2018 Cutler Lecture recap: Addressing the universal need for love and security

BYU Marriage and Family Therapy professor Jonathan Sandberg’s thought-provoking Cutler Lecture can be encapsulated in a simple scene from Winnie the Pooh:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

The need to feel connected and loved is a universal need.

Safe and secure relationships form when individuals in the relationship are responsive to and accessible by the other individual. The isolation created by taking away this accessibility and responsiveness is traumatizing.

In a disconnected world, it is vital that we form and foster relationships where we truly see people and their needs and truly love them. Feeling loved and recognized gives us a secure base from which we can launch and explore other aspects of life.

Be vulnerable and seek out deep, meaningful and loving connections and relationships. Repair conflict in your relationships. Be hopeful in developing secure attachments and relationships with others–even if you have not experienced those relationships in the past. And find ways to be emotionally accessible, responsive and engaged with others on a daily basis.

People are in need of love and security and we are the ones who can help them.

For the full 2018 Cutler Lecture, watch the video below.

Hope and healing: Social work to hold conference on fighting substance abuse

In recent years, illicit drug use and alcoholism have grown in relevance and affect a vast amount of people. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, only 11 percent of people struggling with substance abuse receive the help they need.

The BYU School of Social Work is hosting the 13th Annual Social Work Conference on Friday, November 2 at the Hinckley Alumni Center. The free conference will highlight issues, concerns and approaches relevant to every day relief for those who struggle with substance abuse. Professionals, students and members of the community are invited to learn more about this prevalent social problem and obtain strategies to help individuals and families affected by this issue.

In the past 15 years, deaths due to prescription drug abuse have quadrupled in the state of Utah. While the harmful effects of substance abuse are widespread, timely public information is not as far-reaching. According to Assistant Professor of Social Work Cory Dennis, “it’s important to understand that people don’t choose addiction.”

The purpose of this conference is to narrow that knowledge gap as well as inform professionals and work to make an impact in the fight against substance abuse. If people could learn only one thing at the conference, it would be “that behind the addiction is a human being,” says Dennis, noting the importance of “making compassionate and informed approaches to treatment.”

For more information, go to the conference website and be sure to register.

2018 Cutler lecture: Securing marriage with (research-proven) attachment

Research and clinical experience not only tell us that a healthy, happy and passionate marriage is possible, it also shows us how to create it.

The School of Family Life 2018 Virginia F. Cutler Lecture will give you the knowledge and resources to do this within your own family and home.

On Wednesday, October 17, BYU Marriage and Family Therapy professor Jonathan Sandberg will give his lecture “Secure Attachments: The key to a happy, healthy, and passionate marriage” that will highlight current research on adult attachment and romantic relationships. More specifically, Sandberg will review actionable behaviors that we can adopt to promote attachment—a key factor that leads to safety and security in marriage.

Our society may spread the message that having a happy and healthy family is no longer an option, but science says otherwise. You can choose–and act–to have a healthy, happy and passionate marriage.

Learn how to strengthen your marriage and family at the 55th annual Virginia F. Cutler Lecture on Wednesday, October 17 at 7 p.m. in 151 N. Eldon Tanner Building. The event is free and open to the public.

This 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 spent her entire life educating people on the home and family. She also 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.

Preparing with hope: 2018-2019 Families at Risk lecture series

We aren’t meant to be alone, and in a world continually changing, Families at Risk reminds us what the core of life is: our families. An upcoming series of lectures powerfully advocates effective communication, healthy sexuality, mental health awareness and more.

The Families at Risk lecture series is held every second Wednesday of the month for nine months, beginning on October 10th, 2018. Classes start at 7 am and last for about two hours. Prices vary from $10 to $25 depending on the class, and all lectures are held at the BYU Conference Center.

From parenting kids with behavioral concerns, helping children transition to adulthood, and building healthy relationships in all stages of life, BYU Continuing Education offers advice and techniques for you and those you care for.

With such a diverse range of subjects, you may register for only the topics which are most useful and compelling to you and your family.

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy asserted, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” No family’s trials are the same, and yet they can all be reconciled through Christ. His hands are outstretched, offering hope and healing. The best thing we can do to build lasting, beautiful relationships with those who mean the most is to learn and grow together.

Registration is available in multiple convenient ways: over the phone (877-221-6716 weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., excluding holidays), by mail (Families at Risk Registration 229 HCEB 770 E University Pkwy Provo UT 84602), in person at 116 HCEB 770 E University Pkwy, or online at familiesatrisk.ce.byu.edu, where a full schedule and additional details are also posted.

Growing together: The importance of consistent sexual communication in families

Patting yourself on the back for gritting through “the talk” with your kid? Not so fast: new research from BYU family life professor Laura Padilla-Walker suggests that when it comes to your teens, one vague and generic conversation about sex is not enough.

In her study, just released in top-ranked Journal of Adolescent Health, Padilla-Walker found that ongoing communication about sex between parents and their adolescent children benefits the parent-child relationship and leads to safer sexual activity at age 21.

“Our current culture is highly sexualized, so children are learning about sexuality in a fragmented way from an early age,” said Padilla-Walker, who has been publishing in top family science journals for nearly two decades. “Research suggests that parents can be an effective means of teaching their children about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner, but that does not occur if parents only have a single, uncomfortable, often one-sided talk.”

Padilla-Walker evaluated parent-child communication among 468 14- to 18-year-olds and their mothers, plus 311 of their fathers. She contacted participating families every summer for 10 years and evaluated their level of sexual communication.

Each summer, participants responded to a four-item measure assessing parent-child communication about sexuality and avoiding sexual risk.

The study found that both teens and their parents reported relatively low levels of sexual communication, though teens reported even lower levels than their parents did. Those levels, for the most part, stayed constant.

“Whether or not parents think they are talking about sexuality often, children are generally reporting low levels of communication,” said Padilla-Walker. “So parents need to increase sex communication even if they feel they are doing an adequate job.”

An increase in sexual communication between parents and children, she found, can help adolescents feel safe going to their parents with questions and concerns. She also found that ongoing sexual communication resulted in safer sexual activity at 21, a finding that should increase the urgency parents feel to have conversations with their children.

Even if parents don’t anticipate that their children will be sexually active before marriage, said Padilla-Walker, “all children are developing sexually and need continuous and high-quality communication with parents about the feelings they are experiencing.”

Moving forward, Padilla-Walker hopes to explore the quality of conversations parents have with their kids about sex, specifically whether parents are being open and approachable or are using fear tactics and negativity.

“I would like to see an upward trajectory of parent-child communication as children age,” she said. “Parents should talk frequently with their children about many aspects of sexuality in a way that helps the child to feel comfortable and heard, but never shamed.”

– Jayne Edwards, University Communications

BYU family history students connect missing soldiers to their families

A group of BYU students has answered the Army’s call for genealogical reinforcements.

With more than 82,000 Americans still missing from conflicts dating back to World War II, students at the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy have been working with the Army and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to return the remains of missing soldiers to their family members.

“Normally in our family history work, we are going as far back through as many generations as we can,” said Sydney Bjork, one of the students who worked on the project this past year. “But this sort of feels like reverse family history work. We start with a soldier and then look for the closest living relative they have.”

The Army sought help with this project from BYU, which has the only family history degree in the nation. Other partners in this project include historians who research where there might be remains of missing soldiers. Archaeology units take that information and get digging. And it’s BYU’s job to find the relatives.

Since starting on the project, the students have been assigned just more than 65 cases and have finished about 48 of them. After the cases are complete, students submit a report to the Army with the results of their research, the potential DNA donors and the contact information of the soldier’s relatives.

Professor Jill Crandell standing amid her two students in the JFSB courtyard
From left: Student Melanie Torres, Professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown.

“Family history is something that’s really tender to all of us because it’s about family and we know how much our own families mean to us,” said Professor Jill Crandell, director of BYU’s Center. “We actually become attached to those families and there is a certain amount of inspiration involved when working on these cases.”

Not all cases are created equally. Some cases take three hours to solve. Some cases take three weeks to solve. However long it takes, the students on the project always feel an overwhelming sense of joy that they were able to help in the process of bringing families closer together.

For these students, this project is more than names and dates; it’s not just casework, each one is a meaningful story. Here’s a sample of the stories they’ve learned and worked on:

  • One mother continued for decades to set an extra place at the dinner table, just in case her son came home.
  • A still-living widow of a WWII soldier still longs to know at age 97 what happened to her husband.
  • One family of Italian immigrants has two brothers missing in action.

Melanie Torres and some of her fellow students who worked on these cases have close family members who have served in the military so this work really hits home for them.

“My grandfather was in the military, my great-grandfather was in World War II and my husband is in the Air Force. It is something that just really connects to my heart,” said Torres.

-Joe Hadfield, University Communications

Dr. Edin defines family instability and complexity

Part 1: The Problem

“By the time a child of unwed parents turns five, 23 percent of them have 3 half siblings,” said Dr. Kathryn Edin at our most recent Hinckley lecture. Edin’s decades-long ethnographic research about low-income families revealed that:

  • 78% of families are unstable and complex
  • 18% are stable two-parent families
  • 4% are stable single mother families

Family or relationship instability refers to the forming, breaking, reforming, breaking cycle of family life. This cycle of parents not staying together leaves the child with many parental figures who enter and leave their life, often while the child is very young. “In the first five years of a child who belongs to unmarried parents,” she said, “twelve percent of these children see one parent transition; 30 percent of children see three or more parent transitions in the first five years of their life.”

“Family instability and complexity,” she said, “are both consequences and causes of poverty. It is more common among low-income families. And they are at an all time high.”

These causes and consequences are parts of a difficult and complex societal issue, but her research provides both illumination for every member of society wondering how to help, and suggestions for improvement at the public policy level. That research began decades ago when she began roaming the country in her 20’s interviewing poor single mothers about their budgets. In her 30’s, she sought to get a more complete picture by focusing on the stories and laments of single fathers.

A major cause of family complexity and instability in poverty: unplanned pregnancy

captureNow as a distinguished sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, she investigates low-income and middle class family planning styles. These observations have proven crucial to discovering how to lessen family instability and complexity.

She found that those in low-income families often had unplanned or ill-timed pregnancies in non-committal relationships. Children tended to come along when the parents were still trying to “find themselves.”

In contrast, middle-class families meticulously planned and timed births. Parents were in a stable and committed relationship, often marriage. Parents had children when they both had “arrived” in a career-sense—they were confident with who they were and they felt fulfilled. Children who were born into families like the second scenario had a better upbringing in a more stable family.

The key lesson Edin learned in her 30s: “Moving the needle on mobility from poverty must include the family contexts into which children are born and raised. This is not a popular opinion, but I became convinced this was essential.”

With all of this in mind, Edin asked: “What would it take to ensure that every child can be planned and well-timed?” The answer? SPARKS (Supported Pathways through the Arts, Recreation, Knowledge, and Schools). Children and teens who have a SPARK identify themselves outside of their hard home life—they find themselves. They make better family decisions.

Stay tuned to fhss.byu.edu for more posts about how to help low-income families become more stable as we provide further coverage of the Hinckley lecture and explanation of SPARKS.

You can view the whole lecture here: