Teaching Teens Christ Honored Romance

by Rhonda Stoppe | Telling our kids how not to feel will do nothing to guide their hearts. But exposing them to real, Christ-honoring romance will kindle a spark of hope that God really is sovereign over romance and love.

In 18 years of youth ministry, my husband and I learned a lot about teens falling in love. In fact, I’ve enjoyed watching countless couples fall in love. I consider it a perk of being in ministry! I especially loved observing God’s blessing on those who honored Christ in their romance. I can honestly attest to the value of exposing our children to real-life love stories that glorified Christ. Our children’s idea of godly romance was strongly influenced by watching couples who loved God and obeyed His plan for their love lives.

In a generation where the culture has stolen real romance, and when it comes to sex, anything goes, we must look for opportunities to talk to our teens and model for them love that brings glory to God. How can we expose them to romance that honors Christ? As a parent, you must realize that teaching your kids a biblical view of romance is so much more than just having “the talk.”

1. Acknowledge their longing to be in love. It’s tempting to tell your pimply-faced adolescent, “You’re too young to have those feelings.” But a wise parent will listen to them share their heart. If you shut them down, they’ll still have those feelings, they just won’t tell you about it. You’ll also forfeit the opportunity to guide their thinking toward purity and biblical romance.

2. Talk plainly to them about sex. Equip them for purity. How far is too far? Bottom line: It’s all sex. Short of intercourse, everything that couples attempt to do outside of marriage is foreplay. There’s no way around it. Your kids are naive when they’re are messing around in the back seat of a car, telling themselves, I’ll know when to stop. I can handle this. Help them understand they are engaged in foreplay, their minds are preparing their bodies for intercourse, and eventually they will give in to sex before marriage.

  • Sex is Amazing. In an attempt to defer your child’s interest in sex, to sidestep the idea of how pleasurable sex can be will only serve to frustrate them. Rather, acknowledge how intercourse and all that leads up to the act is extremely enjoyable and sanctioned by God for married couples to enjoy. Equipping your teen to understand how God made their bodies to enjoy sex (within the safety of His plan) will keep them from one day being surprised by how much they long for physical intimacy with a person they come to have feelings for.
  • Pornography is sex. Jesus said it’s as much a sin to engage in premarital sex as lusting over it. Help your teens realize how porn will bring long term consequences that will steal their sexual enjoyment in the marriage bed. In Real Life Romance, I share one man’s story. Chuck was raised in a Christian home, but he fooled himself to think looking at pornography would keep him from having sex until he got married. What Chuck failed to realize was viewing porn became an addiction that would not let go of him once he married.
  • You can be pure again. God promises, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18b). If your child has been sexually active, hold out the hope of Jesus and the purity He offers to all who cry out to Him in repentance and turn from their sin.
  • It is possible to wait although culture says everyone is having sex. God’s remnant is remaining pure until marriage, and He is blessing a whole new generation for their obedience. Exposing your kids to godly young adults who are waiting until marriage will speak more to them than your words.

3. Expose them to real romance. Beginning with your own marriage, show your kids how romance in marriage is the norm, rather than the exception. Expose your kids to couples in your church who are courting in a way that honors Christ. This helps them believe purity really is possible, contrary to what the world would have them think.

If you’re a divorced or single parent, don’t point out all the ways your ex-spouse/their other parent failed you in the relationship. Instead, expose your kids to marriages that have grown more deeply in love over the years. The best place to find these godly examples of happy marriages is when you become a part of a church family. This requires regularly attending church, not just popping in on Sundays from time to time.

4. Celebrate true love. Telling your kids stories of how God sovereignly brought two people together to fall in love in a Christ honoring way gives them hope that God is also interested in their happily-ever-after. When they believe that letting God write their love story will guide them to romance with no regrets, they’ll be more likely to trust Him and wait on His timing when looking for a spouse.

5. Help them realize their longing to feel loved is normal. God created each of us with a longing to find our worth in who loves us. The problem lies when we look to find our worth in how well a significant other treats us. The aching we have to feel treasured can only be satisfied when we realize that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to purchase us for Himself. The intimacy with the Creator was stolen away when mankind sinned in the garden. From then on, we all search for love in the wrong places. God is the only answer to the longing of our hearts.

6. Find someone who loves God more than they love you, and they’ll be able to love you with His selfless love. The Bible instructs believers not to marry unbelievers. While it’s easy to tell our kids, “just don’t marry a non-believer,” it’s more valuable to explain to them why. One very important reason is that the only people who have the capacity to love others with Christ’s selfless love are those whose hearts have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

We regularly told our own children as well as our youth ministry kids, “Marry someone who loves Jesus more than they love you, and you’re on the right track to a marriage that will last a lifetime.”

Telling our kids how not to feel will do nothing to guide their hearts. But exposing them to real, Christ-honoring romance will kindle a spark of hope that God really is sovereign over romance and love.

Rhonda Stoppe is the No Regrets Woman. With more than 30 years of experience as a marriage mentor, pastor’s wife, author and speaker, Stoppe leads women of all ages to live lives of no regrets.

What is the Biblical Way to Lead A Child to Christ?

by Got Questions | Whenever our children feel safe and secure in our love, we have the opportunity to relate to them how much greater the love of their heavenly Father is.

There are three basic elements involved in leading a child to a saving relationship with Christ: prayer, example, and age-appropriate instruction. We lead a child to Christ through the diligent application of all three elements from the time before the child is born.

The importance of prayer in the process of evangelizing children cannot be overstated. From the time of conception, parents should be seeking God’s wisdom for themselves and grace for their unborn child. God has promised to give wisdom liberally to all who ask Him (James 1:5), and His wisdom in all aspects of parenting is essential, but nowhere is it more important than in spiritual matters. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is by grace through the gift of faith, so our prayers for our children’s salvation should be centered upon seeking that gift of faith for them. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to draw our children to God from their earliest days and to sustain them through a life of faith and service to God until they are safely secure in heaven for all eternity (Ephesians 1:13-14). We should pray that God will draw us to Himself and become a reality in our lives so that we can be good role models for our children.

Our example as children of God provides the best visual model of the relationship with Christ we wish our children to have. When our children see us on our knees daily, they perceive that prayer is a regular part of life. When they see us continually in the Scriptures, studying, feeding and meditating on God’s Word, they realize the importance of the Bible without our having to say a word. When they perceive that we not only know God’s Word, but endeavor to live it out in practical ways every day, they come to understand the power of the Word in a life lived in its light. Conversely, if a child sees that mom or dad has a Sunday “persona” which differs drastically from the person they see every day, they will be quick to spot the hypocrisy. Many children have been ‘turned off’ to church and to Christ by two-faced role models. This is not to say that God can’t overrule our faults and failures, but we must be ready to confess them to God, admit our failures to our children, and make every effort to “walk the talk.”

Furthermore, providing age-appropriate instruction in spiritual matters is crucial to leading a child to Christ. There are myriads of children’s books and resources such as children’s Bibles, children’s Bible story books and music for all age levels to read, sing and memorize. Relating every aspect of a child’s life to spiritual truth is also an important part of spiritual training. Every time a child sees a flower or a sunset or a bird, there is ample opportunity for parents to relate the beauty and wonder of God’s creative power (Psalm 19:1-6). Whenever our children feel safe and secure in our love, we have the opportunity to relate to them how much greater the love of their heavenly Father is. When they are hurt by others, we can explain the reality of sin and the only cure for it—the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for us.

Finally, sometimes an inordinate amount of importance is placed on getting a child to “say the prayer” or “walk the aisle” as evidence of his/her decision to trust Christ as Savior. While these moments can be valuable in cementing in a child’s mind when and how he/she came to Christ, salvation is the Spirit’s work in a heart. True salvation results in a life of progressive sanctification and discipleship, and this must be communicated as well.

Recommended Resource: The Faith of a Child: A Guide to Salvation for Your Child by Art Murphy
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Effective Parenting of Young Teens

by Dr. Kimberly Greder & Dr. Melissa Schnurr | Let your child know what you believe and consider important. Use times such as talks about happenings at school, in the news, or on the Internet or a TV show, to talk about your values. (image, Pixabay)

Parenting young teens is no easy task. Parents as well as children must adapt to the pre- and early teens’ rapidly changing bodies and normal behavior changes — growing independence and challenges to authority. No one technique will work for every parent or every child. Here are some strategies to:

  • strengthen your relationship with your young teen
  • deal with problems when they arise
  • help your young teen become a responsible, caring adult
Listen for feelings and praise good behavior.
When your child comes to you with a problem or when he or she expresses strong feelings, try to say something like, “Sounds like you’re feeling….”
It helps the child to know that you want to understand. If your son comes home after school and says, “The teacher is a jerk. He yelled at me in front of everyone,” you might say, “Sounds like you were embarrassed.”
Young teens learn better from praise than from scolding. Praise your child for specific actions he or she has done. If your child does a good job raking the lawn, you might say, “The lawn looks nice. You’ve cleaned under the trees, bagged the leaves, and put the rake away. Thanks for doing such a good job.”
Also, use special privileges and one-on-one time instead of material objects to reward good behavior. For example, if your son complained last week about helping with chores, but this week doesn’t complain and does the work, let him stay up later on the weekend or go on an outing with you.
Keep one-on-one time and family-fun time.
Spending one-on-one time with your son or daughter is a special time and can let your child know you enjoy being together. You might take turns with each child in the family going out for breakfast, playing a board game, or going for     a bike ride together. Also, having fun together as a family builds good feelings that can help you through hard times. Ask your young teen to help plan family events, such as a vacation. He or she could look up information on the Internet about the place you’re going, the route, stops on the way, and features to see.
Use driving time to talk. Most parents of young teens spend time driving their child to practices, lessons, or friends’ homes. Young teens may be more willing to talk on the road than at home. On the way to soccer practice, you might say, “Tell me about school today.”
Talk about values
Let your child know what you believe and consider important. Use times such as talks about happenings at school, in the news, or on the Internet or a TV show, to talk about your values. For example, after watching a TV program in which a passenger was hurt when a drunk character wrecked his car, you might say, “This is why we think it’s best not to drink and drive. How do you  think the character could have handled the situation if this had been real life?”
Use “I” statements
Let your child know how you feel, why you feel this way, and what you want him or her to do. Say, “I feel (state how you feel) when you (state specifically what the child does) because (state why you feel that way). This is what I want you to do (state what behavior you want from the child).” If your daughter forgets to turn off her curling iron, you might say, “I worry when you leave the curling iron on because it could start a fire. Please go turn it off right now.”
Practice reflective listening
When you are working with your child to solve a problem, stop to sum up what he or she has said. This lets your child know you have really heard his or her ideas. Resist the temptation to criticize or lecture. For example, your daughter might say, “I hate the way I look. Everything looks dumb on me.” Perhaps sum up what you heard her say with, “Sounds like you’re pretty frustrated over the way your clothes look on you.”
Wait until you are calm to deal with a problem
Discussing a problem when either you or your child is upset can lead to fighting and more anger. For example, your daughter sasses you when you ask her to clean her room. You become angry, but you tell her you’ll discuss her sassing after you’ve cooled down.
Talk about rules and consequences
Talk about rules and consequences before putting  them into practice. Rules give young teens structure   for living; consequences help them learn from the  rules. Natural consequences let a child learn from what happens naturally. The parent does not scold, lecture, or rescue. For example, if a young teen wants to stay up late to watch the end of a movie, he may be tired  the next morning when he has to wake up and go to school.
Logical consequences are created and should be reasonable, respectful, and related to the rule. For example, when your daughter comes home too late one evening, remind her that the consequence is not going out the next evening.
Solve problems together and follow through with decisions
Work with your child, listen to his/her point of view, brainstorm solutions, and choose options to try. Rather than expect young people to follow your rules without question, engage them in making the rules. When taken seriously, young teens have many good ideas. If your son received a low grade in social studies, discuss ways he might improve his grade — such as finishing homework or asking a teacher for help. Listen to his ideas; don’t lecture.
After agreeing on consequences, follow through by reminding your child about his or her agreement. If your son agreed to empty the garbage after supper, but it’s still under the sink, find him and give a short reminder to take out the garbage.
Consider young teen development
Weigh normal young teen development against poor behavior. Normal changes include wanting more independence, spending more time with friends or alone, and challenging authority. However, young teens need to know that actions such as staying out too late can cause worry. If it bothers you that your child wants to be with friends all the time, note that this is normal and healthy. Plan times that you and your young teen can spend together.
Be an information seeker
It’s never too late to try new solutions to problems with your child. Talk to other parents for ideas and support. Read books on teen development and on the changes parents go through as their children grow up. New knowledge and ideas can help you make more thoughtful and reasoned decisions.
Taken from materials originally prepared by Virginia K. Molgaard, former family life specialist.
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by Kimberly A. Greder, An Iowa State University associate professor in human development and family studies who serves as a human sciences state specialist in family life is being honored for her creativity and productivity in scholarship, teaching, and service for increasing Latino families’ opportunities to improve their health and well-being. Kimberly Greder received the 2016 Rossmann Manatt faculty development award for her work with communities across Iowa to connect Latino immigrant families with resources to bring education through building trust. Greder will use her award funding to support an Iowa expansion of the Rural Families Speak about Health (RFSH) project. The initial project, a study of diverse low-income rural families across 13 states, focuses on increasing the understanding of mental and physical health among rural families. The latest phase of the research will incorporate additional interviews with Latina immigrant mothers in Iowa from the original study, and expand the program into two additional Iowa communities. You can reach Dr. Greder by email, kgreder@iastate.edu.
by Dr. Melissa Deininger is an Associate Professor of French in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. She joined ISU in 2009, after earning her PhD in French Literature and Politics at the University of Pittsburgh. A specialist of the long nineteenth century, Dr. Deininger teaches classes in French history, civilization, literature, and politics. Her research interests include the French Revolution, the Marquis de Sade, cultural production, nation and community formation, and the use of architecture in literature. She has published articles ranging from the Revolution to 21st-century politics in France. She has presented both nationally and internationally on these topics, and is always looking for ways to connect the 18th and 19th centuries to our contemporary world. Dr. Deininger is currently working on a manuscript entitled “La Patrie en danger: France Responds to National Identity Crises,” which deals with how the French try to define themselves as a nation during moments of political crises. You can reach Dr. Deininger by email, mdein@iastate.edu.


Chaste teens significantly less likely to be depressed

Concerned Parents Report | The researchers found that when compared to teens that are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy and more likely to feel depressed (images: Pexels).

When compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy and more likely to feel depressed. Also, when compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly more likely to attempt suicide.

According to a study written by The Heritage Foundation, teenage sexual activity is an issue of widespread national concern. Although teen sexual activity has declined in recent years, the overall rate is still high. In 1997, approximately 48 percent of American teenagers of high school age were or had been sexually active. Every day, about 8,000 teenagers in the United States become infected by a sexually transmitted disease. Overall, roughly one-quarter of the nation’s sexually active teens have been infected by a sexually transmitted disease. The problems of pregnancy and out-of-wedlock childbearing are also severe.

In 2000, about 240,000 children were born to girls aged 18 or younger. Nearly all these teenage mothers were unmarried. These mothers and their children have an extremely high probability of long-term poverty and welfare dependence. Less widely known are the psychological and emotional problems associated with teenage sexual activity. This particular study examined the linkage between teenage sexual activity and emotional health. The researchers found that when compared to teens that are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy and more likely to feel depressed. They also found that when compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly more likely to attempt suicide. In addition to its role in promoting teen pregnancy and the current epidemic of STDs, early sexual activity is a substantial factor in undermining the emotional well-being of American teenagers.1

1Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide, The Heritage Foundation, June 2, 2003, pp. 1-8.

An International Look at the Single-Parent Family

by Ludger Woessmann Students from single-parent families perform significantly lower in math than students from two-parent families in virtually all countries. To a large extent, however, this achievement gap reflects differences in socioeconomic background, as measured by the number of books at home and parental education, rather than family structure alone.

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the issue of family structure half a century ago, his concern was the increase in black families headed by women. Since then, the share of children raised in single-parent families in the United States has grown across racial and ethnic groups and with it evidence regarding the impact of family structure on outcomes for children. Recent studies have documented a sizable achievement gap between children who live with a single parent and their peers growing up with two parents. These patterns are cause for concern, as educational achievement is a key driver of economic prosperity for both individuals and society as a whole.

But how does the U.S. situation compare to that of other countries around the world? This essay draws on data from the 2000 and 2012 Program for International Student Assessment studies to compare the prevalence of single-parent families and how family structure relates to children’s educational achievement across countries. The 2012 data confirm that the U.S. has nearly the highest incidence of single-parent families among developed countries. And the educational achievement gap between children raised in single-parent and two-parent families, although present in virtually all countries, is particularly pronounced in the U.S.

Since 2000, there have been substantial changes in achievement gaps by family structure in many countries, with the gap widening in some countries and narrowing in others. The U.S. stands out in this analysis as a country that has seen a substantial narrowing of the educational achievement gap between children from single-parent and two-parent families. These varying trends, and the pattern for the U.S. in particular, confirm that family structure is by no means destiny. Ample evidence indicates the potential for enhancing family environments, regardless of their makeup, to improve the quality of parenting, nurturing, and stimulation, and promote healthy child development.

Evidence on Family Structure

The effect of family structure on child outcomes is a much-studied subject, and many researchers, including Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur (Growing up with a Single Parent, 1994), have explored the potentially adverse effects of single parenting on children. Single parents tend to have fewer financial resources, for example, limiting their ability to invest in their children’s development. Single parents may also have less time to spend with their children, and partnership instability may subject these parents to psychological and emotional stresses that worsen the nurturing environment for children.

Documented disadvantages of growing up in single-parent families in the United States include lower educational attainment and greater psychological distress, as well as poor adult outcomes in areas such as employment, income, and marital status. Disadvantages for children from single-parent families have also been documented in other countries, including Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. But cross-country evidence has been difficult to obtain, in part because of differing methods for measuring family structure and child outcomes. The PISA studies, which asked representative samples of 15-year-olds in each participating country the same questions about their living arrangements, provide a unique opportunity to address this challenge.

At the same time, it should be noted that the descriptive patterns documented here do not necessarily capture a causal effect of living in a single-parent family. Decisions to get divorced, end cohabitation, or bear a child outside a partnership are likely related to other factors important for child development, making it difficult to separate out the influence of family structure. For example, severe stress that leads to family breakup might well have continued without the breakup and have led to worse outcomes for a child had the family remained intact. If single-parent families differ from two-parent families in unmeasured ways, then those differences may be the underlying cause of any disparities in children’s outcomes. It is even conceivable that problems a child has in school may contribute to family breakup, rather than being a consequence of it.

In addition to comparing the raw gap in educational achievement between children from single- and two-parent families, I present results that adjust for other background differences, including the number of books at home, parental education, and immigrant and language background. This type of analysis can provide useful information about the reasons educational achievement varies with family structure. It is important to keep in mind, however, that even these adjusted associations between child outcomes and family structure may well have causes other than family structure itself.

The Data

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardized assessment given every three years since 2000 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA tests the math, science, and reading achievement of representative samples of 15-year-old students in each participating country. This analysis is limited to the 28 countries that were OECD members and PISA participants in 2000.

In nearly all countries, students living in single-parent families have lower achievement on average than students living in two-parent families.

PISA collects a rich array of background information in student questionnaires. Students report whether a mother (including stepmother or foster mother) usually lives at home with them, and similarly a father (including stepfather or foster father). By including students living with step- and foster parents, the group of students identified as living in two-parent families will include some students who have experienced a family separation. It is possible that, as a result, any differences between students from single- and from two-parent families will be understated in the analysis. Evidence from 2000, the one year for which it is possible to separate out students living with stepparents, suggests that this is indeed the case. In the international sample, the achievement difference would be 16 points rather than 14 points if stepparents were excluded from the two-parent families.

I limit the analysis to students who live with either one or two parents, excluding students living with neither parent and students for whom information on either the father or the mother is missing. On average across countries, 1.6 percent of students with available data from 2012 do not live with any parent (1.9 percent in the United States) and 7 percent of the total student population (11 percent in the United States) have missing data on whether a mother and/or father lives at home with them. My total 2012 sample contains more than 230,000 students or about 8,500 students per country on average. The U.S. sample consists of more than 4,300 students living in either single-parent (student lives with either mother or father only) or two-parent (student lives with both mother and father) families.

Single-Parent Families and Student Achievement

Single-Parent Families and Student Achievement

In the United States, in 2012, 21 percent of 15-year-old students lived in single-parent families (see Figure 1). Together with Hungary (also 21 percent), this puts the United States at the top among the countries. On average across all 28 countries, the share of single-parent families is 14 percent. New Zealand also has a share higher than 20 percent, while the Czech Republic has 18 percent, and Poland, the United Kingdom, Finland, Mexico, Denmark, and France have shares between 15 and 17 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, Greece, Korea, Italy, and Sweden have shares between 8.8 and 9.6 percent; Spain, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, and the Netherlands each have shares between 10 and 11.3 percent.

The vast majority of single-parent families are families with a single mother. On average across countries, 86 percent of single-parent families are headed by single mothers. In the United States, the figure is 84 percent.

To compare student achievement across countries, I focus on test scores in math, which are most readily comparable across countries. (Results for science and reading achievement in 2012, documented in the unabridged version of this study, are quite similar.) In each subject, PISA measures achievement on a scale that has a student-level standard deviation of 100 test-score points across OECD countries. That is, any achievement differences can be interpreted as percentages of a standard deviation in test scores, with one standard deviation in test-score performance representing between three and four years of learning on average. To illustrate, the average difference in math achievement between the two grade levels in our sample with the largest shares of 15-year-olds (9th and 10th grade) is 28 test-score points, which is a little more than one-quarter of a standard deviation and roughly equivalent to one year of learning or one grade level.

In nearly all countries, students living in single-parent families have lower achievement on average than students living in two-parent families (see Figure 2a). In the United States, the average raw achievement difference in math between students living in two-parent families and students living in single-parent families is 27 points, or roughly one grade level. The United States is one of six countries with achievement differences larger than 25 points. Belgium has the largest disparity in math achievement by family structure, at 35 points, followed by the Netherlands (29), and Poland, Japan, and the United Kingdom (27 to 28). On average across the 28 countries, students living in single-parent families score 18 points lower than students living in two-parent families.

There are exceptions, however. Mexico shows no achievement difference by family structure, and the difference is statistically insignificant in Portugal as well. The achievement difference is below 10 points in Portugal (6), Italy (7), Austria (8), and Germany (9).

Figure 3 plots these achievement gaps by family structure against the countries’ shares of students living in single-parent families. There is a slight tendency for countries with higher shares of single-parent families to have larger achievement disparities, although the correlation is not statistically significant.

The United States stands out in this figure in terms of the prevalence of single-parent families and the associated achievement gap. Belgium and the Netherlands exhibit the highest achievement disparities, although single parenthood is not particularly prevalent in these countries. The southern European countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) stand out as places with relatively low achievement disparities and relatively low prevalence of single parenthood. The German-speaking countries (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) show similarly low achievement disparities despite their higher prevalence of single parenthood. The Asian countries (Korea and Japan) have lower levels of single-parent families but higher achievement disparities. The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) all have similarly middling levels of achievement disparities despite varying levels of single-parenthood incidence. Finally, the eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland) have quite different achievement disparities despite the consistently high incidence of single-parent families.

The four quadrants divide the countries according to the degree of impact the prevalence of single-parent families is likely to have over the long term. For countries in the top right cell that have high values on both variables—the United States being the leading example—single parenthood may constitute a major concern for the next generation. It is quite prevalent, and the associated achievement gap is quite large. In countries in the bottom right cell, such as Hungary and Mexico, single parenthood is also quite common, but the achievement disparity is less severe. While single parenthood is less prevalent in the countries in the top left cell, such as the Netherlands and Ireland, the achievement difference is large and may still constitute a serious problem for affected students. Finally, in the bottom left cell, for countries, including Italy and Spain, where single parenthood is less prevalent and achievement disparities relatively small, there is less cause for concern.

Adjusting for Background Differences

The achievement differences reported so far are raw differences, not adjusted for background differences between students from single- and two-parent families. These raw differences may capture effects of disadvantaged backgrounds, as distinct from any independent effects of single parenthood. To provide a sense of the extent to which this might be the case, we next control for differences in family background beyond family structure.

In particular, we hold constant the number of books in the student’s home (as a proxy for socioeconomic background), the highest education level of the parent(s), immigration status (native, first-, and second-generation immigrants), and whether the national language is spoken at home. All these measures are strongly associated with student achievement, and across countries, books in the home and parental education tend to be negatively associated with single parenthood. In the cross-sectional data, though, we cannot observe whether some of these measures are preexisting characteristics of the families, in which case they represent potential biases, or whether they are an outcome of single parenthood.

Controlling for background factors has a substantial impact on the estimated achievement disparity between students living in single- and two-parent families (see Figure 2c). In the United States, the achievement disparity declines by more than 60 percent, from 27 to 10 points. On average across all countries, the disparity is reduced by half, from 18 to 9 points. While the United States still features above-average achievement differences by family structure after the adjustment, in absolute terms it differs less markedly from the international average. The countries with the largest adjusted achievement gap by family background are Belgium (22), Poland (21), and the Netherlands (17). In 12 countries, the adjusted achievement gap is below 5 points, or less than half the adjusted achievement gap in the United States. In seven countries, after the adjustment, the achievement disparity by family structure is no longer statistically significant. In Korea and Portugal, the adjusted relationship even turns negative.

With the exception of Mexico and Switzerland, where controlling for background factors hardly affects the results, the adjusted gaps are smaller in all countries than in the initial analysis. In the majority of countries (19 out of 28), the reduction in the achievement disparity between students in single- and two-parent families from controlling for observed factors is in the range of 40 to 80 percent of the raw difference in achievement.

The background factors do not contribute equally to the reduction in the achievement gap, however. In fact, controlling only for the number of books at home reduces the achievement gap by family structure across all countries to 9 points. By contrast, immigration status and language spoken at home hardly contribute to the reduction. This pattern is quite similar in the United States. That is, in the international sample, roughly half of the achievement difference between students living in single- and two-parent families simply reflects differences in socioeconomic status as captured by the number of books in the home.

With the available data, it is impossible to determine whether the relative lack of books in single-parent homes mostly reflects a preexisting feature of the families or whether it is (at least partly) an outcome of the family structure. The number of books may to some extent reflect the number of people living in the home. Figure 2b presents achievement differences between students living in single- and two-parent families, controlling for parental education, immigration status, and language spoken at home, but not for books at home. At 19 points, this alternative adjusted achievement gap in the United States lies roughly midway between the raw difference (27) and the gap as adjusted for books at home as well as the other characteristics (10). On average across countries, the achievement gap in this model is 15 points. Thus, while controlling for books at home may well capture in part the effect of family structure, some of the overall achievement gap clearly reflects preexisting

Of course, the background factors considered here by no means capture all relevant differences in family background, although they have been found to be particularly relevant for student achievement. The adjusted achievement gaps by family structure above may partly reflect additional differences in family background rather than family structure alone.

Changes Over Time 

Finally, I analyze trends in the patterns over time. To do so, I perform the same analyses as above with data from
the 2000 PISA study, when the first of these surveys was administered. (See unabridged version for details.) Over the period from 2000 to 2012, the share of 15-year-olds living in single-parent families increased from 18 to 21 percent in the United States, and from 12 to 14 percent on average in the international sample, although there are substantial differences across countries. The average achievement gap in the international sample also increased by 33 percent, from 13.6 to 18 points.


In general, countries with larger increases in the incidence of single parenthood from 2000 to 2012 tended to have larger increases in the achievement gap by family structure as well. The U.S. is a clear outlier from this pattern, however. The raw difference in math achievement between students from single- and two-parent families in the U.S. was substantially higher in 2000 than in 2012, at 37 points compared to 27 points (see Figure 4). Thus, over the course of 12 years, the achievement gap in the U.S. declined by 29 percent. In 2000, only the Netherlands, with a gap of 43 points, had a larger achievement gap than the United States. Korea (26) and Belgium (21) follow at some distance. At the other end, seven countries had achievement gaps lower than 5 points in 2000 (Iceland, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Czech Republic, Ireland, and Mexico).


Single parenthood is prevalent in virtually all OECD countries, but the share of single-parent families is particularly high in the United States. Students from single-parent families perform significantly lower in math than students from two-parent families in virtually all countries. To a large extent, however, this achievement gap reflects differences in socioeconomic background, as measured by the number of books at home and parental education, rather than family structure alone. The United States belongs to the group of countries with the largest achievement gaps by family structure, although the United States was more exceptional in this regard in 2000 than in 2012. While the achievement gap between students from single- and two-parent families increased in most other OECD countries over the period, it declined in the United States.

This variation in trends shows that achievement disparities by family structure are by no means destiny. Ample evidence reveals that it is possible to enhance family environments to improve the quality of parenting, nurturing, and stimulation, and thereby promote healthy child development. Future research should investigate to what extent factors such as differing welfare systems, child support facilities, divorce regulations, and other country characteristics may lie behind the differences in achievement gaps between students from single- and two-parent families across countries and over time.

Read the original article here.

Ludger Woessmann

Ludger Woessmann is professor of economics at the University of Munich and director of the Ifo Center for the Economics of Education.

How to Encourage a Child’s Brain Development

by Scholastic Parents | When you provide loving, language-enriched experiences for your baby, you are giving his/her brain’s neural connections and pathways more chances to become wired together (image: DHHS)

At birth, your baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons (as many as there are stars in the Milky Way)! During his first years, he will grow trillions of brain-cell connections, called neural synapses.

The rule for brain wiring is “use it or lose it.” Synapses that are not “wired together” through stimulation are pruned and lost during a child’s school years. Although an infant’s brain does have some neurological hard wiring (such as the ability to learn any language), it is more pliable and more vulnerable than an adult’s brain. And, amazingly, a toddler’s brain has twice as many neural connections as an adult’s.

When you provide loving, language-enriched experiences for your baby, you are giving his brain’s neural connections and pathways more chances to become wired together. In turn, he will acquire rich language, reasoning, and planning skills.

  1. Give your baby a physically healthy start before he is born. Stay healthy while you are pregnant, and be aware that certain drugs can be destructive to your baby’s brain in utero. Many children who were drug-abused in the womb struggle with severe learning problems and suddenly act with unprovoked aggressive behaviors. Studies have also revealed that cigarette smoking during pregnancy causes lower fourth-grade reading scores.
  2. Have meaningful conversations. Respond to infant coos with delighted vocalizations. Slowly draw out your syllables in a high-pitched voice as you exclaim, “Pretty baby!” This talk is called “parentese.” The areas in the brain for understanding speech and producing language need your rich input.
  3. Play games that involve the hands (patty-cake, peekaboo, this little piggy). Babies respond well to learning simple sequential games.
  4. Be attentive. When your baby points, be sure to follow with your gaze and remark on items or events of interest to her. This “joint attention” confirms for your baby how important her interests and observations are to you.
  5. Foster an early passion for books. Choose books with large and colorful pictures, and share your baby’s delight in pointing and making noises — say, the animal sounds to go along with farm pictures. Modulate the tone of your voice; simplify or elaborate on story lines; encourage toddlers to talk about books. We recommend these books for sounds and wordplay. Remember that building your baby’s receptive language (understanding spoken words) is more important than developing his expressive language (speaking) in infancy.
  6. Use diaper time to build your baby’s emotional feelings of having a “lovable body.” Stroke your baby’s tummy and hair. Studies have shown that babies who are not often touched have brains that are smaller than normal for their age. Also, when diapering your baby, you are at the ideal 12 to 18 inches from her eyes to attract attention to your speech.
  7. Choose developmentally appropriate toys that allow babies to explore and interact. Toys such as a windup jack-in-the-box or stackable blocks help your baby learn cause-and-effect relationships and “if-then” reasoning. If a baby stacks a big block on a smaller one, the top block falls off. If he successfully stacks a small block on a bigger one, he “wires in” the information.
  8. Respond promptly when your baby cries. Soothe, nurture, cuddle, and reassure him so that you build positive brain circuitry in the limbic area of the brain, which relates to emotions. Your calm holding and cuddling, and your day-to-day intimate engagement with your baby, signal emotional security to the brain.
  9. Build trust by being attentive and focused. Babies who are securely attached to you emotionally will be able to invest more life energy in the pleasures of exploration, learning, and discovery.
  10. Use body massage to decrease your infant’s stress and enhance her feelings of well-being and emotional security. Loving touches promote growth in young babies. Research has shown that premature babies who are massaged three times daily are ready to leave the hospital days earlier than babies who do not receive massages.
  11. Enlist help from your toddler at clean-up times — a good way to practice categorization. Toddlers learn that stuffed animals have one place to go for “night-night” time; cars, trucks, and other vehicles also have their special storage place. Children need to learn about sorting into categories and seriation (placing things in order; for example, from littlest to biggest) as part of their cognitive advancement in preschool.
  12. Set up a safe environment for your crawling baby or toddler. Spatial learning is important, and your mobile child will begin to understand parameters such as under, over, near, and far. He will be able to establish mental maps of his environment and a comfortable relationship with the world in which he lives.
  13. Sing songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Ring-Around-the-Rosy.” The body motions and finger play will help your baby integrate sounds with large and small motor actions. Songs also enhance your child’s learning of rhythms, rhymes, and language patterns.
  14. Match your tempo to your child’s temperament. Some children adjust easily to strange situations, some are bold and impulsive, and some are quite shy. Go with the flow as you try to increase a shy child’s courage and comfort level. Help a highly active child safely use his wonderful energy while learning impulse control. Your acceptance will give him the comfort he needs to experiment and learn freely.
  15. Make meals and rest times positive. Say the names of foods out loud as your baby eats. Express pleasure as she learns to feed herself, no matter how messy the initial attempts may be. This will wire in good associations with mealtime and eating. Battles and nagging about food can lead to negative emotional brain patterns.
  16. Provide clear responses to your baby’s actions. A young, developing brain learns to make sense of the world if you respond to your child’s behavior in predictable, reassuring, and appropriate ways. Be consistent.
  17. Use positive discipline. Create clear consequences without frightening or causing shame to your child. If your toddler acts inappropriately, such as by hitting another child, get down to his eye level, use a low, serious tone of voice, and clearly restate the rule. Keep rules simple, consistent, and reasonable for your child’s age. Expecting a toddling baby not to touch a glass vase on a coffee table is not reasonable. Expecting a toddler to keep sand in the sandbox and not throw it is reasonable.
  18. Model empathic feelings for others. Use “teachable moments” when someone seems sad or upset to help your toddler learn about feelings, caring, sharing, and kindness. The more brain connections you create for empathic responses and gentle courtesies, the more these brain circuits will be wired in. This helps not only with language and cognitive learning, but with positive emotional skills, too!
  19. Arrange supervised play with messy materials, such as water, sand, and even mud. This will teach your toddler about the physics and properties of mixtures and textures, liquids and solids. During bath time, the brain wires in knowledge about water, slippery soap, and terry towel textures. Sensory experiences are grist for the learning brain.
  20. Express joy and interest in your baby. Let your body language, your shining eyes, your attentiveness to babbling and baby activities, and your gentle caresses and smiles validate the deeply lovable nature of your little one.

Guiding Child-Sized Dreams Into God-Sized Faith

by Leigh Ann Thomas | Are we as parents holding on to old dreams? Does God want us to release them so He can give us a broader vision? Maybe we’re thinking too small. (image: Gravity Leadership)

Dirt, tiny digging tools, and a magnifying glass littered the table where my fourth-grade daughter hunched over her latest project. Her focus was intense, and even calls for lunch weren’t enough to pry her from the task at hand.

“Mom, I think I found something!”

Sure enough, I could see a dinosaur fossil clenched in her tweezers. I’m not sure which was more impressive—the fossil, or my daughter’s jubilant smile.

Her sisters joined me in examining the find and my heart thrilled to watch the enthusiasm of my little explorer.

For several years, my middle daughter was into all things dinosaur. She lived and breathed paleontology. She exhausted available library books, begged to visit museums, and requested science kits for birthdays and Christmas.

Around that time, our family devotion time centered on the importance of a daily walk with God and learning to listen to His leading in all decisions, especially our life’s work.

This gave my young scientist great pause. As she pondered the concepts of listening to God’s voice and living in obedience to Him, I could see the conflict in her eyes.

“But Mama, what if God doesn’t want me to be a paleontologist?”

(Side note: Moms, don’t ever wonder where your mission field might be—you are living it every day.)

My daughter and I spent the next few minutes discussing that if she surrendered her dreams to God, He would take that sweet obedience and He would fill the place in her heart—presently filled with dinosaurs—with His plans for her (science or something else).

And those plans would be bigger and more amazing than she could imagine.

What a privilege to teach our children the concepts of faith and submission! To introduce God’s promises and precepts concerning how to follow Him. To encourage them to cling to Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” and Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Walking with Christ is about surrender and obedience. About denying self and reaching for the heart of God. Every step of faithfulness lights the way for the next step.

Are we as parents holding on to old dreams? Does God want us to release them so He can give us a broader vision? Maybe we’re thinking too small.

What a joy-filled responsibility God has given parents: To walk this path of obedience so that little feet may follow.

Leigh Ann Thomas is the author of Ribbons, Lace and Moments of Grace—Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). A columnist for AlmostAnAuthor.com, she has also written for The Write Conversation, Southern Writers Suite T and Power for Living. Leigh Ann blogs at https://leighathomas.com/, where she encourages others to keep a Jesus heart in an upside-down world.

3 Things Your Kids Are Silently Begging for From You

by Rick Warren | A lot of times we love our kids, but we don't express it in a way they can understand it. Children understand love in three ways: affection, affirmation and attention. (image: Pinecrest)

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7).

If you want to know how to be a good parent and build a strong family, you don't have to look online or go to a bookstore. Look no further than the greatest book ever written on parenting: God's Word, the Bible.

It says in 1 John 4:7a "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God."

More than anything else, kids need unwavering and unconditional love. There needs to be a place where they're accepted—warts and all.

What is compassion? Compassion is a combination of love and understanding. Compassion is where you know everything about someone and you still like that person.

Love is not natural. You have to learn to love. You learn by practicing. What better place to practice than with the people you're forced to live with all your life? If you can learn to love your family, you can love anybody. Why? Because it's easy to love people at a distance, but when you're with them all the time, you don't always get along. When you practice love in the family, you're learning to really love.

A lot of times we love our kids, but we don't express it in a way they can understand it. Children understand love in three ways: affection, affirmation and attention.

1. Affection. Children need lots of hugs and touch and kisses. They need to feel your love.

2. Affirmation. You need to tell your kids every day—and more than once a day—how much you love them. Affirm them, and build them up with love.

3. Attention. One of the greatest gifts you can give others is listening to them. When you look at children on their level, you're saying, "You matter to me. You're important to me. I want to hear what you have to say." In doing this, you show compassion.

Talk It Over

  • In what different ways do you see that your children express and receive love?
  • What routines or habits can you practice so that you are showing your kids affection, affirmation, and attention every day?
  • If you don't have children, what is your responsibility to the children in your life, such as nieces and nephews, neighbors or the children of friends?
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of pastors.com, a global internet community for pastors.

8 Warning Signs Your Child Is Headed for Trouble

by All Pro Dad | As parents, it is an important duty to monitor our child and their activities (image, allprodad.com).

When I look back at childhood, I think about my decisions when I came into my adolescence. The early years were perfectly happy and normal, but the later years led me to places that make me cringe when I think back on it. I can pinpoint the triggers that caused the good and bad choices. But a 10-year-old boy has no ability to understand what is happening in the moment.

As parents, it is an important duty to monitor our child and their activities. This allows us to decipher what paths they are headed down. When you just focus on punishment and not the root of the issue, there is a good chance he or she could become a problem child. Here are some of the common signs of a child heading the wrong direction. It is important to recognize these and take the appropriate steps to guide your child back down a positive path.

1. Mood Swings
Everyone experiences the occasional change in moods. Teenagers with exploding hormones, in particular, are prone to ups and downs. The key here is to determine if the lows and highs are too excessive, or if your child quickly shifts from euphoria to depression seemingly without cause. Be empathetic and a source of stability. Be calm. Adding to the drama will only make things worse. Finally, try to get your child to communicate what he is truly feeling in the moment.

2. Withdrawal
Not every child is a social butterfly, but that doesn't mean there is a problem. However, if you see signs of withdrawal, it could be cause for concern. Watch for signs of depression, lack of confidence and if he feels rejected by other children.

3. Hiding Things
When you find out they have been hiding something, even if it's trivial, it should tell you that they have entered into suspect behavior. At the very least they are creating habits of secrecy. It either says they are fine with bad behavior or they don't trust you. Each of those is dangerous.

4. Dropping Grades
If a child is getting lower-than-normal grades, something is wrong somewhere. It could be a learning disability, laziness, need for more instruction or any number of social or domestic issues. It could also be a sign of depression or discontentment. Get to the core of the matter instead of just punishing.
5. Sudden Change of Friends
Making new friends is a good thing. A red flag is when your child stops spending time with one friend group and start hanging out with a totally new group of people. It's important to find out what they are drawn to with the new group and what the breakdown was with their former friends. Relationships have a complexity, and kids need their parents' help in navigating them. Breakdowns in friendships hurt. Wounded hearts often gravitate to unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb or distract from the pain.

6. Fluctuating Weight
Sudden weight loss and gain are normally associated with an unhealthy desire to control. Being a child can feel turbulent and unstable. As a way to deal with the stress, eating disorders or mass consumption can emerge. With these dysfunctional coping strategies, food can easily be replaced by drugs and alcohol or cutting as a way to control feelings of fear, anxiety and insecurity.

7. Personality Changes
Puberty is bound to bring some personality changes, but keep an eye on it. When a generally upbeat kid becomes more pessimistic or an outgoing kid becomes quieter, there is something driving the negative change. Perhaps they are doing things they know you wouldn't approve of or they are being bullied at school. Maybe they are desperate for approval they aren't getting. Ask them questions such as, "Do you feel like your world is changing a bit? How do you feel about that?" You may also try, "You know when I was your age I had a hard time. How are you coping with the changes going on around you?"

8. Changing the Way They Dress
It's fine to experiment with new looks. After all, kids don't develop a full sense of identity until their mid-twenties. However, a sudden change in dress and image could be more than experimenting. It may be a deep sign of insecurity. Starting to wear more revealing clothing tends to be a step towards sexual activity, while baggy/over-covering can be a sign they are hiding something. For example, when a kid always wears long sleeves, even when it is warm, they are usually hiding scars from self-cutting. As it has been said before, get to the heart of the issues. Ask questions and be a safe place for your kids as they try to navigate life.

What other trouble signs are there?

Read original article at allprodad.com.