The potential of parenting: ASU psychologists develop program to help children of divorce

March 7, 2018

If you were a divorced parent, wouldn't you wish for a pill that would ensure your kids were less likely to experience depression, substance abuse and behavioral problems?

Of course, there is no such a pill, but Arizona State University psychologists have created a reliable way to help children of divorce. Irwin Sandler, Regents' Professor of psychology Irwin Sandler, Regents' Professor of psychology. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

Sharlene Wolchik, professor of psychology, and Irwin Sandler, Regents’ Professor of psychology, designed a highly-successful parenting program to improve the lives of children of divorce.

“Parenting is powerful, and it is a teachable, learned skill,” said Wolchik, who was named a 2017 Fellow of the Society for Prevention Research for her groundbreaking contributions to prevention science.

The power of parenting

Wolchik and Sandler created the New Beginnings program in the early 1990s. The intervention program helps children by teaching parenting skills to newly divorced parents.

“Children with divorced parents generally do well as a group over time,” Sandler said, “but from a public health viewpoint, they do have an increased risk for health problems, mental health problems and substance abuse.”

The researchers have since followed up with the participants after six months, six years and 15 years. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recently funded a 26-year follow-up with the original parents, children and their children — who are the grandchildren of divorce. The 26-year follow-up includes 210 families, and researchers will meet in-person with all participants unless they live abroad.


“We will again be studying the children, who are now adults, and will be assessing their parenting style,” Wolchik said. “We want to see if the program’s positive effects on parenting crossed generations.”

In addition to parenting style, Wolchik and Sandler will track the participants’ physical and mental health and the quality of their relationships with others.

The original New Beginnings program enrolled mothers who had divorced within the last year and who had children aged 9-12 years. The program includes 10 group classes that last two hours. There are also individual sessions: one for an hour and another for 20–30 minutes.

“We taught the parents to prioritize time with their children, effective discipline and strategies for keeping their children out of the middle of conflict with their ex-spouse,” Wolchik said.

The mothers practiced the parenting skills taught in the classes at home and received feedback in both the group classes and individual sessions.

“One of the most exciting findings is the New Beginnings program changes attitudes towards parenting,” Wolchik said. “Participants feel more positive towards things like warmth and less positive towards things like harsh discipline.”

Wolchik and Sandler also tested programs that taught coping skills directly to the children. Teaching parenting skills to the mothers had the biggest impact on the children. In fact, the parenting skills Wolchik and Sandler taught had a domino effect on the children’s lives.

“This program can help parents strengthen the bond with their children immediately after the divorce when they are going through a difficult situation,” Sandler said, “and that makes a substantial difference in a child’s life 15 years later.”

An example of the domino effect of the New Beginnings program is children who had improved success in school six years after the program were less likely to experience depression 15 years after the program.

“Small positive changes now can lead to bigger changes later,” Sandler said.

Beyond Arizona

ASU is no longer the only location of the New Beginnings program. In partnership with Southwest Human Development, an Arizona nonprofit that focuses on early childhood development, Maricopa County’s Family Court refers newly divorced parents to the program. New Beginnings has also been adopted in family courts in Indiana and Louisiana.

“We are now working to help more communities and entities like family courts develop effective ways to adopt and deliver an intervention program like New Beginnings,” Sandler said.

Wolchik and Sandler are now working on a web-based adaptation of the program, to further expand its reach.

“This program has shown that promoting quality and resilient parenting has long-term benefits for the children, so we want to make it easier for parents to get involved,” Sandler said. “Parents are their children’s greatest resource.” 

Science writer, Psychology Department


Lithium-related discovery could extend battery life, improve safety

ASU researchers find new solution for mitigating dendrite growth, which shows promise for all batteries

March 7, 2018

Lithium-metal batteries are among the most promising candidates for high-density energy storage technology in an expanding range of digital “smart” devices and electrical vehicles, but uncontrolled lithium dendrite growth, which results in poor recharging capability and safety hazards, currently tempers their potential.

Dendrites are needle-like growths that appear on the surface of lithium metal, which is used as the anode, or negative electrode, of a battery. They induce unwanted side reactions that reduce energy density, and at worst, cause shorting of the electrodes that can lead to fires or explosions. Lithium-metal battery stress relief Adding a silicone "wrinkle" layer to lithium metal batteries relieves stress and mitigates dendrite formation. Download Full Image

New research from Arizona State University finds that using a 3-D layer of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), or silicone, as the substrate of the lithium metal anode can mitigate dendrite formation and both dramatically extend battery life and diminish safety risks. The paper, “Stress-driven lithium dendrite growth mechanism and dendrite mitigation by electroplating on soft substrates,” was published today in Nature Energy.

According to Hanqing Jiang, a professor in ASU's School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and a lead researcher on the paper, the findings have relevance for both lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries, as well as implications for other metal-anode-based batteries.

“Almost all metals used as battery anodes tend to develop dendrites,” Jiang explained. “For example, these findings have implications for zinc, sodium and aluminum batteries as well.”

Jiang said he and the research team, rather than approaching the problem from a materials or electrochemical perspective, looked for solutions as mechanical engineers. “We already know that tiny tin needles or whiskers can protrude out of tin surfaces under stress, so by analogy we looked at the possibility of stress as a factor in lithium dendrite growth.”

The first round of research involved adding a layer of PDMS to the bottom of the battery anode.

“There were remarkable reductions in dendrite growth,” Jiang said. 

The researchers discovered that this is directly related to the fact that stress accumulated inside the lithium metal is relieved by the deformation of the PDMS substrate in the form of “wrinkles.”

“This is the first time convincing evidence shows that residual stress plays a key role in the initiation of lithium dendrites,” Jiang said.

Fulton Schools of Engineering

Professor Hanqing Jiang

In addition to obtaining a fundamental understanding of the lithium dendrite growth mechanism, Jiang’s group also came up with a smart way to utilize the phenomenon to extend the life of lithium-metal batteries while maintaining their high energy density. The solution is to give PDMS substrate a three-dimensional form with a lot of surface.

“Envision sugar cubes that contain a lot of small internal pores,” Jiang explained. “Inside these cubes, the PDMS forms a continuous network as the substrate, covered by a thin copper layer to conduct electrons. Finally, lithium fills the pores. The PDMS, which serves as a porous, sponge-like layer, relieves the stress and effectively inhibits dendrite growth.”

“By synergistically combining with other lithium dendrite suppression methods such as new electrolyte additives, the finding has broad implications for making lithium-metal batteries a safe, high-density, long-term energy storage solution,” said Professor Ming Tang, a research team member at Rice University. “Potential applications range from personal electronic devices to powering electric cars for exceptionally longer periods to being the back-up electric supply for solar power grids.”

Partners in the research include members of Jiang’s group at ASU: Xu Wang, Wenwen Xu and Haokai Yang; Wei Zeng, a visiting ASU scholar co-advised by Jiang and Professor Huigao Duan at Hunan University, China; and researchers from Rice University including Liang Hong, Fan Wang and their adviser Ming Tang. Funding was provided in part by the Department of Energy.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications