• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 05th December, 2007

Treating the sins of the fathers benefits the children

Children are not generally immune to their parents’ problems. Children with alcoholic or drug-abusing parents often develop behavior or emotional problems of their own, which commonly dissipate if and when their parents get effective treatment. Interested in this good side-effect of substance abuse treatment programs, researchers Michelle L. Kelley and William Fals-Stewart wondered whether certain kinds of kids benefit more from their parents’ treatment. Specifically, they set out to discover whether younger children would benefit more.Their study involved 131 alcoholic fathers, their spouses, their pre-adolescent and adolescent children, and their children’s teachers. The parents participated in a program run by the Addiction and Family Research Group called Learning Sobriety Together (LST), which involved 20 weekly individual counseling sessions for the fathers and 12 weeks of couples therapy for fathers and mothers. Through interviews with study participants, the researchers assessed the fathers’ drinking and the children’s behavior and emotional well being over 17 months, before, during, and after the LST program ended. They found that the younger children (aged 8-12) appeared to be more affected by their father’s drinking and parents’ relationship than adolescents (aged 13-16). According to their parents’, their teachers’ and their own accounts, the younger kids acted out more before their fathers got treatment and were better behaved afterwards than older kids. Kelley and Fals-Stewart (from Old Dominion University and RIT International in the US respectively) note that substance abuse programs are important not only for the abusers, but also for their families, particularly their younger children. However, they also caution that teens tend to be more influenced by their peers and less by their parents, so they might need more help than their younger siblings.• Summary of “Treating Paternal Alcoholism With Learning Sobriety Together: Effects on Adolescents Versus Pre-adolescents” by Michelle L. Kelley and William Fals-Stewart in Journal of Family Psychology, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 435-444, 2007.

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