Parenting adolescents can be difficult at the best of times, but it is even more difficult when done alone. Often, parents are left searching for more effective and easily accessible ways to support their children.
New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world and these tragedies are borne disproportionately by Māori and Pacific adolescents and their families.
There is increasing evidence that interventions which are targeted at strengthening parenting skills, and increasing their knowledge on teenage development, can have significant benefits on the parent-adolescent relationship, while also reducing problem behaviours.
With these things in mind, Heart Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health Dr Joanna Chu, and Principal Investigator for the MyTeen project has been conducting a trial to see if a brief text messaging programme aimed at promoting confidence and mental health literacy for parents of adolescents.
The project is a part of A Better Start E Tipu e Rea Resilient Teens, and is co-funded by Cure Kids.
Joanna and her team developed and evaluated a text messaging programme for parents of adolescents, aged 10-15 years old in a two-stage project.
“In stage one we sought parents input into the development of the text messaging programme to ensure content was acceptable and useful for parents,” Joanna explains.
“In stage two, we tested the programme for its effectiveness – we wanted to see whether parents who received the programme would report a higher level of parental competence than those who did not receive it.”
Joanna believes most parents want to do the best for their adolescent, and providing access to parenting support should be seen as a universal right.
“Most programmes or backing available for parents is targeted for young children, and parents of adolescents are often left without support.
“The success of parents in raising adolescents will shape the future not only of those individual adolescents but of our whole future society.”
Text messaging programmes have been used for other health related areas, but its effectiveness on supporting parents is limited, Joanna continues.
“Hence we conducted the trial to see if a brief text messaging programme was effective and useful for parents.”
Parents were recruited nationwide, and randomly allocated to either the text messaging programme or a care as usual control group during the trial.
The team collected baseline data as well as data a month and three months later.
In the randomised controlled trial of 221 parents/caregivers, significant group differences were observed, and participants who received the text-messaging programme reported higher level of parental competence, improved knowledge of help-seeking and improved parent-adolescent communication.
There was also a lower level of parental distress at one and three months, compared to the control group.
Parents also reported high level of satisfaction, and found the programme to be useful, with the majority saying they would recommend the programme to others.
The findings reinstate the need to support parents and will eventually benefit parents, adolescents, families, and ultimately the whole society, Joanna says.
While the findings will be presented at conferences, to the participants, and in journal articles, they will also help Joanna and her team to continue building and establishing ongoing relations with various organisations to build support for parents of adolescents.
Despite a lot of interest in the project during recruitment, the majority of the participants were mothers, so a follow up study is being conducted to look at fathers’ engagement and how we can better support fathers of adolescents who play a significant role in the lives of adolescent, Joanna says.
The team is now also trying to obtain funding to further develop the programme and look at providing other modules which may better suit the needs of parents.

Read the journal article here. Read A Better Start’s September newsletter here.