Last Friday, the Council on Contemporary Families convened for our biennial conference in Austin Texas. The theme was “Raising Children in the 21st Century.”
The morning keynote speaker Dr. Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist, started off the conference by speaking about gender development in the 21st century and how parents are helping or exacerbating gender inequalities among children. She noted that despite increases in women in STEM fields and sports, there is persistent inequality in confidence in math ability and political representation. Girls are sexualized in the media and taught to focus on appearance, while boys are pressured to conform to rigid and narrow masculinity expectations. A new challenge is that adolescents spend a lot of time on social media and have access to the internet almost constantly, which can help to reinforce these gender binaries.
Her research finds that after showing a picture of non sexualized vs. a sexualized girl to children, they interpreted the sexualized girl as more popular and the non-sexualized girl is rated as more athletic and smarter. Girls tended to highlight these differences- boys made fewer distinctions. Girls who bought into these stereotypes felt they did worse in school, made less effort to learn in school, and were more likely to say they hide their intelligence (for instance, saying they do not raise their hands even if they know the answer). Many adolescents, especially boys, admitted to sexually harassing other young adults, and the more they endorsed sexualized stereotypes, the more they were likely to also sexually harass their peers.
Next, a panel of speakers discussed how their research has been put into practice. Dr. Cynthia Osborne discussed a “prenatal-to-3” program to strengthen policies aimed at children in the important early years of childhood development. Dr. Julie Maslowsky discussed her outreach to health care providers to help develop family planning programs for teen mothers in order to prevent “repeat” teen motherhood (having multiple children as a teen). Dr. David Yeager discussed his research on adolescent mindsets and belief systems (such as their beliefs about their own abilities) and how it impacts motivations. His research found that teaching students that the brain as a muscle that can grow (a “growth mindset”) can change how adolescents approach learning and lead to an increased GPA. Finally, Dr. Delida Sanchez talked about efforts to increase academics’ and practitioners’ knowledge about Black and Latinx youths’ experiences around sexual health.
We next heard from Rachael White who works in public affairs at UT Austin, and CCF research director Stephanie Coontz, who discussed strategies for taking your research public and translating research for a public audience. Rachael emphasized starting with the ‘why’ of your research before going to the ‘how’ (you did it) and ‘what’ (you found). The why tells you- why should we care? What is the impact? She also emphasized that discussing stories is more compelling than discussing facts (so use stories to display your facts), and to keep your message to 1-3 points. She also recommends being concise and using visuals.
Stephanie suggested drawing on research to show how your research fits in to a larger story, but cautioned that everything you draw on should be about a single organizing idea. She advises to find a way to frame your research that is interesting to others. If it’s data driven, you also need to humanize that data- and you can draw on other research to do that. Tell them your point right up front, don’t bury the lead under a lit review. If you are going to disagree with someone make it very obvious (“The big lie about x”). Avoid jargony words like intersectionality, postmodern, agency, heteronormativity, logistic regression, correlation, “net of”, hazard, and words that end with “ity” “ism” and polarizing words like “microaggression” and “privilege” which can alienate people in your potential audience. Don’t try to tell too much- you should have a single sentence that can be a takeaway. It has to be interesting and repeatable. Good sentences will put a spin on conventional wisdom (“what people get wrong about…”) or will help form an interesting headline. Come in at an angle- try to find a new take on a familiar issue. Use short declarative sentences and find simpler words. “Due to the fact” can become “because.” You can start with anecdotes about yourself. Above all, accept editing.
During lunch a number of researchers gave short presentations about their research for a “flash session.” Topics covered included an educational program for homeless parents, stepfamilies, the higher child death rate of boys and how it’s related to parental supervision of boys, parenting in the “experience” economy, in which consumers value memorable experiences over products, and how parental employment instability impacts children.
After lunch, the afternoon keynote speaker, Dr. Cecilia Menjivar addressed how immigration law can impact immigrant families. She outlined the current detainment and family separation policies, noting that these systems do not only impact Latino families; Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 1.7 million of 11 million undocumented immigrants, and are the fastest growing group being detained. The expansion of enforcement of immigration rules creates fear, which in turn reduces contact with institutions such as the police and health care. The stress of potential deportation can impact prenatal health; one study found that Latina women who experienced an immigration raid had children with a reduced birth rate. Children of immigrants and immigrant children experience increased bullying, and decreased parental involvement at schools.
The next panel had three papers addressing raising children in difficult circumstances. Dr. Kathleen Roche discussed her research on Latinx adolescents in the new immigration environment, finding that their parents have high psychological stress and often experienced discrimination. Adolescents with a foreign born parent had an increase in suicidal ideation, e-cigarette and alcohol use, and depressive symptoms and anxiety in response to recent immigration news. Dr. Lori Holleran Steiker discussed youth substance misuse and rising drugs deaths in the US, and her efforts to educate and prevent overdoses in schools. Dr. Germine Awad addressed prejudice towards Arab/MENA Americans, a group that is “othered” in US society and US media. She notes that Muslim Arabs experience more discrimination than Christian Arabs, and that Arab American students have the highest rates of depression among racial minorities in the US.
During the last panel of they day Dr. Karen Fingerman discussed her research on young adults, finding that intense support from parents and “helicopter parenting,” while disparaged in the media, leads to better results for children, and is not as common as described. Many young adults live with parents and receive income help, but many pay rent and help in return. Dr. Stephen Russel discussed parenting of LGBTQ youth, and that while parental acceptance does not alleviate all the harms of growing up in a prejudiced society, parents matter greatly in terms of making permanent policy change in schools. Dr. Ellen Wartella discussed how many adolescents have experienced violence, and while social media is often cited as a problem, it is not the cause of the problems among the respondents she interviewed. A lively discussion followed the panel.
After the speeches ended we gathered for a reception, where the award for the 2020 CCF Media Award was presented to USA Today for outstanding coverage of family issues.
Arielle Kuperberg, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at UNC Greensboro, and the editor of the CCF Blog, which you are currently reading. Follow her on twitter @ATKuperberg or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.