Parenting Wisely: On-the-Job Help for Parents

By Steib, Sue | Children's Voice, May/June 2004 | Go to article overview

Parenting Wisely: On-the-Job Help for Parents

Steib, Sue, Children's Voice


Randomized or quais-experimental stuy, a contol or comaprison group, posttest or pre- and posttest, follow up, replication.1


* Permanency and stability in children's living situation

* Preservation and continuity of family relationships and connections.2

Agnes Barnes is worried about her 11-year-old son Andy.3 He used to be pleasant and easygoing but has become more distant and sullen. His grades are falling, and several times he has become defiant when she has questioned him about his activities. A lot of teenagers in their neighborhood are involved with drugs and have been in other kinds of trouble. Agnes is becoming increasingly afraid this will happen to Andy, but as a working single mother she has little time or energy, and she doesn't know what else to do anyway.

At times, all parents are unsure how best to respond to their children. Those who also face risks associated with troubled neighborhoods and lack of resources can be especially overwhelmed. Believing that parenting should come naturally, some parents may feel guilty or inadequate and therefore hesitant to reach out for help.

Parenting Wisely is an innovative approach to helping parents, developed by faculty at the Ohio University Department of Psychology, and using technology to address barriers that often keep parents in at-risk families from getting the help they need. Parents may resist attending parenting classes or group sessions because they're embarrassed they need help. Work schedules and lack of transportation can also make interventions hard to access. Even when parent education is available in private sessions with a therapist, parents' fears of being judged can make them defensive and resistant to change.

Distributed by Family Works of Athens, Ohio, Parenting Wisely is offered via an interactive CD-ROM or videotape that parents and children can use in their homes, in a neutral setting such as a library or community center, or in a group session. The entire program takes about three hours but can be viewed in segments. A series of scenarios depicts common problems parents encounter, and several possible ways of responding. Parents select a response, and the program identifies and explains the best alternative. Different segments are designed for individual viewing by either parents or children, and by the family together.

The program comes in different versions for families of younger children, for families of adolescents, for foster parents, and for residential care providers. It is written at a fifth grade level and includes an option to have material read aloud by the computer. A workbook provides practice exercises for the family. Programs also are available in Spanish.

Parenting Wisely's developers drew from research that has demonstrated the effectiveness of video technology in teaching. The parent and child behaviors depicted in the program are based on a review of psychology literature and the developers' experience as family therapists. Computer-based administration eliminates problems related to staff training and consistency of delivery. Less reliance on personnel can also minimize cost and time constraints.

Agencies that have used Parenting Wisely express enthusiastic support for the model. Kay Doughty, director of a Florida Youth Initiative program that used Parenting Wisely, says involving parents was difficult at first, but once they began to use the program, their response was favorable, and word quickly spread, so that engaging other families became easier. Valorie Horn of the VOICE family strengthening program in Texas has used other parent education models but finds the behavior scenarios depicted in Parenting Wisely to be especially relevant to the needs of the families she sees.


Parenting Wisely has been tested with a variety of groups in different settings. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention has designated it as a Model Program (see their website at www. …

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