AMES, Iowa -- Middle school can be a challenging time for children and their parents. As their children approach and reach middle-school-age, parents may want to be more protective while their children may want more independence. They both may be unsure how to communicate their expectations to each other, says Barbara Dunn Swanson, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
The Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 (SFP 10-14) helps family members learn ways to connect with one another and develop positive communication skills.
“There is so much to communicate about in the years leading up to and during middle school! At this age, children are dealing with peer pressure that may lead to risky behaviors. As parents and caregivers, we want to protect children and help them gain the skills they need so they can resist negative peer pressure,” said Dunn Swanson, who specializes in family life issues.
Research shows that protective parenting, including setting boundaries, helps middle schoolers feel safe, improves family relationships and decreases the level of family conflict, contributing to lower levels of substance use, Dunn Swanson said.
SFP 10-14 helps parents and caregivers learn skills for nurturing their children while providing effective guidance and discipline. The program also provides youth a healthy future orientation and an increased appreciation of their parents or caregivers, all while teaching youth skills for dealing with stress and peer pressure.
Research has shown that youth participants in SFP 10–14 had significantly lower rates of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use compared to control youth. The youth who participated in the program also had significantly fewer conduct problems in school than youth in the control group.
Parents who have participated in SFP 10–14 showed gains in specific parenting skills, including setting appropriate limits and building a positive relationship with their child. They also showed an increase in positive feelings toward their child. In addition, parents increased skills in general child management, including setting rules and following through with consequences, effectively monitoring youth, and having appropriate and consistent discipline.
The seven-week series is designed for parents or caregivers along with their children who are between the ages of 10 and 14, Dunn Swanson said. During the class, parents experience role-plays, group discussions and other skill-building activities. Youth sessions provide small and large group discussions, group skill practice and social activities. Family sessions use specially designed games and projects to increase family togetherness, build positive communication skills, and facilitate problem-solving techniques.
For additional information about a SFP 10-14 series near you, contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office.
Photo caption: An extension educator talks with a youth and parent during the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14.