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Forging STRONG Families

by Judy Purdy


Intro  |  Page Two


Oprah Winfrey has a no-nonsense way to explain behavior: When people know better, they do better. Gene Brody and Velma McBride Murry, both professors of family and child development, subscribe to Oprah’s way of thinking. In their studies of parents who “know better and do better,” the two University of Georgia researchers identify and disseminate parenting practices that help kids sidestep teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, and other hazards of growing up.

“It’s not beyond parents’ power to do something. They can foster positive outcomes despite all the daily challenges they face,” said Murry, co-director of the UGA Center for Family Research.

She and Brody study Southern, rural, African-American families in particular, a population that typically lacks access to mental-health and substance-abuse intervention services. They have found that successful parents in rural, African- American communities help youth develop solid academic, emotional and social skills. Children learn self-control, know what their parents expect and stand up to peer pressure. Even under economic hardship and social challenges, these families succeed.

Until recently, the rural, African-American working poor had remained unrecognized. “These people were invisible in the scientific literature, which focused almost solely on what people weren’t doing right,” said Brody, a Regents Professor who heads the Center for Family Research.

So he and Murry set out to learn how rural, African-American families rear successful children despite high rates of poverty, chronic unemployment and other social ills. They studied families in eight Georgia counties, where tax revenues are low, resources are scarce and recreational outlets are few. Entertainment and social life often revolve around the church.

The research team of faculty, staff, graduate students and community liaisons asked questions, listened intently and identified common parenting patterns that foster confident, motivated, well-functioning children. By focusing on what works, they developed a carefully scripted program to spread those positive practices to others.

For example, they found that parents who are nurturing, involved and vigilant, and who communicate expectations clearly, practice no-nonsense discipline, and help their children set and attain goals, tend to raise children who are more self-governing and think before they act. “Thoughtful, self-regulating children and teens are less likely to find themselves in situations that place them at risk,” Murry said.


Intro  |  Page Two


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