Parenting CD-ROM Helps Reduce Children's Behavioral Problems

July 27, 1998

ATHENS, Ohio -- Studies involving an interactive CD-ROM that offers instruction on parenting skills suggest the three-hour program can help reduce the frequency and severity of children's behavioral problems, according to an Ohio University psychologist who presented the findings at a recent conference in Washington, D.C.

The CD-ROM, Parenting Wisely, offers nine video dramas depicting common family problems, such as poor school performance and sibling rivalry. The program offers a choice of possible resolutions and potential outcomes for each. Designed for people of varying computer skills, the software requires user participation, which may be one reason for its apparent success.

"There's been a lot of research that suggests interactive computer technology promotes faster learning," says Donald Gordon, professor of psychology at Ohio University and creator of Parenting Wisely. "The key seems to be the interactive process. People have to take an active role in the learning process. They spend more time with it because it's so interesting."

Gordon presented research on the program's effectiveness July 11 at the annual meeting of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

For one study, researchers recruited 72 parents whose children had been involved with the juvenile courts or children services agencies in Athens, Hocking and Washington counties in Ohio. Parents received either the parenting CD-ROM or were assigned to a control group.

Prior to their participation, parents completed several questionnaires, including the Eyeberg Child Behavior Inventory, a tool widely used by researchers to measure behavioral disorders in children. In follow-up surveys at one, three and six months after treatment, parents assigned to the CD-ROM group reported more than 60 percent fewer behavioral problems with their children while parents in the control group reported no change.

Parents who used the CD-ROM also scored higher on tests that measure knowledge of parenting skills, such as how to resolve conflict with their children, constructive discipline techniques and how to motivate children to do better in school.

In a second study, researchers recruited 38 mothers of middle school students in Athens County. Parents were randomly assigned to the Parenting Wisely program or to a control group.

Results from the Eyeberg inventory suggested that parents in the CD-ROM study were seeing an average of 13.8 specific types of behavioral problems in their children, such as disobedience, temper tantrums or lying. Four months after the parents finished the program, they completed the Eyeberg inventory again.

"The average number of behavioral problems their kids experienced dropped to 5.8, a pretty significant decrease," Gordon says. "To see such a long-term effect from a three-hour program was surprising."

Studies of Gordon's parenting CD-ROM have been conducted separately by five psychology graduate students at Ohio University over the course of four years, including Chris Kacir, co-author of the studies presented at the Washington, D.C., conference. Researchers at several other universities, including Kent State University and the University of New Mexico, also are involved in projects to test the program's effectiveness.

The program is in use in 13 states and in provinces throughout Canada and the United Kingdom. Courts in 22 Ohio counties require parents of juvenile offenders to complete the three-hour program and other courts have expressed interest in the treatment.

With the support of a $110,000 grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Services in Ohio, Gordon has provided 13 computer units and software packages to 11 counties around the state. The data he used for these recent studies included information gathered from these sites.

The program was created as a video disk called "Parenting Adolescents Wisely" several years ago and converted to CD-ROM in the fall of 1997. After its inception, Gordon worked with Ohio University's Innovation Center to found Family Works, a company created to market the CD-ROM, which sells for $900. So far, all proceeds from sales of the product have been used to fund graduate research, make improvements on the program, market the materials and to provide incentives for parents who might benefit from the CD-ROM.

Statistics suggest the frequency of juvenile crime in America has decreased in recent years. But Gordon says the numbers still are alarming: Nearly 3 million people under the age of 18 were arrested in 1996 in the United States, according to FBI statistics.

As the nation turns greater attention to the problem of juvenile crime, more courts and legislative bodies are holding parents accountable for the illegal actions of their children. Cities in Ohio, Michigan and Oregon are among many that have passed or are considering parental responsibility acts.

"Parents have the greatest amount of influence over these children and if we can do something to teach parents to be more responsible, we should do it," says Gordon, who holds an appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences. "Parents need to learn how to manage their kids' problem behaviors. If we don't offer this training, we're in a world of trouble."

Written by Kelli Whitlock

Ohio University

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