Family Characteristics are More Important Than School Characteristics for Child Wellbeing

Associate dean, Dr. Mikaela Dufur introduces Dr. Toby Parcel as the 17th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecturer

The first-ever virtual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture took place with guest lecturer Toby L. Parcel, professor emerita of sociology at North Carolina State University, sharing her research on the effects of families and schools on child wellbeing. Her Feb. 4 lecture drew in over 200 participants.

View the lecture here.

Dr. Parcel shares that the best way to support schools is to support families. She says, “In each generation, we ask too much of schools, we place heavy burdens on schools and teachers. Let’s support families in doing their job well and in turn that will be the most beneficial for schools.”

Dr. Parcel finds that family social capital (connection to children) has a larger impact on child wellbeing than schools. Her research shows that social capital at home deters alcohol and drug use, but social capital at school does not.

“Family characteristics are virtually always more powerful than school characteristics in affecting adolescents’ cognitive and social outcomes,” says Dr. Parcel. She also finds that bonds between parents and children predict college enrollment and completion and are longer lasting than bonds at school.

When schools and families conflict, parental jobs become more difficult, but Dr. Parcel shares that when capital at home and at school are mutually reinforcing it can have “positive effects on both academic and social outcomes for children and reduce behavior problems.”

Dr. Parcel addressed the worry that many parents have that their children’s education is being negatively affected by online schooling. She finds that these negative effects are most severe for at-risk children. She also discovers that mothers especially struggle to balance work and their children’s schoolwork, all while establishing limits on screen time. On a positive note, some parents are becoming more involved and report better engagement with their children’s learning.

Dr. Parcel encouraged parents to create a warm and supportive environment in their homes by reading to children, asking about school, and showing their children that school is important.

Dr. Parcel gave additional public lectures online designed specifically for students and faculty.

During the student lecture on Feb. 2, Dr. Parcel spoke on the idea of “having it all,” or more specifically, balancing career ambitions and family goals. She asked students to consider how the choices they make now can help them in the years ahead.

“One can have it all, but probably not all at once,” says Dr. Parcel. “Different paths work best for different people.”

Dr. Parcel discussed how the shifting values in society and more remote job options are making careers more flexible and accessible for people who have different needs. She says, “At the end of the day, the ability to adapt to shifting circumstances is critical to making the right decisions at the right time.”

She presented relevant scholarship as well as her own experiences as an academic and mother that indicate a hopeful change and more opportunities — especially for women — in crafting a healthy balance between a career and family.

View the recorded sessions at hinckleychair.byu.edu/parcel-lectures-2021

Hinckley Guest Lecturer Highlights Lifelong Intersections of Family and School

Additional Presentations Directed to Students and Faculty


Toby L. Parcel, professor emerita of sociology at North Carolina State University

Toby L. Parcel, professor emerita of sociology at North Carolina State University, is the guest speaker for the 17th Annual Lecture of The Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair in Social Work and the Social Sciences.

Dr. Parcel is best known for her research on families and their impact on a child’s social adjustment, educational achievement, and eventual attainment of life goals. Because Dr. Parcel will not be traveling to the university — all presentations will be delivered online — she has agreed to spend additional time giving talks to faculty and students with insights from her personal career, family, and life path.

Her lived experience as a woman, wife, mother, researcher, university administrator, and program director for the National Science Foundation adds interesting insights to the family-school relationships she has studied professionally.

Visit hinckleychair.byu.edu for details on how to join each lecture. Registration is not required and attendees will be able to engage with Dr. Parcel by submitting questions via chat.

Main Lecture: Thursday, Feb. 4, 6 p.m. “Unpacking the Home-School Relationship: Effects on Children and Adolescents”

Dr. Parcel’s main lecture will highlight research on the importance of social capital at both home and school and how these two institutions can work together for the greatest benefit. 

“When schools and families are on the same page, that’s very powerful,” said Dr. Parcel during an interview. “However, family influence is stronger and longer lasting.”

Student Lecture: Wednesday, Feb. 3, 12 p.m. “Can You Have It All? Navigating Work and Family in the 21st Century”

Many BYU students think deeply about how they will navigate educational and professional opportunities while also prioritizing commitments to family relationships and caregiving. If that’s you, don’t miss this “pre-lecture” specifically for university students.

Dr. Parcel will share lessons she’s learned as well as what her research concludes about how your career impacts your family. Dr. Parcel has been married 40 years and with her husband they raised two children while also rising in their careers. Now, with five grandchildren, she believes that families must work together to support both adults and children in succeeding in the 21st century.

“There are many valued pathways to manage all the things you want to do — one size does not fit all,” said Dr. Parcel. “Have a long-term view and don’t feel like you have to do it all at once.”

Faculty Lecture: Friday, Feb. 5, 2 p.m.Navigating Work and Family in the 21st Century: Lessons from Research and Life”

As an academic who has studied families and as a woman who has experienced a full career and family, Dr. Parcel will draw insights from her own research and experience to discuss how academics can navigate their own paths to success. She will also identify important skills to develop for those who wish to pursue administrative opportunities.

When Dr. Parcel moved to The Ohio State University, she was promoted to full professor and began her tenure in academic administration as both a department chair and associate dean. She served as a college dean at Purdue and later at North Carolina State University.

More About Dr. Parcel

Toby L. Parcel received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Washington. She received tenure in the department of sociology at the University of Iowa before moving to The Ohio State University, where she was promoted to full professor and served as both department chair and associate dean in the College of Social and Behavioral Science. She then became the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University and the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University. She recently completed a three-year rotation as Program Director for the Sociology Program at the National Science Foundation. 

Dr. Parcel’s research interests include the effects of social capital at home and school on child and young adult academic and social outcomes. Her work has been published in the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Journal of Marriage and Family, Social Science Research and Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Her most recent book, The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments with Andrew Taylor, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2015.

Dr. Parcel and her husband, John Gerber, have been married for over 40 years and they have two children and five grandchildren.  

About the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair

The Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair in Social Work and the Social Sciences is named for the wife of Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brigham Young University established the chair in 2003 to honor Sister Hinckley’s commitment to strengthening home and family. The chair focuses on understanding and strengthening the family, the development of women, and strategies to help both parents and children in difficult circumstances. Each year, the chair sponsors a distinguished social sciences scholar to visit the university and deliver a lecture about how their research addresses a pertinent social issue.

Get more details at the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair website.

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Psychology Researchers Need Dirty Diapers to Further Autism Research

There is growing evidence in the medical field that a community of gut microbiota is associated with anxiety and depressive disorders. Psychology professor Dr. Rebecca Lundwall and her team of researchers are conducting a study to identify the influence of gut microbiota on the development of autism symptoms. The team is recruiting infants 8 to 12 months old to participate in the study to identify an earlier autism diagnosis for children. They especially need infants who have an older sibling with autism.

The team is hoping to help doctors identify autism in children as young as 12 months old. Currently, most autism diagnoses do not occur until age 4 or later. Diagnosis can be difficult especially for parents who do not have an older child to compare the infant’s development to because diagnosis requires identification of delayed developmental milestones. Early diagnosis is important even if a child succeeds academically because autistics struggle socially when life challenges increase dramatically around adolescence or young adulthood.

Dr. Lundwall explains that, “Early autism diagnosis is important because it starts intervention when it’s most effective, while the brain is still developing, and helps children gain social skills.”

The research gets a little dirty
There is increasing evidence that gut health and bacteria are highly correlated with brain activity and it is known that teenagers and adults with autism have different gut microbes from teenagers and adults without autism. Dr. Lundwall’s team is looking for certain gut microbes in babies by collecting dirty diapers and analyzing the microbial makeup of the stool. The team will compare the gut microbes of infants who have a sibling with autism to those who have no relatives with autism.

“We want to help doctors have a simple test to identify autism risk for children at 12 months or younger,” says Lundwall. “Something like this could really level the playing field and help all children, regardless of symptom severity, age and allow children access to resources.”

Lundwall and her team hope that a simple screening test would allow all children who need a referral for a full autism assessment to obtain one.

Join the study
Dr. Lundwall’s team is looking for 100 families with infants-age 8-12 months to join the study. For the control group, participants do not need to have siblings with autism. Compensation is provided and you can get more information by emailing Rebecca_Lundwall@byu.edu.