Military’s New Fathers to Facilitate Synchronous Family Systems

Historical evidence, current status, and future developments of media program formats for training new fathers in the military are examined.

Mary Gregerson, PhD
Heartlandia Psychology

Daniel Singley, PhD
The Center for Cognitive Health

Steven Nisenbaum, PhD
Family Healthy Choices, Inc.; Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School;
Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts Medical School

Social media can provide significant and relevant social learning for new fathers, an important but often neglected, group needing psychologists’ assistance.  Social media include such traditional modes as television, radio and new technologies like the Internet and e-mail.  A 2014 APA Convention program titled “Designing Media Programs for Military’s New Fathers to Facilitate Synchronous Family Systems” will provide historical evidence, current status, and future development of media program formats most fruitful for new fathers in the military.  Traditional and new technologies will be considered with the conceptual basis in systems theory (Jasnoski & Schwartz, 1985) and social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1997).

New Fathers, the Military, and Social Cognitive Psychology

Empirical work regarding the effects of paternal involvement with infants has lagged behind the scholarly study of maternal involvement.  Fathers’ engagement with their young babies has been related to a variety of outcomes (e.g., emotional regulation, academic readiness, high IQ, and social skills).  However, very little research or theory has addressed the psychological processes involved, like Bandura’s (1997) self-efficacy, which underlie how men make the adjustment to new fatherhood.  Paternal peripartum depression is currently at 1 out of 10 births in the United States.  Moreover, the lack of coherent models of men’s transition to fatherhood is a key barrier preventing men’s peripartum mental health issues from being researched.

Highly engaged fathers have babies with such positive outcomes as academic readiness, high IQs, emotional regulation, and social functioning. Yet, although current new fathers are expected to be more involved with their infants than ever before, many barriers interfere with their caregiving.  One such barrier is men’s socialization; another is the conspicuous absence in popular media of men who model competent fathering.  Yet another is that different environmental contexts can also shape men’s behavior as fathers. The current military mission-driven, hyper-masculine United States culture represents a unique context for discerning how and why men do or do not get involved in their infant’s everyday care.  The proposed symposium will present results from research addressing how men adjust to new fatherhood and how such scientific findings can guide media programming to develop military family readiness that increases paternal involvement.

As overall cultural demands shift toward requiring more paternal involvement and activity from children’s birth, other factors like military deployments may compound the military new fathers’ disorientation from role confusion and mercurial exigencies of other life demands. New fathers in the military face unique challenges.  Military training emphasizes the importance of “the mission” and prescribes increased stoicism and temporary reduced focus on one’s family. These interact with post-deployment mental health issues posing difficulties for family reintegration. However, embracing the traditional role of protector/provider may also serve as a buffering factor for this group even while preventing them from assuming a more nurturing role as caretaker of both their partner and their infant.

Social media programs can illustrate the barriers and their successful navigation for new fathers in the military.

Traditional Social Media

An impressive number of television and radio programs around the world have already successfully aimed at psychological issues like safe sex and population control and have employed the social-cognition-based Sabido method for “entertainment with proven social value” (Singhal, Cody, Rogers, & Sabido, 2004).  This approach combines market research with social learning input to design and evaluate entertainment like tele-novelas that facilitate desired behavior changes in target groups.  Market research identifies both target audiences’ issues and archetypal characters to design dramatic roles and narratives.  Over the years this results in social change, which market research then assesses.  To illustrate, over three decades predominantly Catholic Mexico featured a series of tele-novelas focused on population control, culminating in 2000 when the United Nations named Mexico a Population Award Laureate.

On the other hand, the successful and enduring American children’s program Sesame Street (1969 to present) has an archive of programs teaching pro-social skills and values to children.  Educators are encouraged to access these programs to teach children.  Why not a similar approach to provide media archives relevant to role requirements and life stages challenges for new fathers in the family life cycle?  For instance, a young father caring for his child with colic could access an archived television program dramatizing effective caregiving to alleviate colic.

New Technologies

The Army already fields a Virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG) website which provides educational videos.  Practice through the virtual scenarios may enhance listeners’/viewers’ self-efficacy related to health behaviors like domestic violence and caretaking.  Videos or podcasts which clearly illustrate a service member being open about questions/concerns, getting adequate social support, communicating proactively/assertively with his partner, and giving hands-on information about swaddling, diapering, soothing, and feeding, parenting in general, particularly in the peripartum period, would likely have the same effect.

Conceptual Model

Future social media developments most fruitfully need to consider theory and mechanisms of change to streamline educational offerings.  This presentation will provide a conceptual framework useful for research and practice considering new fathers in the context of the whole family.  A positive psychology systems model called Synchronous Systems (Gregerson, 2008) links contextual factors like the whole family to individuals.  Based upon cybernetics, this holistic systems model emphasizes resources and considers problems and omissions.  The goal is not diagnosis but rather a creative, optimal, and dynamic fit between the individual (in this instance, a new father) and his context (family).


Bandura, A. (1997). Selfefficacy. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishers

Gregerson, M.B. (2008). A quiet soul listens to her: Women, spirituality, and psychology. In L. Comas-Diaz and C. Schwartz (Eds.), WomanSoul, p. 193-206. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers of Greenwood Publishing Group

Jasnoski, M.L. & Schwartz, G.E. (1985). A synchronous system model for health. American Behavioral Scientist, 28(4), 468-485.

Singhal, A., Cody, M. J., Rogers, E. M., Sabido, M. (2004). Entertainment-education and social change: History, research, and practice. Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG) website.

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