Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health

Written by Christine Allen of University Communications

As teens’ use of social media has grown over the past decade, so too has the suicide rate among younger people, with suicide now being the second leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34. Many have suggested that social media is driving the increased suicide risk, but because social media is still relatively new, it’s been difficult to determine its long-term effects on mental health. 

In the longest study to date on social media use and suicidality, BYU research recently published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence now offers some answers.

Through annual surveys from 2009 to 2019, researchers tracked the media use patterns and mental health of 500 teens as part of the Flourishing Families Project. They found that while social media use had little effect on boys’ suicidality risk, for girls there was a tipping point. Girls who used social media for at least two to three hours per day at the beginning of the study—when they were about 13 years old—and then greatly increased their use over time were at a higher clinical risk for suicide as emerging adults.

“Something about that specific social media use pattern is particularly harmful for young girls,” said BYU professor Sarah Coyne, the lead author of the study. She noted that girls’ social tendencies likely make them more susceptible to the negative effects of social media.

“Research shows that girls and women in general are very relationally attuned and sensitive to interpersonal stressors, and social media is all about relationships,” Coyne explained. “At 13, girls are just starting to be ready to handle the darker underbelly of social media, such as FOMO (fear of missing out), constant comparisons and cyberbullying. A 13-year-old is probably not developmentally ready for three hours of social media a day.”

That said, in most cases, Coyne doesn’t recommend parents ban teenage daughters from social media, which can backfire by leaving them poorly prepared to manage their media use as adults.

“Thirteen is not a bad age to begin social media,” said Coyne, whose own 13-year-old daughter just joined TikTok. “But it should start at a really low level and should be appropriately managed.”

Coyne suggests that parents limit young teens’ social media time to about 20 minutes a day, maintain access to their accounts and talk with teens frequently about what they’re seeing on social media. Over time, teens can gradually scale up their social media use and autonomy.

“The goal is to teach them to be healthy users of social media, to use it in a way that helps them feel good about themselves and connect with other people, which is its real purpose. It’s parents’ job to scaffold or pre-arm children so that they can deal with some of the heavy stuff that often comes with using social media.” 

For young adults who feel they’ve already developed suboptimal social media habits, Coyne is optimistic that they can make a change. As her previous research has shown, social media can be a positive experience for teens and people of any age if they use it well.

Good habits include logging on for a purpose and actively participating rather than passively scrolling, as well as unfollowing those who are exclusionary or have a negative influence.

“I would love for every BYU student to be mindful about the ways they’re using social media, how it’s working for their mental health and how it’s harming their mental health. And then just to avoid doing those harmful things, whatever they are,” said Coyne. “I think that could have a significant impact on our community.”

The study was co-authored by current and former BYU professors and students, including Jeffrey L. Hurst, W. Justin Dyer, Quintin Hunt, Emily Schvaneveldt, Sara Brown and Gavin Jones.

For more tips on healthy social media use, see Professor Coyne’s social media curriculum.

Are you struggling with suicidal thoughts or do you know someone who is? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 

Original article found here.

Four Ways You Can Help Congress Be More Effective

Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash

President Biden in less than a month has issued 30 executive orders, clearly demonstrating the power of the executive branch. As the 117th United States Congress starts out with mostly new leadership the question on the mind of many Americans is how effective the elected representatives will be.

If the past is any indication, most Americans probably aren’t expecting much. Over the last decade, Gallup reported Congressional job approval ratings that hovered just over 20% — with a low of 9% in November 2013 and a high of 31% in May 2020. To put it in perspective, the institution has lower approval ratings than colonoscopies, root canals, and cockroaches.

This disdain of Congress can be attributed to many factors, including a rise in partisanship. But Andrew L. Johns, associate professor of history at Brigham Young University, believes the historical record reveals that Congress is not simply ineffective, but has in fact abdicated many of its obligations over time.

“As a result, the constitutional powers, authority, and prerogatives that should be exercised by Congress have been progressively appropriated by the occupants of the White House, both directly and indirectly,” says Johns in his article, “Declining the ‘Invitation to Struggle’: Congressional Complicity in the Rise of the Imperial Presidency,” published in the Pacific Historical Review.

The disturbing result is a less democratic and more authoritarian government. Perhaps most disheartening is the decreasing likelihood of solving complex problems that require a broad range of perspectives and thoughtful deliberation — exactly the strengths a large representative body brings to government.

While Congress will need to be the driving force in reclaiming its authority, citizens can do more than hold their collective breath. By combatting four main reasons Johns outlines for Congressional dysfunction, each of us can find ways to influence the power and effectiveness of Congress.

1. Congress isn’t designed for decisive action. This makes it easy to step back and let the president handle urgent matters. Congress has the authority to intervene, but not always the will to do so when it’s possible there is a faster, if less democratic, way to a solution. As citizens, we can be patient in important matters and, with our representatives, consider a variety of perspectives as they struggle toward solutions.

2. Political polarization limits congressional power and influence. The refusal to compromise with one’s political opponents prevents the government from handling pressing issues. Profoundly gerrymandered congressional districts and other tactics contribute to polarization. “Support members of Congress who are willing to reach across the aisle,” Johns says. When Congress is divided it creates power on the extremes of both parties and leaves the center completely powerless. “The center is where the work gets done, where the compromise occurs, and where Congress gets its power and authority.”

3. The evolving relationship of Congress and the presidency with the American public benefits presidential power. In the contemporary world, media and technological tools have created a presidency that has a closer relationship to the public than individual members of Congress have with their own districts, at least in terms of perception and familiarity. Presidents, like quarterbacks, tend to get more credit and more blame than they deserve. Citizens can make an effort to get to know their congressmen and frequently communicate directly with them. Know where to accurately place both blame and praise.

4. Parochial interests override institutional interests. Although members of Congress all theoretically have a common stake in the power of the institution, the stronger motivation to the hundreds of individual members is to get reelected by serving their own district or state. This type of situation results in the diminishing of Congress because the “collective Congress” fractures under parochial considerations. It’s true then, that the greatest power citizens have over Congress is their vote. Use your vote to express how you want elected officials to prioritize their interests when representing you.

Johns reminds us that we should support and elect members of Congress that actively seek to restore the constitutional balance because “the Constitution cannot enforce itself.”

Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Virtual Art Gallery

Students from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences recently participated in an art competition focused on building Zion at BYU through diversity and inclusion. These pieces, done in a variety of mediums, communicate the students’ feelings on fostering a loving environment where all feel welcome.

During February, the library will host a physical gallery of the artwork in the Atrium Gallery. All are welcome to visit. We also compiled the art into a virtual gallery for everyone to enjoy.

(Photos by Alyssa Dahneke of BYU photo)

1st Place: Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise

Kathryn Ogden

“My piece depicts a gathering of priesthood holders for the naming and blessing of a newborn girl. Each priesthood holder is meant to represent a different community, society, or culture. For some of these figures I had a personal, real-life inspiration to guide me in my creation. My daughter was the original inspiration for this chalk design. She inspires me daily to recognize the good around me and try new things as she does the same. While my daughter is caucasian, I wanted to depict the little girl in this artwork as ethically ambiguous as I could. I want her to symbolize the future generations that have the opportunity to be a part of Zion by creating unity and spreading love to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else that differentiates people.”


2nd Place: Character, Attributes, and Faithfulness

Alina Vanderwood

“Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, ‘Zion is Zion because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness of her citizens.’ My piece is a black and white landscape of BYU campus, just outside of the Harold B. Lee Library, populated by colorful silhouettes of students that leave trails of color along their way. This is meant to portray that the character, attributes, and faithfulness of each person is unique and as they interact with and uplift each other, the colors blend together to make a new, more beautiful atmosphere that will lay a positive foundation for those who follow them.”


3rd Place: Your Fight is My Fight

Nicholas Rex

“I was inspired by the many diverse people at the Black Lives Matter protests. It seemed to me that all the people there understood why they were there. They wrote what they believed on their cardboard signs and marched. They knew in their heart why Black Lives Matter, and were fighting for them. I believed Black Lives Matter but did not know why, and did not understand my place in all of this. I did not know what my core message of support for the Black Lives Matter movement was, but as I looked around I found my message in everybody else’s message: Your fight is my fight.”


Dean’s Honorable Mention: Oh How We Need Each Other

Kayla Beck Nuss

“With the news of George Floyd and other POC victims coming into many people’s conversations from this past summer, I was inspired to create this piece. This painting is supposed to reflect the courage and strength of the people who have spoken out and shared their experiences with underlying racism that still exists in our world today. We need them. We need each other to support and uplift.”


Honorable Mention: Zion Under Her Nails

Madison Siebers

“I was inspired by our community’s need for racial diversity to create Zion. When I was a freshman, a professor once talked about living our lives like we “had Zion under our fingernails.” It has been a motto for me as I’ve made life decisions—I want to be on my knees, elbow-deep in the work.”


Honorable Mention: Garden

Leslie Neville

“I have always viewed flowers as a symbol of beauty and growth. In my artwork, I attempted to convey the beauty that can come from joining hands with individuals of all cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Each hand has something unique to contribute that adds to the colorful garden of flowers.”


Honorable Mention: A Day in the Life

Carrie Nelson

“This was taken in a tiny town outside of Mexico City. I remember seeing this man going about his day, most likely doing his work to provide for his family and thinking, ‘Wow, he does this everyday?’ I immediately was overcome with so much respect for him.”


Honorable Mention: Grafting

Eden Smith

“This painting is inspired by the parable of the tame and wild olive trees in Jacob Chapter 5, in which the Lord of the vineyard saves his dying olive trees by crafting in wild branches. In our society today, “grafting” means sharing diverse opinions, ideas, and talents to strengthen those around us and foster inclusion, mutual understanding, and faith.


Honorable Mention: Their Trauma Remains

Lindsey Meza

“I wanted to depict the intergenerational trauma of black women. Enslaved black women went through intense physical, sexual, and emotional trauma. That trauma did not die when they did—it passed to their posterity. I wanted to paint something that depicted that chain. Even though it wasn’t the present woman’s personal trauma, it’s still hers—passed to her by their ancestors.”


Honorable Mention

Claire Felsted

“I want it to represent all kinds of people with no real distinction because in the end, whatever it is of the many things that make us different, we are all children of God and can be united in love if we choose to be. Red and white roses often symbolize unity, and the color blue is also expressive of unity, so I made sure to incorporate them into my piece. I also added intertwined ropes for the same symbolism. We are all part of this world and the community of humanity. May we treat each other with respect is my hope.”


Honorable Mention: My Brother

Sage Smith


Honorable Mention:

Forecasting a Conversation and Seeing Only Storms Ahead, for the Past Has Given Little Reason to Expect Otherwise

Preston Makoto Hunter


Look to the Son

Hannah Stadler

As I thought about what Zion meant to me, I realized that Zion is really another word to describe Jesus Christ. The person who created us so individually clearly not only appreciates diversity but needs it in this world. So vice versa, diversity is necessary to build a Zion community. I wanted to show how different cultures and people all over the world are all united through Christ.


Natalie Frenfell

Despite our differences, as we come together with others in our communities and throughout the world, we will discover a greater whole in store. Growing to accept people regardless of culture, origin, and background will enable us to purify our hearts and create a greater Zion community.


Do Unto Others

Casey Geslison

“I wanted to create a modern icon showing the divine nature of Black women. Basing her pose on traditional Orthodox icons, I hoped to convey a sense of dignity and strength, as well as a spiritual power I’ve felt from BIPOC friends. I hope we can all become the disciples Christ needs us to be by actively pursuing anti-racist actions and narratives and doing unto others as we would have done to us!”


Earth Tones

Faith Williams

“I recently had the realization that every skin tone that exists across the planet earth can be found in the many colors of dirt, sand, and rock across this same planet, our home. It feels beautiful to me that something so natural as the color of our skin—no matter the color—is represented in the earth. After all, what could be more natural than the substance upon which we stand, walk, and exist?”


A Change of Heart

Joseph Chu

“This piece is inspired by the concept of having a changed heart because of the influence of God. when we are truly touched by God and changed, we see others with more charity, and we have a desire to help them no matter the differences we may have with each other. Our perspective towards people becomes more Christlike. To me, the importance of diversity is that it offers us a chance to apply the concept of charity in a variety of different ways, because each person that we encounter is so unique.”


Broken Hands United

Emily Schwartz

“If we are to have the unity of a Zion community, we need to put in a concerted effort to address the pains of the past. It is critical to realize that we can’t keep using bandaids to conceal the centuries of hurt that have been inflicted by racism. In recognizing that truth, we can begin to work towards a brighter future as we stitch together our broken hearts and hands in unity.”


Unique Rules and Important Contributions

Kellie Haddon


Visit the exhibit this month in the HBLL Atrium Gallery and visit the BYUnity website for more information on the college’s Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion initiatives.

Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture Dives into the Immigration Experience from a Psychological Perspective

Niwako Yamawaki, BYU professor and associate chair in the Department of Psychology, is the speaker for this year’s Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at 11 a.m. Find the Zoom link here.

The title of Dr. Yamawaki’s presentation is “My Perspective as an Immigrant.” 

Dr. Yamawaki came from Japan to Salt Lake City when she was 29 years old. Because she felt impressed by the Spirit to make this move, she had the courage to come alone and without anyone to receive her.

In her presentation, she hopes to use principles of psychology to help others better understand the experience of immigrants, so that everyone can be empathetic toward them. Dr. Yamawaki says, “As a Christian, it is my responsibility to assist people who are in pain and suffering,” 

Dr. Yamawaki conducts cross-cultural research to investigate cultural factors that influence attitudes toward mental health services and violence against women. Along with that, she is interested in the role of psychological resilience in Eastern and Western populations and is affiliated with both the American Psychological Association and the Japanese Association for Mental Health.

The Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture is given annually by a faculty member who has been awarded the Hickman Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Award based on their research, teaching, and citizenship in the area of diversity and inclusion. The award is named for Martin B. Hickman (along with five other faculty awards in the college) who, as founding dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, helped establish the Women’s Research Institute and David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, setting a standard for research that is inclusive of diverse populations. Dr. Yamawaki is the award recipient for the 2020-21 academic year.

Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture

“My Perspective as an Immigrant”

Friday, February 19, 2021, 11 a.m. MT

Presented live via Zoom

Find details here

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

Check out what we have going on in February!

Happy February! Here are the events we have going on in our college, including many that celebrate Black History Month.

February 1-29 Black History Month — “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” ~ Desmond Tutu

Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion (DCI) Art Contest Entries: Entries & Winners are on display ALL MONTH in the Atrium Gallery at the HBLL 

February 3 Race: Myths and Realities “How To Be An Antiracist” — Join the panel discussion regarding the Book of the Semester, How to Be an Antiracist. Amazing professors will be on the panel such as Rebecca de Schweinitz, Ryan Gabriel, Lori Spruance, and Leslie Hadfield as the moderator. Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here.  Noon

February 4 The Divide in the LDS 2020 Vote by Gender, Age, Race, and Place — Join us for a lecture by Jake Rugh, Associate Professor of Sociology at BYU. Part of the Global Women’s Studies Winter 2021 Colloquium. Zoom Meeting ID: 996 5473 7803   Noon 

February 10 Race: Myths and Realities: Matt Mason (BYU, History) “Slavery and the Politics of Humanity and Honor in the American Revolutionary War” — Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here.  Noon

February 12, 13, & 26 Living Legends — BYU Living Legends is pleased to offer an encore performance of its beloved show, Seasons. With recognizable classics and a bevy of new numbers, this production is sure to delight multiple generations. Come enjoy the music of our hearts, the outfits of our cultures, the story of our people, and, most especially, the dance of our powerful performers! Look at dance.byu.edu/ for times & Livestream Links 

February 14 Valentines Day 

February 16 Darius Gray Black History Month Lecture: Richard Bell (University of Maryland, Author of Stolen) — Professor Bell will be answering questions connecting his book with the movie Harriet. Co-sponsored by BYU History Department and BYU International Cinema. Zoom Link: click here.  2-3:15PM 

February 16 Jazz Ensemble & Syncopation — Big Band and vocal choir jazz. A high-energy, fun, uplifting, and enjoyable show! 7:30PM Livestream from https://music.byu.edu/

February 17 Race: Myths and Realities: Nadia Brown (Purdue University) “Sister Style: The Politics of Appearance for Black Women Political Elites” — Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here. Noon

February 18 GWS Colloquium: Marie Orton “Women Migrant Writers in Italy and the International Black Lives Matter Movement” — Part of the Global Women’s Studies Winter 2021 Colloquium. Zoom Meeting ID: 996 5473 7803   Noon 

February 19 Diversity & Inclusion Lecture: Niwako Yamawaki (BYU, Psychology) “My Perspective as an Immigrant” — Zoom Link will be available at http://fhss.byu.edu  11AM

February 19 Perspectives — Black Students put on a performance through music, dance, and poetry highlighting their beautiful expansion of history and culture. Event is through the Multicultural Student Services office. 5PM Look at multicultural.byu.edu/ for Livestream Link

February 23 University Forum: Dambisa Moyo, Macroeconomist — Dambisa Moyo, macroeconomist and author, will deliver the Forum address. Dr. Moyo’s remarks will be broadcast on BYUtv. Connect here 11AM

February 24 Race: Myths and Realities: Erika Edwards (University of North Carolina) “A Black Mother of a White Nation: The Whitening Process in Argentina” — Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here. Noon

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.

Read more

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.

The New Jini Roby Scholarship for the School of Social Work

This story was lifted from the 2020-2021 Social Work Newsletter and was authored by MSW student Pamela Love.

This year the BYU School of Social Work will establish a new scholarship named after Jini Roby, who retired in 2019 after serving as a beloved professor and colleague for 20 years. “She left an incredible legacy,” writes Charlene Clark.

            Dr. Gene Gibbons, founder of the School of Social Work, tells of watching Jini grow through the BSW and MFT/MSW programs here at BYU. After beginning her practice as a social worker, Dr. Gibbons recounts that Jini came to him one day and said, “Would you write a letter for me to go to law school?” And, he said, “Well, you know I would.” Then, after her first year of law school, the Dean of the law school called Dr. Gibbons and said, “If you have any more Jini Robys, would you please send them my way?” Later, when BYU had an opening for a new faculty member, Dr. Gibbons recommended Jini. He told the hiring committee, “I’m telling you, she’ll put us on the map. She will make BYU known.” He went on to commend her competency and kindness: “She has been a shining star. She as helped all these third world countries protect their children. She had a following [here in the School of Social Work]. Anyone who new Jini wanted to be a part of her project and be around her. She just had such a magnificent influence.”

            Indeed, after earning her Marriage and Family Therapy/Master of Social Work at BYU, Jini Roby shared that she felt inspired to attend law school and begin her work as an international expert in family policy and law. After being on the BYU faculty for a year, in 1999, Jini was asked to help the Marshall Islands with their adoption laws “because of the difficulties they had with children being spirited away without any processes or procedures…They had no law, and because adoption was an entirely different process, there was no termination of parental rights…Adoptions typically occurred between kin, but when American families started adopting these children, the cultural understanding wasn’t there that this was terminating their parental rights; and they would probably never see their children again.”

            “The country was very alarmed,” Jini said, “There was a lot of money being exchanged under the table—buying and selling children. So, I was involved in helping to establish [adoption] laws. After that, I started going to other countries to look at their adoption situations, and my vision was opened up to the rest of the child welfare spectrum…A lot of it was related to poverty, neglect, and the lack of resources.”

            Jini shared a poignant lesson she learned at the very beginning of her work in international family law that guided her from then on. She had this life-changing conversation with the people of the Marshall Islands as she began to explain how Western adoption works with them:

“What do you mean by termination of parental rights? It sounds like they are being cut off,” they said.

Jini told them, “That’s what it means. That’s what it means legally, it means parents who gave birth are no longer the parents.”

“How is that possible?” they asked, “Who has authority to say that?”

“A judge does,” Jini replied.

“A man can override what God has done? We don’t get it. Why is that?” they asked in response.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, “Yes, that’s something to think about. You know, you’re helping me to understand these problems that you’ve been having.”

“Why do the Western people have to make up these lies?” they asked. “How is that good for the children? In our society, if a child needs to be raised by another family because their original family can’t provide for them, then we find another family, but we never cut off the original family. The child has both families. Are you sure you understand this? Because it seems to cruel, too unwise.”

            Jini admitted, “That was a huge lesson for me in cultural sensitivity and cultural humility. It was such a strong lesson. I will never, ever just march into a country and assume that my perspectives, though I am highly educated, are necessarily correct. It has to be a humble partnership on my part.”

            Shortly after this incident, Professor Roby remembers visiting the hut of a small village in Mozambique on a cold and rainy day where a mother who had AIDS was huddled on the wet floor surrounded by her children. The translator told Jini, referring to the mother, “She has been sent home to die. She has not been able to talk about what to do with her children when she dies. She has been blamed for her condition even though her husband had brought HIV into the relationship. He has already died, and her husband’s family has blamed her for his death. By law and tradition, the children will go to his family. She does not want this to happen.” Jini then realized that this mother “had not been counseled. She did not know what her options were. She had nobody to talk to.”

In remembering this mother’s sad story, Jini said, “That just tore me to the core. I thought, ‘There needs to be counseling There needs to be ways that mothers can be empowered to make these decisions.’” Although unable to help the mother in Mozambique before her dearth, a year later, Jini took a group of law and social work students to Uganda to write 450 wills for mothers who were dying of AIDS. “The law students wrote the wills and the social work students helped with the memory books,” she said. Incidentally, Dr. Cole Hooley led the memory book project among the social work students. Jini also shared stories of her work with Dr. Stacey Shaw. She truly loved her students, some of whom became her cherished faculty colleagues.

            In reminiscing about these experiences, Jini said, “I learned. My heart was pierced, and I was humbled; but I was lucky enough that when I was at BYU that I could then do something about what I learned—not to solve the whole problem, but to do something—and to have the students experience what it’s like to be part of healing, just a little hand of support, a little demonstration of kindness.”

            Professor Roby also told of the love she felt from her grandmother as a child in Korea. She said, “I grew up in abject poverty, yet I was rich. I tend to disagree with a lot of the conceptualization of what’s best for children. The first right that a child has is to be raised by their family, including their extended family. To me, the richest type of privilege is to be loved and to be empowered to believe in yourself, which I was.”

            Jini went on to say, “What I love about social work is that you have the opportunity to learn and to suffer with people who suffer in a way that maybe you can bring some relief, some comfort. To me, it’s such a privilege. This is not about me, or if it is about me, it’s about what I’m going to learn and how I’m going to grow to help more…This is why I am so honored that there will be scholarship in my name because I so believe in the education process. It’s not just empowering for the individual, but it’s going to have a rippling effect for the people they will impact.”


This story was taken from the 2020-2021 Social Work Newsletter, which can be found and read in full at https://socialwork.byu.edu/newsletters . 

Brain Scans Illuminate Potential Reasons Some Adolescents Are More Susceptible to Obesity

Kelsey Zaugg, PhD student in the BYU Clinical Psychology Program

According to the CDC, 1 in 5 children are affected by obesity in the United States today. 

Kelsey Zaugg, PhD student in the BYU Clinical Psychology Program, has committed her research to ensure that children are psychologically, physically and spiritually healthy.

Zaugg’s research involves MRI data and neuroimaging of the brain. She studies how the rewarding impact of food is related to obesity in children. Her goal is to see if there is an association between weight and brain structures involved in reward processing. 

By looking at parts of the brain associated with how we process rewards, Zaugg has been able to discover that these brain structures are different in their literal shape for adolescents with higher body mass indexes. Zaugg says, “This finding helps to illuminate a potential reason why some adolescents might be more susceptible to obesity than their peers.”

Her findings are currently in the process of being submitted for potential publication.

According to Zaugg, there are many factors that play into childhood obesity including brain anatomy. She said, “It is so much more than the societal stigma that a person is simply being lazy.”

Upon completing her PhD, Zaugg plans to work in an academic medical center alongside pediatric psychologists in a children’s hospital. She says, “I want to be a part of an integrated care model and work with physicians and psychiatrists to give kids the comprehensive care they need.”

Zaugg expresses her gratitude for the role she has played in helping children: ”In life, we will not be able to remove all challenges children may face, but we can do our part to limit some of the vulnerabilities of children so they can face challenges with a strong foundation.”

Learn more about BYU’s Clinical Psychology PhD Program here.