Engaged Parents Have Healthier Adolescents
What helps young people make healthy lifestyle choices, resist drugs and alcohol, and other risky behaviors, or succeed in school? The answers aren't simple, and many factors are involved, including effective parenting, stable and healthy living conditions, and individual character traits (e.g., high self-esteem and positive and resilient temperament). Education and public health professionals are increasingly interested in examining these factors—often called protective factors—to understand which characteristics or situations are most likely to help teens make safer, healthier choices.
Parent engagement in schools, one of our promising protective factors, is defined as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents.1,2
What Does the Research Say?
The Community Preventive Services Task Force has found sufficient evidence to recommend interventions to improve parenting skills as an effective way to modify adolescents' risk and protective behaviors.3 One such skill is for parents to be engaged in their children's lives.
A growing body of research shows that adolescents engage in fewer health risk behaviors and perform better academically when their parents are actively involved in their lives. Parent engagement in schools can promote positive health behaviors among children and adolescents. Students who have parents engaged in their school lives are less likely to smoke cigarettes4; drink alcohol5; become pregnant6; become sexually active7; and be emotionally distressed.6 In addition, health interventions that include a parent engagement component have been shown to increase positive health behaviors such as children's school-related physical activity.8
Research also shows a strong relationship between parent engagement and educational outcomes, including school attendance9 and higher grades and classroom test scores.10 In turn, students who do well academically are less likely to engage in such risky behaviors as smoking cigarettes, carrying weapons, drinking alcohol, or having sexual intercourse.11-12
What Can Schools and Families Do to Promote Parent Engagement in School Health?
CDC researchers have created Parent Engagement: Strategies for Involving Parents in School Health [PFD - 2.10MB], which identifies the following evidence-based strategies for teachers, administrators, school staff, and parents to use to increase parent engagement in school health:
- Support a positive connection with parents.
- Ensure the school or school district has a clear vision for parent engagement that includes involving parents in school health activities.
- Ensure that school staff members have the ability to connect with parents and support parent engagement.
- Consider asking District and School Health Councils to obtain input from parents on how they would like to be involved in the school's health activities, services, and programs.
- Have a well-planned program for parent engagement in the school.
- Support a variety of opportunities to engage parents in school health activities.13
- Provide parenting support: build parents' knowledge, leadership, and decision-making skills to support the development of positive health attitudes and behaviors among students and help build healthy home and school environments.
- Communicate with parents: establish clear communication channels between parents and school staff.
- Provide a variety of volunteer opportunities: involve parents as school volunteers to enrich health and physical education classes, improve the delivery of health services, and help create safe and healthy environments for students.
- Support learning at home: engage parents and students in health education activities at home.
- Encourage parents to be part of planning and decision making in schools: include parents as participants in planning for special health-related events, school decisions, school activities, and advocacy activities through the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), the school health council, school action teams, and other school groups and organizations.
- Collaborate with the community: coordinate information, resources, and services from community-based organizations, businesses, cultural and civic organizations, social service agencies, faith-based organizations, health clinics, colleges and universities, and other community groups that can benefit students and families.
- Support working with parents to sustain parent engagement in school health.
- Appoint a dedicated team or committee that oversees parent engagement.
- Identify challenges that keep parents from being connected and engaged in school health activities.
- Work with parents to tailor school events and activities to address those challenges.
To help schools put these strategies into place, the document suggests specific actions for each strategy.
- Parent Engagement in School Health
- Parent Engagement: Strategies for Involving Parents in School Health [PFD - 2.10MB]
- Fact sheets on promoting parent engagement for:
- PowerPoint® slides for promoting parent engagement in school health [PPT - 7.4MB]
- Facilitator's guide for staff development on promoting parent engagement in school health [PDF - 2.23MB]
- Student Health and Academic Achievement
- Adolescent Health
- Healthy Youth
- Epstein JL. School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools Second Edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 2011.
- National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group: Recommendations for Federal Policy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project; 2009. Available at www.ncpie. org/docs/FSCEWkgGroupPolicyRecs.pdf.
- Burrus B, Leeks KD, Sipe TA, Dolina S, Soler R, Elder R, Barrios L, Greenspan A, Fishbein D, Lindegren ML, Achrekar A, Dittus P. Person-to-Person Interventions Targeted to Parents and Other Caregivers to Improve Adolescent Health : A Community Guide Systematic Review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2012: 42(3), 316–326.
- Storr CL, Ialongo NS, Kellam SG, Anthony JC. A randomized controlled trial of two primary school intervention strategies to prevent early onset tobacco smoking. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2002;66:51–60.
- Perry CL, Williams CL, Veblen-Mortenson S, Toomey TL, Komro K, Anstine PS, et al. Project Northland: outcomes of a communitywide alcohol use prevention program during early adolescence. American Journal of Public Health 1996;86(7):956–965.
- Resnick MD, Bearman PS, Blum RW, et al. Protecting adolescents from harm. Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA 1997;278(10):823–832.
- Guilamo-Ramos V, Jaccard J, Dittus P, Bouris A, Bernardo G, Casillas E, and Banspach B. A Comparative Study of Interventions for Delaying The Initiation of Sexual Intercourse Among Latino And Black Youth. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2011; 43(4):247–254.
- Haerens L, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Maes L. School-based randomized controlled trial of a physical activity intervention among adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 2007;40(3):258–265.
- Epstein J, Sheldon S. Present and accounted for: improving student attendance through family and community involvement. The Journal of Educational Research 2002;95(5):308–318.
- Fan X, Chen M. Parental involvement and students' academic achievement: a meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review 2001;13(1):1–22.
- Hawkins JD. Academic performance and school success: Sources and consequences. In: Weissberg RP, Gullotta TP, Hampton RL, Ryan BA, Adams GR, eds. Healthy Children 2010: Enhancing Children's Wellness. Vol 8. Issues in Children's and Families' Lives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 1997.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fact sheet: Health risk behaviors and academic achievement; 2010. Available at www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/health_and_academics/pdf/health_risk_behaviors.pdf [PDF - 1.20MB].
- Epstein JL. School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action. 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press; 2009.
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