• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Monday 10th December, 2012

What if it’s not ALL about parenting practices?

strong>Research has been focused on finding out how to improve parenting practices in order to foster better children outcomes. But sometimes parenting programs may benefit kids via a different route – by doing more for mom and dad’s stress than for their skills, a new study suggests.Parenting skills have been one of the hottest areas for research on children’s well-being over the last decade. Hundreds of interventions are now available that aim to teach people how to be better parents. However, a recent study found that a program for parents of young adolescents had no positive effects on parenting practices, but did improve parental stress. The ABCD programThese surprising findings come from an Australian trial of the ABCD Parenting Young Adolescent Program, a group-based parenting program that combines behavioral family intervention with strategies that help parents to cope with their thoughts and emotions when dealing with their adolescents. The ABCD Program targets early adolescence (10-14 years), because this is thought to be an important developmental stage during which parents’ influence can still make a difference on their budding teenagers. It is based on the idea that improving parenting practices at this stage can reduce child behavioral problems, increase parents’ confidence and effectiveness, and improve the quality of the relationship between parents and their children. The intervention is comprised of four themes: developing parents’ understanding and empathy for their adolescents, building strong relationships, building adolescents’ responsibility and autonomy, and parental self-care. During six weekly, two-hour sessions, about 10 parents meet to discuss, practice their skills, and receive feedback from mental health practitioners.The Australian study consisted of 180 parents of adolescents, who were randomly assigned either to the intervention (the ABCD program) or to a waitlist. Parents reported on their own demographic characteristics, well-being, and parenting practices, their adolescents’ behavior and level of conflict, and their level of satisfaction with the intervention. If not parenting practices, then…?The researchers expected the ABCD intervention to result in significant improvements in parenting practices. Surprisingly, the results showed none. Parents who received the ABCD program showed no changes in their level of involvement, positive parenting, or consistency with discipline compared to what they had done before the program. Despite the lack of change in parenting practice, parents in the intervention group reported better behavior among their adolescents than did the control parents: more prosocial behavior, fewer conduct problems, and fewer total difficulties.How did the intervention bring about these improvements in the children’s behavior, if not by promoting better parenting practice? Perhaps by improving parents’ well-being. Interestingly, parents exposed to the intervention exhibited less stress associated with their adolescent’s moodiness, less stress in the parenting domain, and lower overall stress. They also reported less social isolation, better adult relations, and fewer feelings of incompetence or guilt compared with the control group. The Australian researchers of the study point to the importance of parents’ well-being for a smooth transition to adolescence. Even with no effects on parenting skills, fewer behavioral problems were reported among adolescents whose parents participated in the intervention. The results could indicate either that the adolescents really did behave better when their parents were less stressed, or that parents were less bothered by their kids’ behavior and therefore reported lower levels of problem behavior – or both. Either way, being a less stressed parent can help you cope better with the challenges of adolescence and boost your confidence in being a competent parent. For further researchThe lack of apparent improvements in parental practices might be due to the measures used in the study, which were designed for use with treatment or clinical samples; future research may benefit from using a different range of measures of parenting practices. Furthermore, outcomes were measured only by parental self-reports, making it impossible to tell whether improvements in adolescent behavior represent real changes in the kids or changes in their parents’ perception.This study makes a strong argument that it’s not all about parenting practices: parents’ well-being may also contribute to better adolescent outcomes. More research will be needed to understand just how this comes about. **********References:Burke, K., Brennan, L., & Cann, W. (2012). Promoting protective factors for young adolescents: ABCD Parenting Program randomized controlled trial. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 1315-1328.

Back to Archives