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.

 

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Chelom Leavitt

BYU offers an environment that is not found many other places,” says new School of Family Life professor Dr. Chelom Leavitt. “We can discuss science and social issues and still be infused with the Spirit. We have a chance to learn powerful lessons about our fields of research from the Spirit.” She intends to utilize both the Spirit and secular studies in her research on sex and relationships.

To Dr. Leavitt, research on relationships and sex is critical for a healthy society: “In our larger society and especially in media, sex is talked about as a pretty cheap thing. Hook ups, multiple partners, and personal pleasure are regularly promoted. However, as I work with couples, they often ask how they can deepen the meaning of sex and increase intimacy. I think most people are hungry for greater meaning in their intimate relationships. I examine how mindfulness during sexual experiences may provide just that. As we slow down our thoughts and remain non-judgmental, we are capable of connecting in more meaningful ways. We feel more. We are more accepting of ourselves and our partners. I love researching skills and ideas that give couples more opportunities to unify.”

Dr. Leavitt wasn’t always a researcher. She started as a lawyer, but eventually realized that many of her clients had never had the benefit of education. “Teaching and learning are blessings in our lives that help us gain a broader perspective and see clearer the issues of our day,” she said.

She offered the following advice for students: “Listen to the small promptings of what you can become. I constantly remind myself that a small amount of progress is progress, and will accumulate into great things.”

Welcome Professor Leavitt!

New Faculty Spotlight: Natalie Hancock

New FHSS professor Natalie Hancock had an “aha” moment on the first day of her undergraduate interior design class at BYU. Her professor was listing a few majors that might interest students who liked the class. “When she said Family and Consumer Sciences Education, I knew that was the major for me,” Professor Hancock said.

Then-student Hancock had always loved sewing and cooking, and she’d taken a few FACS classes during junior high, but it took the interior design professor’s comment to make Professor Hancock realize what she wanted to do with her life.

“I love Family and Consumer Sciences Education”

Natalie HancockSince taking that undergraduate course, Professor Hancock has given her all to helping family and consumer science students. She worked as a middle school and high school teacher for several years, where she integrated technology, math, science, and even social media into her classroom.

“Once I entered the teaching profession I loved learning how to become a better teacher. I wanted to share that passion with others,” Professor Hancock said. “I love Family and Consumer Sciences Education and believe everyone should major in this program.”

Professor Hancock said she has a clear goal in returning to BYU as a professor: to help students all over campus know about the FACS Education major. “The skills that are taught to secondary students by our FACS Education majors are vitally important,” Professor Hancock said. “FACS graduates can have a tremendous influence after they graduate and enter the secondary education classroom.”

Pursue What Inspires You

Professor Hancock said students should pursue what inspires them. They should also get to know their professors, she said, who “are wonderful people who want you to succeed.”

Looking back on her own undergraduate and graduate studies, Professor Hancock said the most valuable lesson she learned was to always do her best work. That way, she knew she was being true to her potential, and she could happily accept any grade she received.

Her parting word of advice? “One thing I absolutely loved about being a student at BYU was being able to attend devotionals and forums. Make sure you are attending.”

Welcome back to BYU, Professor Hancock!

Does Exercising Together Bring Couples Closer? New Study Says Maybe Not.

A new study done by BYU Family Life professor Dr. Lee Johnson shows that exercise, while helpful for individuals, might not be good for couples. It might, in fact, be an indicator of problems in the relationship. Women in couples therapy with their husbands reported that the more they exercised, the more intense their arguments tended to be.

The Study

The study consisted of daily surveys from 36 heterosexual couples, cohabitating or married. The questionnaire included such queries as:

  • What did you argue about?
  • How heated was the argument?
  • Since you last reported, did you spend time exercising?
  • How many minutes did you exercise?

couple 2Dr. Johnson found that when males were more stressed, they reported a higher level of argument intensity. Male exercise had no significant impact on the variables. However, when females reported exercising, both partners reported higher argument intensity.

This result was surprising, and ran counter to the hypothesis Johnson and the other investigators were looking to prove. “Exercise has been an important part of my life,” said Dr. Johnson, “and has contributed to bettering my relationships.  I have also seen in be helpful in the lives of couples I work with in therapy. At first, we were surprised by the finding.  There is a lot of research on the benefits of exercise helping many mental and physical aspect of our life but no research on how exercise will influence couples who are attending therapy.  However, when we thought further about the findings, we came up with the explanation that as time exercising increases that is time away from the relationship, which can contribute to increased arguments.  This is our current hypothesis that we need to conduct additional research on.”

Additionally, they posit that some partners might withdraw from their spouses to exercise because of increased argument intensity. Exercise, in this sense, can be an indication of decreased relationship quality.

Meaning and Next Steps

exercise

With those findings and theories in mind, Johnson offered the following advice to clinicians:

  • be conscientious of how they prescribe exercise interventions in couples therapy
  • help males learn to be attentive to their own physiology and facilitate self and partner soothing

By extension, then women and men in couples should be conscientious of how they use exercise in their relationships: as escape or aid.

The researcher plans to continue this study using accelerometers to gauge physical activity as opposed to using participants’ responses. “This study opens many areas for future research. These include generalizing the current study to a sample including non-white couples and non-heterosexual couples,” said Johnson.

 

Exercise photo courtesy of Curtis MacNewton

 

New SFL Professor Aims to Mix Religion and Science

alyssa witting“There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson. New School of Family Life professor Dr. Alyssa Witting believes that religion and science can tremendously inform and help each other in the field of therapy. She intends on bringing this perspective to her work at BYU. 

The Scientific and the Spiritual

“As an LDS scholar, I have an overarching hope that my work will help in the effort to bridge gaps in AND between our gospel understanding and scholarly understanding of how to heal from trauma. We know that anything true is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ…. There is much to be learned about what we can and should do to help those affected by mass and personal traumas by turning to the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets as well as the wonderful work and work of trauma researchers and theorists,” said Dr. Witting, who studies trauma.

Work with Students

The scholar is also excited to be teaching at BYU, calling her relationship with educating others a “love story.” While teaching at another university, she “learn[ed] to approach [her] students with an aim to serve them and stretch them rather than impress them.” This led to “[being filled] with confidence and peace that I had something to contribute. It also allowed me to practice…trying new things all geared toward creating an environment where people enter and feel respected, challenged, stretched and cared about, just like I do in my clinical work.”

She offered the following advice to students:

  • Rise above the fear that you are not good enough. Look outwards and find people that you can help and encourage. “Actively consider and pray to know how your talents can fit the needs [of those] around you. It will truly alleviate anxiety about being good enough because you will see the work the Lord has given you is uniquely suited for you. There is no one better for your mission than you.”
  • View failure as “inspiring learning.” Use your setbacks and challenges to reach farther and climb higher.

Time at BYU

“I feel very humbled to be a faculty member at BYU. I have truly extraordinary researchers and teachers who are people of great character to interact with and learn from as my colleagues and I feel privileged to be surrounded by the incredibly bright and dedicated students here in FHSS. I can honestly say there is no place I would rather or even would have continued my work as an academic,” said Dr. Witting. Welcome to BYU, Dr. Witting!

In a Stepfamily? Come to this Lecture!

“When you have a blended family,” said stepparent Isabella, in a recent Connections article, “you have the chance to learn how charity works. Having a blended family has been a blessing to us because we had the opportunity to become an eternal family.”  While stepfamilies are becoming more common in modern society, blending them is still a challenge, according to Patricia Papernow, an expert in the study of stepfamilies and a speaker at our 2016 Social Work Conference. “It’s like Italians eating with chopsticks.” At an upcoming presentation, School of Family Life professors Jeff and Tammy Hill will share some useful tips for members of blended families both on- and off-campus.

In particular, they’ll:

  • share their own personal experience of blending their 12-kid family,
  • provide the most current research on blended families and what actually works.
  • tackle counterproductive myths about blended families,
  • equip attendees with research and gospel-oriented principles to assist them

The lecture will be held on November 8th and 7pm in room 2265 of the BYU Conference Center. Overflow will be in room 2267. It is offered as part of the Families at Risk lecture series, which provides family with techniques, perspective, and hope to take on today’s threats to family. Registration is required beforehand here, and the cost is $25.

The stress associated with numerous family transitions can pile up, the consequences of which may persist into emerging adulthood.,” said Drs. Erin Holmes, Kevin Shafer, and Todd Jensen in a 2016 study. It is imperative that people who are in stepfamilies or who know people in stepfamilies understand the importance of successful blending and the best ways to do so. Each widowed and remarried, Tammy and Jeff Hill are eager to share their experiences with others.

 

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Cutler Lecture: Breaking the Silence: Proactive Parent-Child Communication about Healthy Sexuality

It’s almost time for the 2017 Virginia F. Cutler Lecture, one of the college‘s most prestigious annual lectures. This year’s speaker is Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, a School of Family Life professor who studies parenting and media influences during adolescence and emerging adulthood.

Dr. Padilla-Walker’s lecture is titled “Breaking the Silence: Proactive Parent-Child Communication about Healthy Sexuality.” She will present current research findings on parent-child communication about sexuality and will focus on primary stumbling blocks to quality communication. The lecture will also compare LDS and non-LDS families on communication about sexuality using both quantitative and qualitative data. Suggestions for how to improve communication and promote healthy sexuality will be highlighted. Light refreshments will follow the lecture.

The lecture series is named after Virginia F. Cutler, former dean of the College of Family Living (now the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences). Dr. Cutler cared deeply about women and people in other nations, and her career took her across the globe as she served people in Thailand, Indonesia and Ghana.

 

 

 

How Texting Affects Adolescent Behavior: A New Study By Sarah Coyne

For many of us, we knew we were officially teenagers when we got our first cell phones. Instead of a license to drive, it was a license to social life, friendship, different forms of entertainment, and privacy from parents. But is this necessarily a good thing? Over the past decade, professors, researchers, and parents alike have asked how this new connection to and “need” for technology, or cell phones in particular, is impacting the younger generation.

A 2012 study done by Professors Sarah Coyne and Laura Padilla-Walker in our School of Family Life  showed, among other things, that greater amounts of family cell phone use was associated with higher levels of family connection. A May 2017 study done by the same team with co-author Hailey G. Holmgren, focused on cell phone usage rates during adolescence, and the effects of that usage, as opposed to the effects of other media use, over time on adolescent relationships.

The Study: Who and What?

The texting and media habits of 425 Washington state youth were monitored throughout a six-year period from the ages of 13-18. While patterns of social networking, watching television, playing video games, and texting were all reported, researchers focused primarily on the frequency that youth texted throughout the six years. This data was then analyzed and correlated with reported depression, aggression, anxiety rates, as well as self-reported measurements of relationship health between the child and their father to find insightful correlations.

people-hand-iphone-smartphone

At the end of the six years, researchers found that both texting and social media use among teenagers tended to exist at “moderate levels during early adolescence, increased [levels] during mid-adolescence, peak around age 16-17, and then decrease slightly as individuals grew into adulthood.” These two forms of media most likely better serve the needs of youth to enhance their social activities and monitor social interactions. Coyne et al. found that, concerning texting, teenagers could be grouped into four distinct categories according to their texting trajectories throughout the six years: Moderates, Perpetuals, Increasers, and Decreasers.

     Moderates

The majority of adolescents (67%) showed moderate levels of texting throughout their youth that increased slightly over the course of their adolescence. These individuals had fewer reportings of negative behavioral outcomes. From this, we learn that the early development of self-regulation could be important in predicting stable, moderate patterns of texting among youth.

     Perpetuals

A smaller group of adolescents (14%) showed  high levels of texting during their early adolescence that slightly decreased over time. Individuals in this group tended to be depressed, male, and coming from single-parent homes. Of the four groups,”perpetuals” experienced the most negative outcomes with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and aggression. Coyne and her colleagues concluded that sustained high levels of texting “may interfere with the formation of face-to-face relationships” resulting in negative behaviors and an adolescent’s poor relationship with his or her father. On a more positive note, “perpetuals” tended to have the strongest relationships with their best friends, suggesting that texting can strengthen particular relationships.

texting 2

     Decreasers

Seven percent of adolescents in the study had high levels of texting during early adolescence and a sharp decrease in texting throughout their adolescent years. These individuals were able to control their texting habits and ultimately showed the lowest levels of depression and the highest relationship quality with their fathers.

     Increasers

“Increasers” showed low levels of texting during their early adolescents, rapidly increased their texting during mid-adolescence and then slowed down during their transition to adulthood. This group appeared to be relatively healthy in terms of behavior and relationship outcomes despite their increase in texting during their mid-adolescence.

Why is This Study Important?

Teenagers and young adults should be aware that this research shows a strong correlation between high patterns of texting over the adolescent years and impaired relationships. Parents of teenagers should be aware that “it is likely that both of these forms of media (texting and social media) represent a particularly salient way of communicating and connecting with others that is unique from other forms of media,” say Coyne et al. “This may be especially salient during adolescence, which is characterized by numerous emotional and social transitions (Steinberg, 2010). Both texting and social media have the potential to enhance a number of social transitions that are important during this age, including having more friends of the opposite sex and entering into romantic and sexual relationships. Additionally, social status is very important, and adolescents may use both texting and social media as ways to participate in and monitor their social world.”

What are its Implications?

“Overall,” continued Coyne, “this study revealed a pattern of texting across adolescence that is similar to some media types (i.e., social media) but not others (television and video games).  The majority of adolescents were able to utilize texting in a moderate fashion that did not appear to impede or hinder their relationships with others. However, high and fairly stable texting early in adolescence appeared to be related to a host of negative behavioral and relationship outcomes 6 years later. I hope this helps families recognize that early and sustained high level of texting might be problematic for adolescents. I hope families can have conversations about healthy media use through childhood and adolescence.”

 

 

What is Your Young Adult Thinking?

What is your young adult thinking? Until recently, the concept of emerging adulthood (ages 18-24) was not academically recognized as distinct from adulthood. But now, in part thanks to School of Family Life professors Larry Nelson, Jason Carroll, Brian Willoughby, and Laura Padilla-Walker, researchers are beginning to study it. In a recently-released 2017 Connections article, writer Jake Healey said: “Emerging adulthood is a unique time of life, complete with its own set of challenges and struggles, and it is important for parents, teachers, employers, and others to learn about these issues. So what does the research of Carroll, Nelson, Padilla-Walker, and Willoughby reveal as the four primary concerns of this age group? They are, in order of importance:

  • identity,
  • parental involvement,
  • sexual behavior/relationships, and
  • morality/religion

For explanations of each of those categories, check out the full article on the Connections magazine webpage. While there, you’ll also find information on:

  • cutting-edge Alzheimer’s Disease research at BYU
  • helpful money management tips
  • an analysis of the U.S.’s relationship with Germany, from political science professor Wade Jacoby, an expert on the subject
  • our most recent and successful Utah Colleges Exit Poll
  • the changing face of invention (clue: it’s more of a team effort than you thought!)
  • help for members of stepfamilies

Let us know what you think in the comments below!