The transition to adolescence can be quite challenging for kids and their families. During this period, children typically begin to spend more time with peers than with parents, and as a result the influence of peers can grow substantially. This shift in family dynamics can become problematic if a teen falls under the influence of more delinquent peers, which can result in increases in behavioral problems and declines in school performance.
The transition to middle and high school is an additional source of stress for children and families. The middle and high school environments are generally more impersonal, competitive, and grade-oriented than are most elementary school environments. Kids must adjust to a larger school and integrate with new peer groups. This transition can be a major developmental turning point, and parental involvement is critical to ensuring that teens can adapt effectively and continue to be successful.
The Family Check-Up (FCU) is a family-centered, school-based intervention model that provides support to parents in developing family management skills that enhance their relationship with their teen. The goal of the FCU is to help parents better understand family interaction patterns and identify effective strategies to modify child behavior problems. The FCU provides parents with strength-based feedback and training in several important skill areas, including:
Communication skills, such as making clear requests of the child, listening closely, and discussing issues in a respectful manne
Positive behavior support, which includes recognizing and rewarding the child’s positive behavior with praise and/or physical affection;
Monitoring the child’s activities, whereabouts, and friends;
Use of incentives to motivate change in child behavior; and, most importantly,
Maintaining the commitment as a parent to remain engaged with the child during this time, to give the child the time, attention, and concern that he or she needs.
The FCU includes a broad assessment of the child and family, including how they function at home and at school. Parents are videotaped interacting with their teen and given feedback on their parenting and family management skills. The intervention is strength-based, which means that it focuses on enhancing parenting strengths as well as identifying areas of growth for both the family and the teen.
In a recent research project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, we enrolled 593 ethnically diverse seventh and eighth graders and their families in a randomized trial of the FCU at three public schools in the Pacific Northwest. Families were randomly assigned either to participate in the FCU or to receive typical school-based programs.
We found that participating in the FCU not only resulted in lower levels of family conflict, but also reduced the degree of problem behavior and alcohol use reported by the teen. The program also curtailed the teen’s involvement with delinquent peers between sixth and ninth grades. In a previous research paper using the same group of families, we found that the FCU can also increase student self-regulation (the ability to manage behaviors and emotions) and school engagement during these years.
The most important difference between the FCU and typical school-based programs is the involvement of the whole family. Child behavior is a complex product of interaction patterns and responses in a variety of social settings, and oftentimes school-based programs fail to include parents when attempting to address student misbehavior. By involving parents, the FCU can bring about positive change in family interaction patterns and give kids a greater chance of success.
Another strength of the FCU is that it is a brief intervention that generally involves only three meetings with the family - an initial consultation, a family observation, and a follow-up feedback session with caretakers. The average participating family only receives about four and a half hours of intervention time.
The key take-away from our research is that parents who have children with behavioral problems should seek out support and services such as the FCU. When doing so, be sure to involve the whole family in the process, not just the adolescent. When parents stay involved in parenting and supporting their young teenagers, children have better outcomes.
Thomas J. Dishion, Ph.D, is the founder of the Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon and a professor of School Psychology. Elizabeth A. Stormshak, Ph.D, is the director of the Child and Family Center and a professor of Counseling Psychology. Mark J. Van Ryzin, Ph.D, is a researcher at the Child and Family Center and the Oregon Social Learning Center.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.