this great win streak. The Coach suffers a heart attack and the team loses game one of the following season. All seems lost for the "perfect" team. Oh, but no. Coach Lad knows what great leaders know. As he motivates his team about the importance of perfection, commitment, and accountability, we are reminded that playing football is about way more than just playing football. I found his lessons on leadership a helpful reminder of what it takes to be a good husband, dad, employee, and friend. 

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This movie and Coach Lad's example of leadership reminded me of three things great leaders know—in good times and in bad times—that others don't:

1) Great Leaders Know Leadership Starts in the Home

Leadership and fatherhood are one in the same. Watching as a husband and father, I was reminded when watching Coach Lad suffer a heart attack that try as I may, I can do everything necessary to be a great leader in my job and with friends, but if I neglect my home and family, all is pointless. 

Coach Lad's wife points to the fact that over the 151-game winning streak, Coach hasn't been around much for his own kids. We watch when Coach Lad suffers a heart attack, he breaks down and refers to himself as a "lousy husband and the worst dad." From the hospital bed, Coach Lad asks his wife, "what do I do now?" His wife responds caringly, “spend as much time with your family as you do with the team." We then walk with Coach Lad through his recovery and watch as he works to build a relationship with his son; who's now in his senior year of high school. This one lesson was clear: if you want to be great at something, be great at being around your family.

2) Great Leaders Know Leadership is about Commitment

At the start of the movie, the high school football players are in street clothes holding a meeting. Back when I practiced football, I don't recall having practices in street clothes talking like we were in a small group study. But Coach Lad had his athletes holding index cards and reading the other teammates goals aloud and verifying whether they completed their goals for the week. 

When it comes to commitment, we have to teach our children the importance of sticking to our word. When I was 9 years old, there were practices I didn't want to go to. I "just wanted to play" in the games and wear the jersey on Friday's. I hated it at the time, but I have learned after two decades to respect what my dad told me when he said, "you made your commitment they day you signed up to play; that means practice and all. You don't play on Saturday without practicing on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday." Kind of sounds like Coach Lad now that I think about it!

"We’re not asking you to be perfect on every play,
what we are asking you and what you should be asking of
each other is to give a perfect effort from snap to whistle.” 

—Coach Lad


3) Great Leaders Know Leadership is about Serving Others: 

When you're a dad, you quickly realize that life isn't about you. Coach Lad makes clear to his team that, "Love means I’ll be there for you in good times and bad." Basically, Lad is saying, whether it's convenient for me or not, I'll be there for you. See the application here in marriage? fatherhood? work? life? The power of showing up is real. Great leaders understand that while they may not have all the answers, they'll show up and serve no matter what. Showing up is in the job description.

"Growing up is tough, it’s not easy, it ain’t about football or scoring touchdowns, it’s about helping you grow up so that when you so when you take your place out in the community, you can be depended on.” —Coach Lad


When I played peewee football, I didn’t realize how much I was learning about leadership and life. It takes vigilance to be a great leader. It takes being faithful with what you have. It takes showing up. It takes placing others before yourself. This film was a great reminder for me that I’m an example, for good or for ill, to my wife, daughters, co-workers and how I do on these three tests determines how good or bad of a leader I am. Look, being a dad is hard work; but it's worth it. Oh, and as Coach Lad would say, "Family isn't just blood relatives." Get your home right so you can help serve those outside of your home.

What to see the trailer for this film? Check out our When the Game Stands Tall? page for more details.

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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". He knows how to lead in the home and outside of it. With 24 million children growing up in America without their biological father in the home, you can make a much-needed difference in your home and outside your home in two ways:

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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

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.

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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.

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