• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Friday 06th March, 2015

Improving parenting through the internet

strong>Parenting training programs have proved helpful for parents or children and teenagers with behavior problems. But getting parents to come to programs is a challenge. What if the program could come to them? A recent study put a training program online and found promising results. Parents who completed the training reported improvements in their own discipline style, self-efficacy, and behavioral intentions, and in their child’s behavior.Making behavioral parent training (BPT) easy to access is important because children who display behavioral problems at an early age are at risk of developing more severe problems later on. For example, these children are more likely to associate with deviant peers, have early unprotected sex, abuse substances, and have contact with the criminal justice system. Children’s behavior problems also put strain on the family. While there are effective parenting programs aimed at helping these families, it is hard to recruit parents and dropout rates are often high. Some drop out for practical reasons, such as work conflicts, transport, and childcare. Some may feel uncomfortable admitting their problems in front of others. Some may not find the program, or the program leader, helpful. A successful program has to meet all these challenges. One possibility is to put the courses online. This could make them more convenient for parents, remove the difference in individual leaders’ style, and cut down on judgment or stigmatization that the parent might feel. The internet as a platform for parent trainingIn a recent study in six US cities, program developers implemented a web-based parenting program called Parenting Toolkit. Parenting Toolkit is designed to increase parents’ self-efficacy and help them adopt positive parenting techniques when confronted with difficult behavior from their young teenagers. Parents are taught to stay calm in the face of problematic behavior, and to impose consistent consequences. Modules focus on areas that often trigger conflict, including bedtime, chores, curfew, depression, grades, fighting, friends, smoking and stealing. The authors designed the online version to be a self-paced, scenario-driven approach. Participants are free to choose a video scenario of interest, and the main teaching points are encompassed in the scenarios. Videos were filmed using a multi-cultural cast of actors. To make it easy to use, the program used the mouse rather than the keyboard. A study in community technology centersParticipants were recruited through community technology centers (CTC). In total, 307 parents volunteered for the program. The large majority of the participants were women, and more than half were single parents. About 75% had family income less than $40,000, and almost a quarter had less than $10,000.The parents were from a range of ethnic backgrounds with African American, white, Hispanic and Asian parents all taking part. Children ranged in age from 11 to 14.Parents were randomly assigned either to the immediate treatment condition or the control condition. The control condition was offered the training following the study. Both groups were asked to complete a questionnaire at the start and end of the study.The Parenting Toolkit program was given in two sessions at the community technology centers. Compared to parents in the control group, parents in the treatment condition said they were less likely to overreact and use harsh responses during disciplinary interactions, more likely to follow through with consequences, and had greater gains in self-efficacy and stronger intentions to engage in positive parenting practices. Lastly, parents in the treatment group rated a greater reduction in their children’s problem behavior. Promising effects, limited participationWhile these results are positive, there are some limitations. The first was the participation rate. Parents were compensated with $100 for completing both the pre-trial and post-trial questionnaires, but were not paid for attending the two sessions of training at the CTC. Of parents assigned to the treatment group, less than 60% attended either program session.Since parents had to go to the technology centers to complete the program, the location may have eliminated some of the benefits of Parenting Toolkit being online. Second, there was only a 30-day follow-up with the participants. A longer follow-up period would investigate if the program is effective in the longer term. Finally, all the results are based on parent self-report. Regardless of these limitations, this research shows that effective parenting programs could be delivered through the internet. In addition to the benefits for children and families, the introduction of internet programs could reduce the pressure on face-to-face services, giving them more space to focus on higher-risk children. *******Reference:Irvine, A. B., Gelatt, V. A., Hammond, M., & Seeley, J. R. (2014). A randomized study of internet parent training accessed from community technology centers. Prevention Science, DOI 10.1007/s11121-014-0521-z.

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