Tech-Based Health Program Brings Our Kids, Parents Together

Tech-Based Health Program Brings Our Kids, Parents Together

High-tech tools can help African American children avoid drugs and alcohol, honor their racial heritage, and remain optimistic.
Getty Images / Klaus Vedfelt

The mere act of growing up brings special challenges to young African Americans, particularly those living in rural areas. Resources there are often limited, compared to what’s offered in the city. There’s more chronic poverty and economic stress, and less of almost everything else: employment opportunities, public transportation, recreational facilities, families with discretionary income, and health care, both physical and mental.

There are bright spots, however, as I’ve learned from over 20 years of research. One was the caregiving practices of many African American families. That nurturing has helped their children avoid major problems, including behaviors that place them at risk for HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies.

With that in mind, I developed the Strong African American Families Program (SAAF) in 2000. Its purpose was to bolster positive parenting and promote competence and good decision-making among youth. Most of all, we wanted the program to dissuade young people from early sexual engagement, drug use and drinking. We tested its effectiveness with 677 families recruited from nine counties in rural Georgia. All of the families had at least one thing in common: each had an 11-year-old child.

I can report that SAAF effectively steered those young people from risky behaviors from middle childhood through young adulthood. And the primary reason for the positive outcomes was our support of those very strengths already present in those African American communities.

How it works

The program fostered “involved-vigilant parenting practices.” Sessions brought families together to discuss norms and values, while developing solutions regarding behavior and risk. Children need to think about the consequences of their behavior; parents need to know their child’s whereabouts and friends, and the places in the community to avoid. Mutual problem-solving and increased monitoring was emphasized, and young people were encouraged to honor their racial heritage and embrace optimism.

The success of SAAF led me to consider ways to increase accessibility of the program. Sometimes, there are logistical issues, such as transportation and work conflicts, when delivering programs that take families from home into a community setting. Using technology, we thought, might be one possible solution; it offers a “whenever-wherever” approach for families to access the program information at their convenience.

So I developed another program – Pathways for African American Success (PAAS) – to test what was best: Should youth and their caregivers receive the information through technology that was self-directed, without human interaction to guide them through the program? Through print materials (booklets, brochures and informational sheets) mailed to them? Or as part of a small group led by facilitators? More than 400 African American families participated.

Studies conducted by the author show ways to help youth stay in school.
Getty Images/Hill Street Studios

Less drinking, drug use and sexual activity

Parents who received the PAAS program through small group settings and technology reported positive changes. Youth who used PAAS through technology alone were more likely to delay sexual onset, and avoid friends who were drinking or sexually active. Indeed, risk-avoidant behaviors lasted longest for those receiving PAAS through the tech-based platform. Discussions about puberty, peer pressure, bullying and racial slurs were easier to talk about, for both young people and their parents or caregivers. Notably, those positive changes did not occur for those who received materials mailed to their homes.

What’s more, the data showed the SAAF and PAAS programs produced changes beyond slowing or stopping alcohol, drug and sexual activity among youth. Among the spillover effects: increased skills in child rearing among caregivers and reduced symptoms of depression. Which makes sense – witnessing positive changes in your child creates good feelings that improve mental health.

PAAS and SAAF also prevented young people from disruptive and delinquent behaviors, increased academic aspiration, encouraged friendships with academically oriented peers, and improved school bonding. Collectively, those new behaviors enhanced the likelihood that the children would graduate high school.

These are only the first steps. Other intervention programs, also drawing on the strengths of African American families, hold great promise for creating change. There is enormous potential to address the disparities disproportionately impacting African Americans: HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, mental health, juvenile justice and the widening academic gap. With these two studies, I’m hopeful that technology is one answer to providing effective, evidence-based prevention programs to American citizens who need it the most.

Velma McBride Murry, University Professor, Departments of Health Policy and Human & Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kirk Franklin: ‘Kumbaya moments’ are not enough for better race relations

Kirk Franklin: ‘Kumbaya moments’ are not enough for better race relations

Laurie Crouch, from left, Kirk Franklin, Pastor Robert Morris, Pastor Tony Evans, and Trinity Broadcasting Network President Matt Crouch meet in early March 2020. Photo courtesy of Trinity Broadcasting Network

Gospel singer Kirk Franklin, in a discussion to be broadcast this week on Trinity Broadcasting Network, called on white Christian leaders to move beyond “kumbaya moments” and to speak from the pulpit when black people are the subjects of “social injustice happening in the streets.”

Franklin made his remarks on TBN’s “Praise” show in a conversation with the network’s president, Matt Crouch, and Dallas pastors Tony Evans and Robert Morris. Their talk is scheduled to air at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on Thursday (March 12) on the Christian network.

The conversation stemmed from Franklin’s announcement in the fall that he would boycott the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards after comments he made about race and police shootings during the GMA’s Oct. 15 awards show were edited from the show’s broadcast on TBN. Franklin, who also said that he would boycott TBN and the GMA, said that similar editing occurred when the 2016 show aired.

“This is not a conversation of me attempting to make white people feel bad for being white,” Franklin said at the start of the “Praise” show. “It is to give a bigger perspective on the heartbreaks and the hurts, that black and brown people in America are looking for the church to be a safe haven but at times it isn’t always answering to that call.”

Franklin recounted how earlier in his career a verse he wrote for a song he co-wrote with TobyMac, a white member of the Christian rap trio dcTalk, and Mandisa, a black Christian singer, was left out of the recording that played on Christian radio.

“I believe that black and brown people in this country continuously feel like they’re edited out,” Franklin said.

Minutes later, Crouch beckoned Franklin into a hug.

“Whatever happened, I want to personally apologize so that we get past this, and this program, and others like it in the future, make progress,” Crouch said. “I want to profoundly thank you for helping us understand an issue that maybe some people don’t, including us, including Robert and I.”

Crouch, who is white, also thanked Franklin for “putting this together.”

But Franklin chose not to let the moment where the two men hugged and expressed love for one another pass without clarification. He noted that “this embrace as brothers” came after off-camera discussion.

“I do know that for a lot of black and brown people, just even the optics of what just happened can be very problematic, because throughout history a lot of times white people have sometimes come across that the issues are fixed with the kumbaya moment,” Franklin said. “The kumbaya moment is really, for this generation, is antiquated.”

Evans, whom Franklin has said he consulted before making his boycott decision, described “decade after decade” of personal experiences with racism, including applying to a seminary at a time when some theological schools would only admit blacks on a “probation” status. Evans said he later was excluded from a Christian radio network because, he was told, “it would offend too many of my white listeners.”

He cited an “absence of equity,” in which the emphasis in some churches is that the “life of the unborn matters.

“But when they hear about other groups calling for other lives mattering there is a negative response,” Evans continued. “And while it is maybe legitimate to have a negative response about methodology, there should not be a negative response about mattering.”

Morris, founding lead senior pastor of Gateway Church, said he’d known Franklin for years but had not heard the story of his verse being omitted.

“When you hear this as a white Christian, your heart should break; it absolutely should break,” said Morris of Franklin’s story and other instances of racial injustice. “And then you should say to your brothers, ‘How can I be a part of the solution?’”

Morris, who, like Evans, has his own program on TBN, later said that if white clergy aren’t already discussing race in their pulpit, they should begin, as he has in recent years.

“I started teaching our people about a lack of understanding, and you don’t know that you’re prejudiced but you probably are,” he said.

Franklin noted that evangelist Billy Graham at one time criticized the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but later worked to integrate his crusades.

“We need to be able to see where the mistakes are, and to be willing to acknowledge them and to be agents of change,’’ Franklin said, “because if you’re not willing to get your feet and hands dirty on this issue, especially this issue, it won’t be anything but kumbaya.”