Should We Institute Relationship Education for Youth?

“We are failing to equip our youth with the ideas, tools, and practices to know how to negotiate their romantic and sexual lives in healthy, nondestructive ways that prepare them to achieve the happy, functional marriages and families that most of them say they want in future years,” said Christian Smith and his co-authors in their book Lost in Transition: The Darker Side of Emerging Adulthood. Professor Alan Hawkins, in our School of Family Life, agrees. He proposes, in fact, that an institutionalization of better relationship education for youth (YRE) is the answer. He provides an argument for it in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.

couple 2“The road that links adolescence to adult family life is not a paved interstate,” he says, “with efficient on- and off-ramps, helpful guideposts, and numerous safety features to prevent or cushion mistakes. Youth navigate [it] alone for the most part. In contrast to a few generations ago, society generally takes a hands-off approach to regulating adolescent and young adult romantic relationships. Not surprisingly, then, many young people arrive at their family destinations battered and bruised.

The Facts

According to Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families, 80% of young adults surveyed want to get married. However, young adults in general have some of the highest rates of divorce, according to marriage scholar Nick Wolfington.

“Intervening earlier in relationship development, before individuals are committed or perhaps even partnered, has the potential to have an even greater impact on improving relationship quality, reducing divorce rates, and, perhaps most importantly, supporting stable unions for children to grow up in,” said Galena Rhoades and Scott Stanley in their analysis of relationship education.

Hawkins supported this by citing a 2011 study on the evidence of relationship education on high school aged youth: “Overall, [the research] found significant, positive change in students’ relationship skills. These changes were moderated, however, by a number of factors: students in two-parent families showed stronger gains; those in severely economically disadvantaged areas showed little gain; mandated classes produced stronger gains than self-selected classes,” said Hawkins.

Why and How?

effect-1772035_960_720Statistics Hawkins cites demonstrate overwhelmingly that teens’ relationship problems often start early. “Prominent scholars argue,” he says, “that romantic relationships in youth are neither transitory nor trivial, but instead have real effects, positive and negative, on adolescent development.” Youth relationship education has the potential to reduce problematic pathways to marriage (e.g., cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth) and increase the success of their relationships, and thus their happiness.

So, if the need is apparent, how does one implement YRE? Hawkins offers the following suggestions:

  • Private funders and government entities need to invest more in YRE
  • Schools need to be more proactive in providing YRE and must be able to teach all of their students. This can be done by assimilating YRE into required health classes, which have a large reach, as opposed to elective Family and Consumer Science classes
  • Religious settings in conjunction with parental involvement are a good place to suggest YRE
  • Community programs can incorporate YRE into existing youth programs.

Of Paramount Importance

If the only thing that you have to offer in a relationship or marriage is your physical appearance, then you are definitely walking on a very thin line,” said Edmond Mbiaka. It takes more than physical beauty to sustain a healthy relationship or marriage.”  While there are limits to YRE, statistics show the effectiveness of teaching youth how to form healthy relationships, Hawkins says. Finally, Hawkins suggests that instead of differentiating between YRE and CRE (couple relationship education), people refer to them collectively as simply, RE- relationship education: “Removing the C from CRE clarifies that the field is much broader than providing valued relationship education to intact couples; it encompasses the important work of individually-oriented relationship literacy education for youth and young adults. Perhaps this small change in how we refer to the field will spur greater attention to the need to allocate a greater proportion of our resources to healthy relationship formation for young people, to help them better navigate the challenging roads to forming healthy relationships and stable marriages.”

Do you think we should institute YRE?


Hope is Essential to Relationships, says SFL Professor

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for,” said Tom Bodett, an American author, voice actor, and radio host. In a forthcoming study, School of Family Life professor Alan Hawkins demonstrates that love and hope are inexorably connected. The study focused on how hope plays an integral role in the ability of couples to fix their relationships.

The Study

“Relationship hope is what it sounds like: hope for the future of the relationship,” says Dr. Hawkins, “hope that you have the knowledge and skills to make the relationship strong in the future, even if you are experiencing challenging problems now.” One-hundred eight-two married and unmarried, low-income couples took part in Family Expectations, a psycho-educational intervention in Oklahoma City that lasted 30 hours. They completed a pretest and an exit interview; the researchers used these assessments to study how relationship hope had affected what they got out of their sessions and whether hope increased as a result of their participation.

divorce-separation-marriage-breakup-split-39483-mediumDr. Hawkins found that those with the lowest amount of hope at their pretest were the ones who benefited the most from the intervention. “Those who are lowest have the most room to grow,” he said. “But also, these are the ones who possibly come to these programs with the most ‘pain’ and the most motivation to change. They sense that without help and change their relationship will fall apart.” Interestingly, he found that women’s relationship hope increased the most when their partner exhibited growth in positive relationship skills. “Previous research has shown that women are more sensitive to the overall quality of the relationship and monitor the ‘health’ of the relationship more than men. I think they are more attuned to changes in their partners than are men. And when they see positive change, it really means a lot to them. Women are just more relationship-oriented.”        


What was the impetus behind the study? Dr. Hawkins serves as a member of the Research Advisory Group for Project Relate, an Oklahoma-based organization supporting relationship education services in the U.S. It is one of two state-government-supported organizations providing relationship education services. “I was excited to evaluate their flagship program, ‘Family Expectations,’ said Hawkins. “[It] serves hundreds of low-income married and unmarried couples every year. Moreover, I wanted to test explicitly the role of relationship hope in relationship education.”


What are the implications of these findings? Hawkins believes that a possible implication is that, if counseling program developers ensure that their processes are aligned well with men’s interests and learning styles, they will be more successful. As to where his research will go next, he says: pexels-photo-168426“I hope to spur more researchers in the relationship education field to focus on…relationship hope. Also, I think the construct of relationship hope in a particular relationship is important, but I think it is also important for youth/young adults to have a general hope that they can achieve a healthy, stable relationship and marriage. So I may play with broadening the concept to general relationship hope (not hope about a specific relationship).”

 “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all,” wrote the poet Emily Dickinson. In a relationship, such hope is crucial. Through his research, Dr. Hawkins expertly reinforced this truth.

Six Dating Tips From FHSS College Resources

If there is one thing on BYU students’ minds as much as academics, it’s dating. A 2014 study by School of Family Life professor Brian Willoughby found that: “young adults…expect to place a high importance on the marital role in their future…. [They] appear to be actively planning on placing time, energy and resources into an eventual spousal role.” Something young adults regard as paramount should not be taken lightly. Various Family, Home, and Social Sciences resources provide tips to aid them in their quest.

Tip #1: Enjoy Being Single

“Most young adults have a desire to marry and one day have a family of their own,” said student Shelece McAllister in a Forever Families article on dating and being happy while single. “However, the process of dating and seeking a marriage partner can be daunting, and sometimes finding your spouse can seem an impossible task. Don’t give up hope! It is possible to successfully navigate the wilderness of the dating world and make it to the promised land.” Student Josh Sorenson of the College’s Comprehensive Clinic advised others to take time to be grateful and optimistic; optimism is key to good emotional and physical health. “In general those with more positive emotions tend to have better health,” he said. “People who report more positive affect socialize more often and maintain more and higher-quality social ties.” Practicing gratitude and optimism will help people enjoy their lives and form more meaningful relationships.


Tip #2: Learn How to Differentiate Between Promptings and Real Life

We’ve all heard the story about the man who received revelation revealing the woman he was to marry. But is that revelation always right? And, what do you do if it’s not? Professors Michael Goodman and Lauren Barnes discuss how to reconcile revelation with relationships in this article from The Daily Universe. “I believe that a lack of understanding [of] the role and interpretation of revelation leads some well-meaning people to mistaken assumptions about what their feelings mean,” said Dr. Goodman.

Courtesy of The Daily Universe

Tip #3: Refine Your Search

“I fall in love with at least three girls every passing period. It happens all the time. I would be walking past the Brimhall building on my to the Harris Fine Arts Center and spot and a girl and say ‘Oh, I love her.’ Then 15 seconds later, I would spot another girl and say, ‘Oh, I love her.’ Then eventually, another girl passes and I see her and think, ‘I love her,’ said BYU Econ graduate Alex Doss. There is an economic theory that describes his experience and how he and others can refine their search for true love; it prescribes beginning by establishing one’s own goals and identity.


Tip #4: Learn How to Have a Healthy Relationship

People know how to get into a relationship, but they don’t often know what to do once they’re in it. Sometimes, the relationship can turn abusive or just fizzle; there are so many ways a relationship can dissolve. However, when a person is in a relationship, whether or not it lasts, they need to ensure it is a healthy one. The Relate Institute provides some pointers on understanding what abuse is and how to combat it, and onlearning how to have fun.


Tip #5: Debunk the Myth of Soulmates

“You can certainly see the appeal of a soul mate. Somewhere, someone is out there that is destined to be with you. Someone who will make your happier and more satisfied than anyone else in the world. With our lives full of stress and heartache, this beacon of hope can make us strive forward in relationship after relationship, seeking that one and only true love,” wrote a Relate Institute author. While the idea of a soulmate is enticing, it can lead us to miss out on so many potentially great relationships and opportunities to grow. The Relate Institute advises singles to not have a “grass is greener on the other side” mentality, among other things.



Tip #6: Develop Your Sense of Self-Awareness and Self-Compassion

Dating can cause one to question one’s identity and value. It is important to cultivate self-awareness and self-compassion, since research shows that these practices can help in alleviating depression, and mediating shame, avoidance, self-criticism, or irrational beliefs. Among other strategies for such cultivation, psychology student Olivia Thompson advises practicing informal mindfulness in everyday life. Be a nonjudgmental observer of the present moment. Try to refrain from making quick value judgements. Periodically take a few conscious, deep breaths.

Dating is cardinal, yet very tricky. It can be done successfully, though, with help.


Can You Ignore Your Child’s Bad Behavior?

This post is twenty-first in a series of videos available in our BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel, which provides short tidbits from our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on contemporary issues.

Is it okay to ignore your child’s bad behaviors? According to parenting expert Denise Barney, yes, as long as you do it with a purpose. In a 2017, presentation to School of Family Life alumni about parenting, she listed tantrums and tattling as two behaviors that can be ignored. Ignoring them with the purpose of redirecting children to more positive behaviors can be a useful way of eliminating them.

If a child tattles, said Barney, a parent can simply acknowledge the child’s feelings (“I’m sure that made you sad”) and gently push them in the opposite direction from where they are going.  As tantrums are fueled by the attention a parent gives to them, they can simply be ignored. Barney said: “As you learn this skill and your child learns that you’re going to use this skill, this tantrum is going to be short lived and will be gone…It’s the same way with any other behavior.”

Denise is an expert in the Power of Positive Parenting, a parenting manual written by Dr. Glen Latham, having taught classes on it for 15 years. She is also the mother of six children ages 30 to 17.  The full lecture can be viewed here.

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A Two-Minute Video About how Praise can be the Perfect Teaching Tool

This post is part of a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains short 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.

What is the best way to teach a child? According to BYU alumni Denise Barney, the answer is praise. In a 2017 lecture to alumni of the School of Family Life, the Family Studies graduate spoke about how to teach children through praise.

Instead of negatively addressing children’s bad behavior, she said, one should commend children on their good behavior: “As you give praise, be descriptive: ‘I really love how you took out the garbage; that shows me that you’re responsible.’ So you’re describing the behavior and then you’re adding a value to it.” Barney added that our relationships are the only things we get to keep and that praise helps foster these relationships, making home “a place where they want to be.”

Barney also addressed the importance of attention: “If we are giving attention to negative behavior, we are strengthening it. If we’re giving attention to positive behavior, [the] same thing occurs, we are strengthening that.”

In this two-minute video, she talks about how to modify a child’s behavior through proper praise and attention. The full lecture can be viewed here.

Denise is an expert in the Power of Positive Parenting, a parenting manual written by Dr. Glen Latham, having taught classes on it for 15 years. She is also the mother of six children ages 30 to 17.

When You Can Ignore Your Kids, According to Positive Parenting Expert Denise Barney

This post is nineteenth 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.

Bette Davis once said: “If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.” Parenting is hard! In a recent lecture to the alumni of the School of Family Life, Family Studies graduate Denise Barney spoke about age-typical behaviors of children and how parents can move past them.

“When my daughter was around 16 or 17,” Barney said, “she became less focused on her family and more focused on her friends. She only wanted to spend time with the latter.” Understandably, Barney found this upsetting. However, she eventually came to realize that that’s just how teenagers act. Her attitude went from offense to understanding: “If someone had told me that was totally age-typical, that all teenagers at the age are self-absorbed. And it wasn’t because she hated us. It was just that she was being…normal. So, once I understood that, the rest of our kids at that age: ‘Be on your way, go be with your friends, hallelujah!’” According to Barney, if you ignore your child’s age-typical negative behavior, it will go away.

In this two-minute video, she talks about her experience, as well as the kinds of behaviors that can’t be ignored. The full lecture can be viewed here.


Denise is an expert in the Power of Positive Parenting, a parenting manual written by Dr. Glen Latham, having taught classes on it for 15 years. She is also the mother of six children ages 30 to 17.



Teens’ Self Esteem is Boosted Through Helping Strangers, New Study Finds

One may be surprised to learn that adolescents’ self esteem is enhanced by helping strangers. A study just published by School of Family Life professor Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker and her student Xinyuan Fu shows that teens with good self-esteem are more likely to help people they didn’t know, and teens who helped others were more likely to experience confidence boosts after that service. Padilla-Walker and Fu theorize, as a result of these findings, that the relation between self-esteem and prosocial behavior goes both ways.

The study will be published in the Journal of Adolescence in June. It looked at 681 adolescents of various races and from families of various income and education levels over four years. Interestingly, it found that no such bidirectional relation existed between self-esteem and prosocial behavior toward friends and family. It was only in serving others not of a teen’s acquaintance that a difference in self-esteem was noted. “[Our] findings..highlight the complexity of adolescent development of self-esteem and the multidimensional nature of pro-social behavior,” says Padilla-Walker.

While these results may or not be surprising, she notes that: “there is something unique about helping those that teens do not know that helps them to feel better about themselves, but helping family and friends does not facilitate this same outcome. It suggests that if we feel a degree of competence, we are more likely to go outside of our comfort zone and help those with whom we don’t have a relationship. I hope that parents and educators will implement helping and service into intervention and prevention programs with the understanding that helping others can boost self-esteem during the teen years.”

Little girl crying

Why are Self-Esteem and Service Important?

Why are these results important? Research shows that low self-esteem tends to cause teens to opt out of things like trying out for teams, at best, and increase the likelihood of doing drugs and binge drinking, at worst.  The beauty product company Dove recently released a report in the Huffington Post showing that “…low body-esteem is causing the majority of women (85%) and girls (79%) to opt out of important life activities—such as trying out for a team or club, and engaging with family or loved ones—when they don’t feel good about the way they look. Additionally, seven in 10 girls with low body-esteem say they won’t be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision if they aren’t happy with the way they look, while nine out of 10 (87%) women will stop themselves from eating or will otherwise put their health at risk.”

A 2014 study from JAMA Pediatrics revealed that boys were also concerned with physical appearance and that those who were were more likely to do drugs and binge drink. Clearly, self esteem is of paramount importance.

What to do, then?

girl smiling With this being said, how can parents and educators of teens help improve those teens’ self-esteem through service to strangers?

What Else?

Dr. Padilla-Walker plans to further her research in a number of ways: “This summer we’re looking at different types of helping, including defending, supporting, inclusion, physical helping, and sharing. We also are looking at how prosocial behaviors differ across the entire span of adolescence, as we have rich longitudinal data spanning ten years! It will be exciting to see what happens developmentally and how family and other influences impact changes over time.”

What tips do you have for improving teen self-esteem or providing service?

Kids Learn Financial Responsibility Best Through Real-World Experience, Fulton Student Finds

pexels-photo-325154How can parents best teach their young adult children to manage their money well? Sam Runyan, a BYU School of Family Life student found that “practice makes perfect.” He interviewed 90 undergraduate students from various American universities, and found that, by enlarge, parents use dexperiential teaching to teach their children how to manage and spend money, how to work hard for their money, and how to become independent and self-reliant. He presented the results of his study at our college’s annual Fulton Conference,  where he and his co-authors won first place for their department.

Specifically, their study found that parents taught their young adults beginning when they were young, by doing the following:

  • Opening a bank account for their children
  • Giving them an allowance
  • Helping them understand smart spending
  • Giving them opportunities to work


Sam has seen the benefits of these teachings in his own life: “My parents taught me to work hard to earn money through chores around the house and different jobs, and they taught me how to spend and manage my money once I earned it.  They ultimately taught me to become an independent person, and as I got older they gave me more opportunities to do things on my own.  I think that because they taught me in that way, I was able to financially support myself when I went to college.”

He further described its universal importance :“Today, the millennial generation struggles to manage money as wisely as past generations.  In our day, it can be easy to make foolish mistakes with our money.  I believe it is important for people to learn how to avoid those mistakes so that they can financially take care of themselves and improve the lives of those around them.” He hopes that researchers, educators, and future parents will take his study’s results and and implement them in teaching their children about financial responsibility.

sfl first place

Where Next?

Sam’s project was part of a larger study examining the financial practices of emerging adults, something about which relatively little research has been conducted. More quantitative (i.e., numerical) data will now be gathered to supplement the qualitative (i.e., verbal). He says: “Our study gives us an accurate picture about the ways parents are teaching their children today, and the next step would be to find the most effective ways parents can help their children learn.”

The Fulton Conference

About the Fulton Conference, he said: “[It] was a really good experience.  It was great to be able to present our research and see all the work that other students have done this year.  I loved the opportunity to talk with other students and professors to share research with each other.  Seeing everyone’s posters and the hard work they put in helped me appreciate the opportunities we have at BYU.  It was also a great opportunity to work with such an amazing research team.  Dr. Hill, Dr. Marks, and all the wonderful students I worked with have made an impact in my life.  I was able to participate in a great study and at the same time make a lot of amazing friends.  Overall, the Fulton Conference was a wonderful experience, and I loved the opportunity to celebrate the great accomplishments of so many students.”

How did your parents teach you financial responsibility?

Do Military Children Struggle with Reintegration When a Deployed Parent Comes Home?

It should come as no surprise to learn that being a child in a military family can be challenging. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, infants, 18 year olds, and all the ages in between can be negatively impacted by a parent’s deployment. They can suffer from sleep problems, aggression, and alcohol/drug abuse. Because of these difficulties stemming from a parent being away, one would assume that their return home would end these issues and allow the children to move past them. However, one would be wrong.

In a recent study, School of Family Life professor Jeremy Yorgason found that, for some children, the transition was quite difficult: “Parents reported relatively low levels of military children’s reintegration difficulty overall… but…parents who experienced depressive symptoms…relationship uncertainty…and interference from a partner…indicated that their children had more difficulty with reintegration.” These difficulties were stable over the three months that the study was conducted.  Dr. Yorgason believes that understanding the results of this study will help military families: “Helping military couples lower depression, strengthen their relationship, and be more harmonious in their parenting and family interactions would seem to help military children with the post-deployment reintegration process.”  He further hopes that: “military family policy and programming will benefit from a better understanding of the relationship dynamics of the post-deployment transition so that military families can be better supported during this challenging time.”

Dr. Yorgason and his colleagues will continue their research, this time with more families over a longer period of time. They will focus on “…the marital processes that occur during the post-deployment phase, and…how reintegration difficulties fluctuate across the transition.” Dr. Yorgason’s elucidation of the problems faced by children in a recently reunited military family will no doubt prove valuable for both further research and the military.

What do you think of this?

Do Superheroes Make Children Better Defenders? Dr. Coyne’s Study Says No.

Who’s your favorite superhero? Batman? Thor? Wonder Woman? In our modern society, we have a variety of caped crusaders to root for, all with varying powers and abilities. However, they do have one trait in common: they are defenders. Our media is inundated with images of these heroes saving people, cities, and countries. Through them, we’re learning to be better defenders, right? A recent study done by School of Family Life professor Dr. Sarah Coyne found that the opposite was true- children who were exposed to superhero media were more likely to become aggressive rather than prosocial.

batman The Study

The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in January 2017, consisted of two interviews each of 240 children ages 3-6.5 and their parents, once at the beginning of the study and another a year later.  Parents were shown images of common superheroes (e.g., Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, X-men) and asked to choose the superhero that their child most identified with and then to rate how much their child identified with that superhero. They were also asked questions regarding their children’s viewing behaviors, and then asked to rate how aggressive their child was. The children were each given a poster with 10 popular male and female superheroes (e.g., Spiderman, Ironman, Captain America, Thor, Superman, Storm) and were asked to identity their favorite superhero. They were then asked to explain why they liked this particular superhero the best. Children could also identify a superhero not on the poster if they liked. The children were also observed in a lab session.

Of the parents surveyed, only 28% responded that superheroes positively influenced their children. One mother backed up her belief by stating “They can be good role models because they are defending the right and the defenseless.” Contrast this with a different mother who said: “I am not a fan of superheroes because although they are supposed to support and defend ‘good,’ they tend to promote fighting and violence . . . I don’t want to promote superhero or superhero play at home because it tends to lead my children to violence. I don’t want them to act out violence and aggression as a way to entertain themselves.” She was part of the 12% of parents who believed that superheroes negatively influenced their kids. Of this group, 66% cited violence as their paramount concern. The largest group of parents, 60%, had largely indifferent or mixed thoughts on superhero media, one mother saying: “I like the positive aspects of superheroes, helping people, etc., but think they are depicted too violently for children.”

Of the children, 20% of them cited violent action as the admired trait. A five-year-old boy said: “He’s big and can punch.” A four-year-old boy selected Captain America as his favorite superhero “because he can kill.”

The Results 7UAS9TK8AF

“Preschoolers who were highly engaged with superheroes were more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive 1 year later,” said Dr. Coyne, “even after controlling for initial levels of physical and relational aggression and their exposure to other aggressive media. Although superhero programs contain high amounts of prosocial behavior and defending behaviors, preschool boys’ and girls’ engagement with superheroes was not related to increased frequency of these behaviors across time.” Her findings corroborate past research on the subject.

She says: “I hope parents [will] be interested in these results. Many parents specifically said they liked the superhero culture because it taught their children to be better defenders….but this wasn’t the case in our study. They were actually more aggressive!” The researcher hopes that parents will limit their preschoolers’ exposure to superhero media and that they will discuss the characters with their children.

This year, Dr. Coyne will conduct a follow up study with the same children, now nearly ten years old. She will be researching “things like the effect of the superhero culture on the development of the muscular ideal.”

Do you think superheroes are a good influence?