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Evaluation of a Programme to Help Parents of Teenagers

Resource type: Research Report

Institute for Child Care Research, Queen’s University Belfast |

Parenting teens can be tricky and confusing. One of the few rigorously-evaluated programmes to help parents tackle those challenges has demonstrated convincing evidence of its effectiveness, researchers reported. The programme — Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen — is a potential model for more countries than Northern Ireland, where it originated, according to a leading expert in education.

Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen is a group-based programme delivered over eight weeks in two-hour sessions that was developed by Parenting NI, a parent support organisation. The findings of a randomised controlled trial suggest that Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen can improve the parent/teenager relationship and reduce stress levels in the family. Parents also reported increased feelings of competence and reduction of guilt.

“I see the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme as one of the most innovative, parent-friendly and effective support programmes that is currently available, not just in Northern Ireland but internationally.”
– Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair and Director, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI, Galway

Parenting NI is an Atlantic grantee.

The Situation

Adolescence is a stage that can throw even the most competent parents into turmoil. Their once-sweet children can seem suddenly and inexplicably hostile, moody and uncommunicative. Despite parents’ need for help in navigating these complex years, little support is available. Most parenting programmes focus on younger children while the teenage years are largely overlooked. Of the few programmes for parents of teens that exists, most have not been rigorously evaluated.

Video: Parents and facilitators talk about the impact of Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen.

The Work

Based on Family Systems Theory, the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme promotes authoritative parenting (i.e., parents using warm, firm control and rational discipline, and recognising the young person as a valued and contributing member in decision-making). In each session, facilitators introduce topics such as parenting styles, teen development, self- esteem, and rules and consequences.

The Findings

Researchers from the Institute for Child Care Research, Queen’s University Belfast, carried out a randomised controlled trial in which study participants were assigned to either the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme or a wait list. Parents on the wait list received the programme two months later. Researchers collected questionnaire data from 145 parents at the start and end of each programme from January 2009-April 2012. The teenager that each parent felt most concerned about also completed a questionnaire.

In a June 2012 report, researchers reported the following key findings:

  • The study provides convincing evidence of the effectiveness of the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme. The results indicate that this intervention can bring about positive changes in parental mental health and stress. It can also lead to improved relationships between parents and teenagers. Specifically, the programme:
    • Enhanced parental well-being. It reduced parental stress and feelings of social alienation, guilt and incompetence regarding parenting.
    • Improved the parent/teenager relationship and decreased levels of stress. It reduced conflict about schools, meals and eating. Compared with the control group, parents who participated in the programme reported greater improvements in communication, problem solving and family cohesion.
      Parents also reported less stress in their relationships with their teens. No change was reported in parents’ knowledge of where their teenagers were or what they were doing.
    • Increased perceived parental competence and reduced feelings of guilt. Parents who participated in the programme were less likely to:
      • Interpret their teen’s behaviour as malicious
      • Think that their teen’s bad behaviour would lead to disaster and ruin
      • Feel that their teenager should behave flawlessly at all times.
    • Made a positive difference on some aspects of teenagers’ social functioning, such as decreased moodiness. It made teens less likely to engage in delinquent behaviour as well. The programme did not seem to affect teenagers’ self-reported levels of social isolation.

Next Steps

Parenting NI is taking the learnings from the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme and the research findings to further develop its other programmes. They are Parenting Apart, for parents who are separating, divorcing or thinking about divorcing; Sink or Swim, for parents who are struggling with mental health issues; Managing Challenging Behaviour, for parents who are looking to better understand why their children are disruptive and how to reinforce positive behaviour; and Flatpack Guide for Fathers, designed to support fathers in their parenting role. Parenting NI is developing manuals for all of these programmes.

Trainers from Parenting NI will deliver the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This nongovernment organisation is also establishing a social franchise (the application of commercial franchising concepts to achieve socially beneficial ends) in which staff train people as trainers. Those who complete the training satisfactorily may then offer the programme to parents. Through this means, Parenting NI plans to expand Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen to the United Kingdom and eventually Europe.

Download the Reports

Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)

Parenting NI is an Atlantic grantee. 

Related Resources


Children & Youth

Global Impact:

Northern Ireland


Parenting NI, Queen's University Belfast