Parents are a critical, if not the most critical, factor in the social development of children (Alvarado and Kumpfer, 2000; Conger and Simons, 1997). A plethora of studies have produced empirical findings that indicate parental behavior can either increase or decrease an adolescent’s risk for delinquency and other problem behaviors (Elliot, Huizinga, and Menard, 1989; Loeber and Stouthamer–Loeber, 1986; Patterson et al., 1992; Sampson and Laub, 1993; Simons et al., 1998; Simons, Chao, and Conger, 2001). For instance, volumes of research indicate that supportive parent–child relationships, positive discipline methods, close monitoring and supervision, parental advocacy for their children, and parental pursuit of needed information and support (Huizinga, Loeber, and Thornberry, 1995; Bry, 1996; Alvarado and Kumpfer, 2000) consistently buffer youth against problem behaviors. In other words, parents who provide their children with respect, support, supervision, and consistent discipline are likely to be rewarded with children less likely to become involved with antisocial peers and in delinquent behavior.
But when parents fail to fulfill these fundamental responsibilities, their children often suffer the consequences (Kumpfer and Alvarado, 1997). In fact, the evidence is overwhelming. A tremendous amount of research reveals that children are at risk of developing antisocial behaviors when they are exposed to ineffective parenting behaviors such as poor supervision, rejection, or harsh and inconsistent discipline. Specifically, research indicates that antisocial behavior of parents (Slavin and Rainer, 1990; Henggeler, 1989); unsupportive parents (Conger and Simons, 1997; Sampson and Laub, 1993; Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990); physical and emotional abuse (Doerner, 1987); parent–child involvement, parental supervision, and parental rejection (Loeber and Stouthamer–Loeber, 1986; Cernkovich and Giordano, 1987); and parental monitoring, parenting techniques, and caretaker discipline toward children (Steinberg, 1990; Snyder and Patterson, 1987) have all been found to influence delinquent behavior. This research suggests that improving fundamental parenting practices should reduce problem behaviors. Today there are several major categories of interventions designed to improve parenting practices and thus prevent future problem behaviors. These programs include behavioral parent training, parent education, parent support groups, in-home parent education or parent aid, and parent involvement in youth groups. This section generically labels all of these “parent training programs.”
THEORETICAL CONTEXTParents can increase the probability of delinquency and other problem behaviors among their children because they serve as the primary socialization context for children (Simons et al., 1998; Patterson, Reid, and Dishion, 1992). The theoretical foundation for this relationship is generally grounded in theories of social control positing that delinquent acts are more likely to occur when an individual’s bond to society is weak or broken (Hirschi, 1969). Under this perspective, the family acts as a socializing agent by introducing and endearing children to conventional norms and values. The theory argues that a strong affectionate tie between child and parent is one of the fundamental means for establishing this societal bond and thus insulating adolescents from delinquency and other problem behaviors (Brook, Whiteman, Finch, and Cohen, 1998).
Unfortunately, poor family functioning or nontraditional family structures can inhibit the development of or decrease parental attachment and thus break the bond with society, separating individuals from the internal controls that discourage criminal behavior. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) argue that as a result of inept parenting, some adolescents tend to be impulsive, defiant, physical, and risk-taking (Stewart et al., 2002; Conger, Patterson, and Ge, 1995). Such youth are attracted more strongly to delinquent acts than those who have been socialized to possess strong internal controls. However, ineffective parenting is seen as a result of two factors (Thornberry, 1987; Simons, Chao, and Conger, 2001). First, parents and children tend to be similar in their temperament, personality, and cognitive abilities (Plomin, Chipuer, Loehlin, 1990). Thus, there is a tendency for impulsive, aggressive children to have parents who also possess these characteristics, and these characteristics tend to interfere with effective parenting. Second, recent research indicates that parent–child interaction is a reciprocal process. In other words, not only does ineffective parenting increase the probability of child conduct disorders, but also hostile, obstinate child behavior often elicits negative parenting behavior—resulting in a reduction in effective parenting (Patterson, Reid, and Dishion, 1992). Thus the personal characteristics of the parents combine with the difficult behavior of the child to create a volatile mix of antagonistic relationships.
Consequently, it is imperative that delinquency prevention programs reinforce the parent– child bond as a means of preventing delinquent behavior. One way of reinforcing the parent–child relationship is to decrease risk factors and increase protective factors for delinquent behavior through parent training and family strengthening programs. These programs address important family protective factors such as parental supervision, attachment to parents, and consistency of discipline (Huizinga, Loeber, and Thornberry, 1995). They also address some of the most important family risk factors such as poor supervision, excessive family conflict, family isolation, sibling drug use, and poor socialization (Kumpfer and Alvarado, 1995).
EVIDENCE OF IMPACTThis section examines the scientific research regarding parent training programs. These programs concentrate on teaching parents and prospective parents the use of effective management skills. This highly structured approach generally includes parents only, in small groups led by a skilled trainer or clinician. Programs are designed to help parents learn to recognize both prosocial and antisocial behaviors, employ social learning techniques (e.g., positive reinforcement, ignoring, distraction, punishment), and improve family problem-solving skills. Parent training can be beneficial even during pregnancy and early childhood, since parenting skills learned early can have positive effects as the child matures (Howell, 1995).
Parent training sessions can occur in diverse settings (e.g., schools, community centers, churches, the workplace, or even at home with self-instructional programs) and under various types of approaches. Kumpfer (1999) outlines several of these approaches, including the following:
■ Behavioral parenting training is structured, delivered by a trained professional, and lasts for 8 to 14 sessions of 1 to 2 hours each. A curriculum and instructional aids (e.g., manuals, guidebooks, handouts, videotapes) are used. Positive reinforcement skills are taught and parents learn to decrease inappropriate punitive behaviors and chastisements.
■ Parent education programs are usually designed to reach a broader audience of families who are not necessarily severely dysfunctional, but who may be at risk. Parent education programs raise awareness of good parenting practices and better ways to discipline children. They also help parents learn how to determine if a child is abusing drugs or alcohol and to recognize other warning signs of delinquent behavior. Parent education materials may include videotapes, television programs, and brochures, feature articles in newspapers and magazines, and other written information. In addition to general media information, schools, workplaces, churches, and community organizations can offer parent education information.
■ Parent action/parent support groups are grassroots organizations that have gained in popularity in the past 2 decades. Some are national organizations with local chapters; others are ad hoc groups of neighborhood parents.
Numerous researchers have found that parent training helps reduce aggressive, antisocial, and delinquent behavior among children (Dumas,1989; Satterfield et al., 1987; Tremblay et al., 1991; Tremblay et al., 1992; Kazdin, Siegel, and Bass, 1992).Several evaluations of this program found that participating 3-year-old children showed increases in IQ and cognitive ability and that more positive interactions occurred between program mothers and children (Bridgeman et al., 1981; Johnson and Walker, 1987; Johnson and Breckenridge, 1982; Johnson, 1991).Another parent-directed program is The Incredible Years Training Series: School-Age BASIC Training Program and ADVANCE Parent Training Program. The Incredible Years Training Series consists of programs that address family management problems, lack of commitment to school, early and persistent antisocial behavior, and family conflict. The BASIC segment is a 12-week parent training program that involves group discussion of a series of 250 video vignettes. The program teaches interactive parenting and reinforcement skills, nonviolent discipline techniques, logical and natural consequences, monitoring, and problem solving strategies. The original BASIC program (designed for children ages 2–7) and the program’s permutations were evaluated extensively. In the first evaluation, 35 nonclinic families were randomly assigned to BASIC parent training or to a wait-list control group. BASIC programs caused highly significant attitudinal and behavioral changes in participating middle-class, nonclinic mothers and children ages 3–6 compared with the control group. Nearly all changes were maintained at the 1-year follow-up. In a second study, 35 clinic high-risk families with conduct problems were assigned to one-on-one therapy, videotape group therapy (the BASIC program), or a wait-list control group. The BASIC program was as effective as the one-on-one therapy, and both were superior to the control group in accomplishing beneficial attitudinal and behavioral changes (Webster–Stratton, 1984; Webster–Stratton, 1985).
| About OJJDP
| Contact Us