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Toronto Star: Parents have a key role to play in teaching healthy relationship skills

A research study by Ernest Jouriles in collaboration with others in the SMU Department of Psychology is cited in a Nov. 5 article in the Toronto Star.

Journalist Ann Douglas elaborates on the study in her article about the way parents make a difference when it comes to encouraging their children to make healthy relationship choices.

The study, “Teens’ experiences of harsh parenting and exposure to severe intimate partner violence: Adding insult to injury in predicting teen dating violence,” was published in April in the journal “Psychology of Violence.”

Co-authors with Jouriles on the study were Victoria Mueller, David Rosenfield, Renee McDonald and Catherine Dodson.

Read the full article.


By Ann Douglas
Toronto Star

Parents can make a difference when it comes to encouraging their children to make healthy relationship choices down the road.

These skills don’t develop automatically — nor can you expect to cover everything your child needs to know in a one-time “facts of relationships” conversation.

You’ll want to start the conversation about respectful and empathetic relationships during the preschool years, or even earlier, and to carry on that conversation throughout the teen years and beyond, says Lynn Zimmer, executive director of YWCA Peterborough, Victoria, and Haliburton, a non-profit organization that operates a secure emergency shelter for women and children fleeing abuse.

She encourages parents to consider the following question: “What values can you transmit to your children so that they are respectful and resilient — not completely compliant, and yet not doing harm to others?”

Children learn more from our actions than from our words.

“We have to think about what relationship models we are providing for our children — to consider what they are seeing at home,” notes writer and speaker Michael Kaufman, co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign.

Research indicates that harsh parenting — parenting that is physically or verbally abusive — affects children’s perceptions of what constitutes a loving relationship.

A study conducted at Southern Methodist University and published in Psychology of Violence this past April, noted that teenagers who have been traumatized by harsh parenting and exposure to violence in the home may be “primed to respond aggressively to negative behavior from a romantic partner, or even to ambiguous behavior that they erroneously interpret as hostile or threatening.” In other words, trauma may interfere with the brain’s ability to make sense of and to cope with conflict in a relationship.

Read the full article.

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Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Researcher news SMU In The News Children Need Direct Answers after Interparent Violence

The research of SMU psychologists Renee McDonald, Ernest Jouriles and David Rosenfield was featured in an article on the web site

McDonald, lead author on the research and a professor of psychology, researches specific child adjustment problems, such as aggression and antisocial behavior, and how they are associated with exposure to family conflict and violence. She has begun to develop and evaluate intervention programs to assist children exposed to frequent and severe interparent violence.

McDonald and Jouriles are co-founders and co-directors of SMU’s Family Research Center. The Center advances knowledge about family functioning and malfunctioning, trains students in clinical psychology and treats families who participate in programs at the research center.

Read the full article.


Over 15 million children live in homes in which intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs.

“A sizable proportion of these children experience significant mental-health problems, but many appear to experience only mild distress, especially those drawn from community samples,” said Renee McDonald of the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University. “Parent– child communications about interparent conflict may represent another important dimension of parenting for children who have been exposed to IPV.”

Children who witness interparent conflict often express curiosity about the conflict. A number of mothers have reported that if asked, they would explain to their children about the conflict. However, to date, few studies have looked at that behavior to identify the influence it would have on the child’s adjustment.

“It seems plausible that mother–child communications about interparent conflict affect children’s understanding of the conflict, and theorists often point to the importance of children’s understanding of their parents’ conflict in influencing children’s adjustment,” said McDonald.

Read the full article.

SMU has an uplink facility on campus for live TV, radio or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or to book them in the SMU studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650 or UT Dallas Office of Media Relations at 972-883-4321.

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2010 a year of advances for SMU scientific researchers at the vanguard of those helping civilization

From picking apart atomic particles at Switzerland’s CERN, to unraveling the mysterious past, to delving into the human psyche, SMU researchers are in the vanguard of those helping civilization understand more and live better.

With both public and private funding — and the assistance of their students — they are tackling such scientific and social problems as brain diseases, immigration, diabetes, evolution, volcanoes, panic disorders, childhood obesity, cancer, radiation, nuclear test monitoring, dark matter, the effects of drilling in the Barnett Shale, and the architecture of the universe.

The sun never sets on SMU research
Besides working in campus labs and within the Dallas-area community, SMU scientists conduct research throughout the world, including at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and in Angola, the Canary Islands, Mongolia, Kenya, Italy, China, the Congo Basin, Ethiopia, Mexico, the Northern Mariana Islands and South Korea.

“Research at SMU is exciting and expanding,” says Associate Vice President for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies James E. Quick, a professor in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. “Our projects cover a wide range of problems in basic and applied research, from the search for the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN to the search for new approaches to treat serious diseases. The University looks forward to creating increasing opportunities for undergraduates to become involved as research expands at SMU.”

Funding from public and private sources
In 2009-10, SMU received $25.6 million in external funding for research, up from $16.5 million the previous year.

“Research is a business that cannot be grown without investment,” Quick says. “Funding that builds the research enterprise is an investment that will go on giving by enabling the University to attract more federal grants in future years.”

The funding came from public and private sources, including the National Science Foundation; the National Institutes of Health; the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education and Energy; the U.S. Geological Survey;; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Texas’ own Hogg Foundation for Mental Health; and the Texas Instruments Foundation.

Worldwide, the news media are covering SMU research. See some of the coverage. Browse a sample of the research:

CERN and the origin of our universe
cern_atlas-thumb.jpgLed by Physics Professor Ryszard Stroynowski, SMU physics researchers belong to the global consortium of scientists investigating the origins of our universe by monitoring high-speed sub-atomic particle collisions at CERN, the world’s largest physics experiment.

Compounds to fight neurodegenerative diseases
Synthetic organic chemist and Chemistry Professor Edward Biehl leads a team developing organic compounds for possible treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. Preliminary investigation of one compound found it was extremely potent as a strong, nontoxic neuroprotector in mice.

Hunting dark matter
Dark%20matterthumb.jpgAssistant Professor of Physics Jodi Cooley belongs to a high-profile international team of experimental particle physicists searching for elusive dark matter — believed to constitute the bulk of the matter in the universe — at an abandoned underground mine in Minnesota, and soon at an even deeper mine in Canada.

Robotic arms for injured war vets
Electrical Engineering Chairman and Professor Marc Christensen is director of a new $5.6 million center funded by the Department of Defense and industry. The center will develop for war veteran amputees a high-tech robotic arm with fiber-optic connectivity to the brain capable of “feeling” sensations.

Green energy from the Earth’s inner heat
The SMU Geothermal Laboratory, under Earth Sciences Professor David Blackwell, has identified and mapped U.S. geothermal resources capable of supplying a green source of commercial power generation, including resources that were much larger than expected under coal-rich West Virginia.

Exercise can be magic drug for depression and anxiety
Psychologist Jasper Smits, director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at SMU, says exercise can help many people with depression and anxiety disorders and should be more widely prescribed by mental health care providers.

The traditional treatments of cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy don’t reach everyone who needs them, says Smits, an associate professor of psychology.

Virtual reality “dates” to prevent victimization
SMU psychologists Ernest Jouriles, Renee McDonald and Lorelei Simpson have partnered with SMU Guildhall in developing an interactive video gaming environment where women on virtual-reality dates can learn and practice assertiveness skills to prevent sexual victimization.

With assertive resistance training, young women have reduced how often they are sexually victimized, the psychologists say.

Controlled drug delivery agents for diabetes
brent-sumerlin.thumb.jpgAssociate Chemistry Professor Brent Sumerlin leads a team of SMU chemistry researchers — including postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students — who fuse the fields of polymer, organic and biochemistries to develop novel materials with composite properties. Their research includes developing nano-scale polymer particles to deliver insulin to diabetics.

Sumerlin, associate professor of chemistry, was named a 2010-2012 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, which carries a $50,000 national award to support his research.

Human speed
Usain_Bolt_Berlin%2Csmall.jpgAn expert on the locomotion of humans and other terrestrial animals, Associate Professor of Applied Physiology and Biomechanics Peter Weyand has analyzed the biomechanics of world-class athletes Usain Bolt and Oscar Pistorius. His research targets the relationships between muscle function, metabolic energy expenditure, whole body mechanics and performance.

Weyand’s research also looks at why smaller people tire faster. Finding that they have to take more steps to cover the same distance or travel at the same speed, he and other scientists derived an equation that can be used to calculate the energetic cost of walking.

Pacific Ring of Fire volcano monitoring
E_crater1%20thumb.jpgAn SMU team of earth scientists led by Professor and Research Dean James Quick works with the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire near Guam on the Northern Mariana Islands. Their research will help predict and anticipate hazards to the islands, the U.S. military and commercial jets.

The two-year, $250,000 project will use infrasound — in addition to more conventional seismic monitoring — to “listen” for signs a volcano is about to blow.

Reducing anxiety and asthma
Mueret%20thumb.jpgA system of monitoring breathing to reduce CO2 intake is proving useful for reducing the pain of chronic asthma and panic disorder in separate studies by Associate Psychology Professor Thomas Ritz and Assistant Psychology Professor Alicia Meuret.

The two have developed the four-week program to teach asthmatics and those with panic disorder how to better control their condition by changing the way they breathe.

Breast Cancer community engagement
breast%20cancer%20100x80.jpgAssistant Psychology Professor Georita Friersen is working with African-American and Hispanic women in Dallas to address the quality-of-life issues they face surrounding health care, particularly during diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

Friersen also examines health disparities regarding prevention and treatment of chronic diseases among medically underserved women and men.

Paleoclimate in humans’ first environment
Cenozoic%20Africa%20150x120%2C%2072dpi.jpgPaleobotanist and Associate Earth Sciences Professor Bonnie Jacobs researches ancient Africa’s vegetation to better understand the environmental and ecological context in which our ancient human ancestors and other mammals evolved.

Jacobs is part of an international team of researchers who combine independent lines of evidence from various fossil and geochemical sources to reconstruct the prehistoric climate, landscape and ecosystems of Ethiopia in particular. She also identifies and prepares flora fossil discoveries for Ethiopia’s national museum.

Ice Age humans
Anthropology Professor David Meltzer explores the western Rockies of Colorado to understand the prehistoric Folsom hunters who adapted to high-elevation environments during the Ice Age.

Meltzer, a world-recognized expert on paleoIndians and early human migration from eastern continents to North America, was inducted into the National Academy of Scientists in 2009.

Understanding evolution
Cane%20rate%2C%20Uganda%2C%2020%20mya%20400x300.jpgThe research of paleontologist Alisa WInkler focuses on the systematics, paleobiogeography and paleoecology of fossil mammals, in particular rodents and rabbits.

Her study of prehistoric rodents in East Africa and Texas, such as the portion of jaw fossil pictured, is helping shed more light on human evolution.

Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News

UPI: Abusive mothers can improve parenting

UPI covered the research of SMU psychologists Ernest Jouriles, Renee McDonald, David Rosenfield and Deborah Corbitt-Shindler in a July 30 story “Abusive mothers can improve parenting.”

UPI covered the research of SMU psychologists Ernest Jouriles, Renee McDonald, David Rosenfield and Deborah Corbitt-Shindler in a July 30 story “Abusive mothers can improve parenting.”


DALLAS, July 30 (UPI) — Abusive mothers, who are taught parenting skills and given emotional support, can improve their parenting skills, two U.S. researchers say.

Ernest Jouriles and Renee McDonald of Southern Methodist University in Dallas say parenting improved in impoverished, neglectful, abusive mothers after home visits, classes and emotional support from therapists.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, says large improvements in mothers’ parenting were observed in families given instruction and emotional support compared to families that did not receive the services.

Jouriles is professor and chairman of the SMU Psychology Department. McDonald and Rosenfield are associate professors. Corbitt-Shindler is a psychology department doctoral candidate.

Read the full story:Abusive mothers can improve parenting

Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Mind & Brain

Abusive mothers improve their parenting after home visits, classes and emotional support from therapists

Mothers who live in poverty and who have abused their children can stop if they are taught parenting skills and given emotional support.

A new study has found that mothers in families in which there is a history of child abuse and neglect were able to reduce how much they cursed at, yelled at, slapped, spanked, hit or rejected their children after a series of home visits from therapists who taught them parenting skills.

There were large improvements in mothers’ parenting in families that received the intensive services, compared to families that did not receive the services, according to SMU psychologists Ernest Jouriles and Renee McDonald at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, two of the study’s eight authors.

As a result of the intensive, hands-on training, the women in the study said they felt they did a better job managing their children’s behavior, said Jouriles and McDonald. The mothers also were observed to use better parenting strategies, and the families were less likely to be reported again for child abuse.

“Although there are many types of services for addressing child maltreatment, there is very little scientific data about whether the services actually work,” said McDonald. “This study adds to our scientific knowledge and shows that this type of service can actually work.”

Help for violent families
The parenting training is part of a program called Project Support, developed at the Family Research Center at SMU and designed to help children in severely violent families.

The study appears in the current issue of the quarterly Journal of Family Psychology. The article is titled “Improving Parenting in Families Referred for Child Maltreatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial Examining Effects of Project Support.” SMU psychologist David Rosenfield also authored the study.

The research was funded by the federal Interagency Consortium on Violence Against Women and Violence Within the Family, along with the Texas-based Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

“Child maltreatment is such an important and costly problem in our society that it seems imperative to make sure that our efforts — and the tax dollars that pay for them — are actually solving the problem,” said Jouriles. He and McDonald are co-founders and co-directors of the SMU Family Research Center.

In 2007, U.S. child welfare agencies received more than 3 million reports of child abuse and neglect, totaling almost 6 million children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Poor and single with children
The study worked with 35 families screened through the Texas child welfare agency Child Protective Services, CPS. The parents had abused or neglected their children at least once, but CPS determined it best the family stay together and receive services to improve parenting and end the maltreatment.

In all the families, the mother was legal guardian and primary caregiver and typically had three children. On average she was 28, single and had an annual income of $10,300. Children in the study ranged from 3 to 8 years old.

Half the families in the study received Project Support parenting education and support. The other half received CPS’s conventional services.

New parenting skills + help
Mental health service providers met with the 17 Project Support families weekly in their homes for up to 6 months.

During that time, mothers, and often their husbands or partners, were taught 12 specific skills, including how to pay attention and play with their children, how to listen and comfort them, how to offer praise and positive attention, how to give appropriate instructions and commands, and how to respond to misbehavior.

Also, therapists provided the mothers with emotional support and helped them access materials and resources through community agencies as needed, such as food banks and Medicaid. The therapists also helped mothers evaluate the adequacy and safety of the family’s living arrangements, the quality of their child-care arrangements and how to provide enough food with so little money.

Services provided to families receiving traditional child welfare services varied widely. The range of services included parenting classes at a church or agency, family therapy or individual counseling, videotaped parenting instruction, anger-management help, GED classes and contact by social workers in person or by phone.

Fewer recurrences of abuse
Only 5.9 percent of the families trained through Project Support were later referred to CPS for abuse, compared with almost 28 percent of the control group, the researchers found.

“The results of this study have important implications for the field of child maltreatment,” said SMU’s Rosenfield.

Project Support was launched in 1996 to address the mental health problems of maltreated children and children exposed to domestic violence, both of which often lead to considerable problems for children later in life, such as substance abuse, interpersonal violence and criminal activity. Previous studies have shown the program can improve children’s psychological adjustment as well as mothers’ ability to parent their children appropriately and effectively, according to the researchers.

Project Support: A promising practice
With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Project Support has been included in a study evaluating 15 “promising practices” nationally for helping children who live in violent families.

Jouriles is professor and chairman of the SMU Psychology Department. McDonald and Rosenfield are associate professors.

Other researchers were William Norwood, University of Houston; Laura Spiller, Midwestern State University; Nanette Stephens, University of Texas; Deborah Corbitt-Shindler, SMU; and Miriam Ehrensaft, City University of New York.

SMU is a private university in Dallas where nearly 11,000 students benefit from the national opportunities and international reach of SMU’s seven degree-granting schools. For more information see