Talking About Pornography: an Upcoming Event

Pornography can be a painful topic to talk about, but not talking about it can hurt you and your loved ones even more.

“In religious cultures, sex is kind of a taboo topic, which means we tend not to talk about it very much,” shared BYU School of Family Life Professor Brian Willoughby in a Universe article earlier this year. But just because religious individuals do not talk about pornography as often does not mean that they are free from its reach.

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In a study that he co-authored with graduate students Nathan Leonhardt and Bonnie Young-Petersen this past spring, Willoughby found that religious individuals are more likely to experience unhappiness and depression from their pornography use and are more likely to see themselves as addicted to pornography “regardless of how often they use the material.” These individuals will in turn experience greater relationship anxiety, feelings of powerlessness and more anxiety about talking about their pornography use with others, leading to dissatisfaction and damage in relationships.

With pornography becoming more accessible and pornography use becoming more prominent, it is important that parents and spouses know the truth about pornography and how it effects their families.

To That End…An Event on January 10th

families at risk
Courtesy of BYU Continuing Education

Keep your family safe from pornography’s negative influences by learning how to discuss it with your loved ones and learning strategies on how to deal with pornography at the Families at Risk lecture, Understanding the Modern Threat of Pornography: Myths and Reality, given by Professor Brian Willoughby. The lecture will take place on January 10, 2018 at the BYU Conference Center. “We need to be able to have a more open dialogue on this issue,” said Professor Willoughby. He encourages everyone to take an active role in learning about the harms of pornography and how to keep their families safe.

brian_willoughbyProfessor Brian J. Willoughby is an associate professor in the BYU School of Family Life and is considered an expert in couple and marital relationships, sexuality, and emerging adult development. Professor Willoughby has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on these topics, currently serves on the editorial board for four journals, and was elected as a full member of the International Academy of Sex Research. In addition to teaching several classes at BYU, Professor Willoughby often appears on media and news outlets to share his research and expertise. Professor Willoughby has been married to his wife Cassi for 15 years and together they have four children.

 

 

The Connection Between Religion and Families: A New Book

A recent publication from professors in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences provides answers to the questions of how religion affects marriage, ways parents should talk to their children about their religious beliefs, and whether practicing a faith — whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or yet another belief system — strengthen families. in their 2017 book, Religion & Families: An Introduction, BYU School of Family Life professors Loren D. Marks and David C. Dollahite write about how religion strengthens faithful familiesThe two researchers wrote the book for emerging adults, in the hopes that it could help them navigate important decisions as they transition into marriage and parenting.

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How Does Religion Strengthen Families?

Relying on existing research and their own American Families of Faith project, Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite teach relationship-building, faith-promoting lessons to their readers. The American Families of Faith project draws rich data from lengthy in-home interviews of 200 religious families living all across the United States. The diverse sample includes Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families, as well as immigrants and ethnic minorities, so Religion & Families provides a broad look at the connections between religion and family.

Perhaps the most useful way to study the nexus of religion and family is to explore three dimensions identified by the authors:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Religious practices
  • Religious community.

“Family members who consciously consider and discuss how their religious beliefs, practices, and community can work together for the good of their marriage and family relationships are likely to discover ways to increase harmony between these dimensions,” Marks and Dollahite write. Dollahite, when interviewed about the book, said: “We all ‘live into’ our answers to life’s biggest questions in patience and faith. As we face the realities and challenges of marriage and family life, the confident idealism of youth evolves into a mature and realistic optimism…. We hope that the kinds of information provided about the healthiest way to live one’s faith in marriage and family life in Religion and Families can help young adults be more likely to make that transition more smoothly.”

“There will always be one more unanswered question related to our faith that we do not currently have the answer to,” Marks added. “That question is not a reason to abandon the ship of faith. It is motivation to get to know the captain better. Part of my testimony is that God is a lot smarter than I am.” In other words, we can all build our lives, our marriages, and our families on faith, patience, and trust.

When Husbands and Wives Share Beliefs And Commitment

The American Families of Faith project, a national long-running research project led by Marks and Dollahite, allowed them to connect their three dimensions of religion (beliefs, practices, and community) to marriages, father-child relationships, and mother-child relationships. The findings suggest that husbands and wives enjoy greater marital satisfaction when they share beliefs and are similarly committed to those beliefs. What’s more, spouses can strengthen their marriages by participating together in meaningful rituals, including service attendance and holiday traditions.

As far as children are concerned, Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite’s research indicates that parents and children have more positive emotional experiences when they engage in “youth-centered conversations.” In these conversations, parents listen while kids do most of the talking and ask for understanding. The conversation is open, the parent helps the child connect religion to his or her life, and the parent-child relationship becomes richer and deeper.

Dr. Marks explained that visiting those families’ homes and observed those relationships, he learned how he could be a better partner and parent. Regarding their examples, he says: “We hope that we can convey enough of the exemplary power of these faithful families to young adults that a fire and hope will be kindled that they can do likewise. Gratefully, through their interviews, these families also tell us how they did it — and this may be the book’s most important contribution.”

Family-Centered Priorities Cut Across and Supersede

Elder L. Tom Perry, who attended a 2014 marriage and family colloquium at the Vatican, reported that all major religions value family life. He said: “It was remarkable for me to see how marriage and family-centered priorities cut across and superseded any political, economic, or religious differences. When it comes to love of spouse and hopes, worries, and dreams for children, we are all the same.” Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite share a similar message in their book. In each chapter, they remind their readers that practicing a religion can lead to healthier marriages and happier family life.

 

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Religion & Families: An Introduction is available for purchase on Amazon, Google Play, Target.com, and Walmart.com.

Screen Violence and Youth Behavior: New Questions

In today’s world, many parents, educators, and policymakers are asking whether video games are good or bad for children and adolescents. Indeed, it’s a topic experts have studied and talked about here on more than one occasion, agreeing, for the most part, that violent video games and media are linked to aggressive and violent behaviors in their players. But according to a new article co-written by School of Family Life professor Sarah Coyne, the question most educators and policy makers are asking—are video games good or bad for children and adolescents?—is much too simplistic. They suggest a different, more “nutrition-based” approach.

What Research Says So Far About Violent Video Games and Their Effects

Dr. Coyne and her co-authors analyzed existing meta-analyses concerning video game aggression and violence. “A large body of evidence reveals that violent media can increase aggression,” she says, citing a census study done by Common Sense Media. “Indeed, the effects of screen violence on increased aggressive behavior have been reviewed and affirmed by numerous major scientific organizations, [and] a comprehensive meta-analysis found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiologic arousal, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavior and decreases prosocial behavior (eg, helping others) and empathy. These effects occur for male and female subjects of all ages studied, in both Western and Eastern countries.12

That being said, Dr. Coyne and her co-authors also noted that that are many potential cognitive and social benefits of video game play, and that well-designed video games can be great teachers, since they help players develop sensory processing and cognitive skills. Not all video games are violent, and of course, no risk factor taken alone can cause a child to behave aggressively.

More research is needed to truly explore the negative–and positive–effects of video games on those who play them, they say: large-scale studies of at least 50 000 participants that take into account all known major risk and resilience factors for the development of aggressive and violent behavior tendencies. The study should follow the same large sample of children from an early age through early adulthood, they recommend. They also recommend a similar large-scale, multi-site, multi-year study to further develop and test media exposure interventions to determine what works best, for policy makers and consumers to implement.

A Better Way to Think of Media Exposure?

The authors suggested thinking of media exposure as a diet. It’s important to consume media in moderation, and consumers should make sure to take in more helpful than harmful content. And, the consumer’s age has to be taken into account. In the absence of those large-scale studies, but with the evidence that has been gathered so far, they and other researchers suggest that parents can most effectively help their children and adolescents consume a healthy “diet” of video games and media by actively monitoring their use, and engaging in and conversing about media with their children, rather than strictly restricting media use. Families can also monitor media exposure by implementing simple rules and setting limits to screen time.

 

How to Invest as a College Student

Many college students dream of becoming multimillionaires who split their time between philanthropic efforts and exotic travel. But the trouble is that we’re not always adept at making or saving money. Few of us will end up as multimillionaires, but learning how to make smart investments will help us live comfortably and provide for our families’ needs. In fact, according to School of Family Life professor Jeff Hill, any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps.

Investing Tips for Students

Take Advantage of Compound Interest

Professor Hill is an expert on saving and budgeting money. In fact, one of his undergraduate courses — SFL 260, Family Finance — teaches BYU students those important skills, and Dr. Hill even co-authored the textbook that the students use (Fundamentals of Family Finance: Living Joyfully within your Means). In a June 2015 BYU devotional, Dr. Hill told a story about four hypothetical students, who each had $10,000 and who each planned on retiring 50 years down the line.

 

Get rich slowly - Jeff Hill

The first student put his money in a strongbox, meaning he would still have $10,000 in 50 years. The second student put her money in a savings account, where compound interest would double its value every 25 years. She’d have $40,000 at the end of the 50-year period. The third student put his money in a government bond mutual fund, where it would double every 15 years to become almost $100,000 in a 50-year span. The fourth student put her money in a broad diversified stock market fund, where it would double every seven and a half years. In 50 years, the student would have more than $1,000,000.

“That is the miracle of compound interest,” Dr. Hill said. “When you consistently invest like the fourth student, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be able to retire in the future and that if an emergency happens now, you have a reserve.”

Start Now

Dr. Hill said that any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps. Some mutual funds even cater to small investors who can only afford to put a little bit of money into the stock market. “I invite my students, and I invite you, to begin to invest now,” he concluded.

 

Take a Little Risk, and Diversify

To Dr. Hill’s tips, Economics professor Scott Condie, who has published papers describing the effects of ambiguity aversion (the preference of known risk over unknown risk) on investment. It’s common among many investors, driving them to have less diversified portfolios and to participate in the market less often. “Ambiguity averse investors will almost surely have their wealth converge to zero if there is a rational expected utility maximizing investor in the market,” Dr. Condie wrote. In other words, investors who remain sufficiently ambiguity averse will not survive.

So make sure that you have a diversified portfolio, that you participate actively in the stock market, and that you don’t entirely avoid risk. After all, what’s life without a little risk?

How do you save, budget, and spend your own money?

Take a minute to think about your own finances. If you’ve got any questions about personal finance or investing, let us know in the comments, and we’ll get a research-based response to you!

 

Instability and Complexity in American Families

Today’s families are changing, as we’ve discussed here and here. Our School of Family Life professors are studying more and more types of families with more and more complex relationships. At our college‘s 2017 Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Kathryn Edin addressed the impact of instability and complexity on many American families. As parents break up, then re-partner, then bring new children into the family dynamic, Dr. Edin explained that “the parental roster is unstable” and “the child has multiple adults in and out of his or her life, claiming the role of mom or dad.” This dynamic is both a consequence and a cause of poverty.

Learn more about instability and complexity by watching this two-minute video, and stay tuned for new videos as we continue to explore these issues.

Dr. Edin’s full lecture is available here.

This post is thirty-fourth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

Learn How to Recognize and Monitor Media’s Impact in Your Home at an Upcoming Event

Media and technology can be a blessing, but when they negatively impact family relationships in the home, they can quickly become a curse. sarah_coyneIn a society where media is present in most aspects of our lives, individuals should be informed on how media use influences their relationships and decisions and how they can manage this content in their own lives and in their homes. As a part of BYU’s Continuing Education Families at Risk lecture series, on December 13th Dr. Sarah Coyne of the School of Family Life will expound on how media affects families and how individuals can manage the media in their home with specific strategies and tools. 

Dr. Coyne is an associate professor of human development and has focused much of her recent research on media and its affect on the family. In a recent study on mothers’ media monitoring styles on adolescent technology and media use, Coyne collaborated  with Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker to study certain parental monitoring styles within the home. Research found that when monitoring strategies consisted of active monitoring, which is the promotion of educational and critical thinking about media by parents, and connective co-use, which is use of media by both parents and children in a joint experience, there is less media usage.

families at risk
Courtesy of BYU Continuing Education

Coyne has also worked on research that investigates the impact texting has on adolescent behavior. The December 13th event will be part of the Families at Risk: Issues Facing Today’s Families lecture series. To register and learn more about their classes, please visit their website.

 

 

What can You do to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Roommate?

While each person’s college experience is unique, many share common elements, such as: navigating difficult classes, dating, and living with roommates.  The research of various FHSS professors speaks not only to the importance of building and maintain positive relationships with friends and roommates, but also provides ideas for how to do so.

Why are relationships important?

Psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad studies relationships and the effects they have on health. In a 2015 study, she found that loneliness is a precursor for early death. “The risk associated with social isolation and loneliness is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality, including those identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (physical activity, obesity, substance abuse, responsible sexual behavior, mental health, injury and violence, environmental quality, immunization, and access to health care,)” she and her co-authors said. Loneliness can lead to death just as much as obesity and substance abuse can.

In an interview with Scientific American, the professor spoke on the importance of friendship: “[Friends] provide a sense of meaning or purpose in our lives.”

How can we improve relationships?

1. Understand that they may be struggling

In a recent Connections article, School of Family Life professors Laura Padilla-Walker, Jason Carroll, Brian Willoughby, and Larry Nelson identified the four top concerns of “emerging adults” (people between the 18 and 24) as:

  • Identity: still exploring
  • Parental involvement: transitioning to independence
  • Sexual behavior/Relationships: in light of religious beliefs and newfound independence
  • Religion/Morality: and how it relates to their worldviews

“Emerging adulthood is a unique time of life,” the researchers said, “complete with its own set of challenges and struggles, and it is important for parents, teachers, employers, and others to learn about these issues.” Understanding that your roommate may be experiencing these challenges can help you emphathize.

2. Talk with them

The Relate Institute offers the following ways to have a meaningful conversation:

  • Don’t multitask: focus on your roommate when you’re talking to him or her
  • Don’t pontificate: enter every conversation with the thought that you have something you can learn from it
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • If you don’t know, say that you don’t
  • Don’t equate their experience with yours

Following these tips will allow you to meaningfully communicate with your roommate, which will lead to a better relationship.

3. Do something fun together

rae and madiCheck out our articles on what to do during Thanksgiving break and Summer (these still apply anytime of year) for fun ideas of what to do together.

 

 

 

 

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jason Whiting, Relationship Expert

I have always loved learning, and being a professor is like getting paid to learn all the time,” says Dr. Jason Whiting, author of Love me True and one of our newest School of Family Life professors.

Research

jason whitingThe researcher studies violence/abuse, relationship education, and conflict within couples. “The family is a source of profound influence in our lives, for good and bad, and I hope to be helpful to those who are struggling. Specifically, I want to identify unhealthy ways of interacting, and offer solutions for being more kind and honest,” he says. In his book, Dr. Whiting discusses how partners can be more genuine and honest with each other.

The academician was inspired to study relationships because of his own past experiences: “Growing up in a big family left me curious about relationships: what makes some so fun, and others so frustrating? Individuals are interesting, but when you put them together into families they become even more interesting. Unfortunately, our most meaningful relationships can become damaging, and this was a very compelling issue to me: what makes intimate relationships work?

Brigham Young University

Dr. Whiting loves BYU. “I had a great experience here as a student,” he says, and have always been a fan of the mission of BYU as a unique force for good. After 16 years working at other universities, the stars aligned with what some [other] Family Life faculty here [were] doing, and what I was doing, which presented good collaboration opportunities. Also, my kids are starting to ‘launch,’ and they all want[ed] to come to BYU, so I thought I had better follow them.”

He offered the following advice to students:

  • Seek opportunities to interact with professors.
  • When choosing a course, learn about the person teaching the class, which is as important, if not more so, than the class itself.
  • Connect with faculty through office hours, and don’t be afraid to seek advice. Dr. Whiting reports that many of his most meaningful memories from BYU were those one-on-one interactions with faculty who he admired.

Welcome to BYU, Dr. Whiting!

Photo courtesy of Dr. Whiting’s personal website

New Faculty Adam Rogers: Studying Adolescents, Teaching College Students, and Fathering a Nine Month-Old

Professor Adam Rogers,  one of our newest Family Life faculty members, sees adolescence as a critical period in life, the experiences of which can affect individuals long-term, in positive and negative ways.  “[We] all remember experiences during our adolescence,” he says, “that had a significant impact on who we are now.  Some of those experiences were thrilling, others were so embarrassing that they are burned into our memories.  Some experiences were educational while others were very painful. Through his research, Professor Rogers hopes to help teenagers and their their parents as they move through this transitional time.  “I hope that in some way, my research can help parents understand a little more about what their teenage children are experiencing in today’s world, with all its unique challenges, so that they can feel more efficacious in guiding their teens to make positive and healthy decisions for themselves.”

Adobe Spark (19)While adolescents are the focus of his research, Professor Rogers’ teaching is all about his students. During his own undergraduate degree at BYU, Dr. Rogers had teachers that “noticed [him] and cared about [his] development.” This support from his professors has inspired him to do the same for others.  As a teacher, Professor Rogers seeks to help students make positive connections that can change their lives. He knows that hard work is essential in making these life changes. “My [own] life reached a turning point when I finally learned that natural talent pales in comparison to hard work and attention to detail,” he said. He also strives to help his students recognize that “science and faith can coexist in a powerful way,” a unique perspective that we can experience and develop here at BYU.

Professor Rogers is currently teaching Critical Inquiry and Research Methods and will be teaching Adolescent Development next fall. When he is not in the classroom, Professor Rogers likes going on walks with his wife and nine month-old son, cycling, and traveling to the beach. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the Silence: Better Parent/Child Conversations About Sex and Sexuality

For most of us, parent-child conversations about sexuality are pretty uncomfortable, whether you’re the parent or the child. But School of Family Life professor Laura Padilla-Walker says there are ways families can avoid that tension. In this year’s recent Cutler Lecture, hosted annually by our college, Dr. Padilla-Walker discussed her research on the ways parents teach teens about sexuality, and what it revealed about more effective ways of having those conversations.

How Not to Have Those Conversations

Outside research suggests that highly religious parents often wait the longest and feel the least comfortable when they speak with their children about sexuality (which is especially true for Catholic, Jewish, and LDS families). In Dr. Padilla-Walker’s research, her students, who were predominantly LDS, reported that their parents didn’t discuss sex often and didn’t always handle the conversation well. LDS parents tended to focus on abstinence and the sacredness of sex, but 46% of her survey participants reported that their parents seemed embarrassed during conversations about sexuality. Roughly 24% mentioned that their parents used fear tactics as part of those discussions.

LDS sexuality conversations
These percentages come from a survey distributed by Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life.

What’s more, many people in Dr. Padilla-Walker’s sample (48% of female respondents, 33% of male respondents) reported that they had experienced anxiety concerning their sexuality. That anxiety wasn’t correlated with what their parents said but with how they led conversations about sex. When parents seemed embarrassed or when kids had to initiate conversations about sex, those children had less healthy views of sexuality. When parents said sex was good or normal (without employing any fear tactics), their kids had healthier views of sexuality.

But where exactly should parents begin?

How to Have Those Conversations

Improve the Parent-Child Relationship

Dr. Padilla-Walker said that it’s important to establish a “culture of openness” and that improving the parent-child relationship is the first step. As parents grow closer to their children by praising them, spending time with them, and keeping an open dialogue, conversations about sex will become more comfortable and natural.

Improve the Frequency and Timing of Conversations About Sexuality

She also suggested ways that parents can improve the frequency and timing of conversations about sexuality. It’s not enough for parents to initiate one big sex talk with their children, Dr. Padilla-Walker said, and parents shouldn’t postpone those conversations until their children are sexually active or curious. Rather, parents and children should discuss sexuality often and early, while parents “pre-arm” their kids.

Focus on the Positives

Finally, Dr. Padilla-Walker recommended that parents focus on the positives of waiting to become sexually active, as well as the positive aspects of sexuality in marriage.

Our friends at the Comprehensive Clinic provide these additional instructions, in a separate blog post:

  • avoid using slang, euphemisms, or metaphors when talking about sex
  • Give your children age-appropriate sexual education
  • avoid “reactive sex ed”

“Parents are the scaffolding that will help their children learn about healthy sexuality,” Dr. Padilla-Walker concluded. Adolescents will be better off when their parents help them build a healthy framework.

Dr. Padilla-Walker’s full lecture is available here.