Active Parenting: An Evaluation of Two Adlerian Parent Education Programs
Active Parenting: An Evaluation
Two Adlerian Parent Education Programs
*Note: Active Parenting
Now is a revision of Active Parenting Today.
Georgia State University
Published in Journal of Individual Psychology
Vol 55 #2
This study assessed the effects of two Adlerian parent education
programs, Active Parenting Today and Active Parenting
of Teens, on children's and teen's behavior as perceived by
their parents. A test for correlated samples indicated that both
programs resulted in a significant change in parental perceptions
of behavior, according to the questionnaire administered. The
results suggested that parents viewed their children or teens'
behavior as being more responsible
or helpful after the program. There were no interaction effects
for parent's education level or for type of family structure.
Active Parenting: An Evaluation of Two
Adlerian Parent Education Programs
The parenting task, while always challenging, has become more
difficult because "parents are raising children under social
conditions decidedly different from those that the parents experienced
as children" (White & Mullis, 1996, p. 47). Increased
drug use and adolescent suicide rates, teen pregnancy, and family
stress are only a few of the current societal conditions which
affect parents in the process of rearing their children (Medway,
1989). Many parents lack the education and training needed for
this important role, even though parent education groups have
been addressing this need since at least 1815 (Croake & Glover,
Parent education programs are typically structured around a particular
theoretical model. One such model is based on the psychological
theory of Alfred Adler as it has been applied to child rearing
by Dinkmeyer and McKay (1976), Dreikurs and Soltz (1964), Popkin
(1983), and others. The Adlerian model emphasizes the child's
psychological and behavioral goals, logical and natural consequences,
mutual respect, and encouragement techniques.
As is true with most helping interventions, more research is needed
regarding the effectiveness of parent education programs (Harmon
& Brim, as cited in Fine & Henry, 1989; White & Mullis,
1996), including research on interactions among programs and participant
characteristics. Medway (1989), while criticizing the evaluation
strategies (or lack thereof) of parent educators, found that a
meta-analysis of Adlerian and other parent education models suggested
that these programs are influencing the attitudes and behaviors
of parents and their children. Although no specific approach to
parent education has been routinely singled out as more effective
than another, Adlerian programs demonstrated consistently positive
outcomes that Krebs (1986) regarded as reliable and valid. Typical
outcomes from Adlerian programs are that parents become more democratic
with regard to child rearing and view their children's behaviors
more favorably (Fine & Henry, 1989; Krebs, 1986).
Active Parenting (Popkin & Woodward, 1983) is a video-based
Adlerian parent education program that was field-tested in 1984
with favorable results (Popkin, 1989a). Of the 274 self-selected
subjects who made up the field-test, 97% reported positive changes,
84% reported an improvement in their children's behavior, and
97% indicated that they would recommend the program to friends.
Urban (1991) found the Active Parenting program effective in changing
attitudes and child rearing techniques, and Wiese (1989) concluded
that parents who participated in the program developed more tolerant
attitudes toward their children and saw themselves as better parents
than those who did not participate. No significant changes were
reported in children's behavior or in parents' knowledge of child-rearing
principles. Wiese also determined that taking a pre-test did not
The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of two Adlerian
parent education programs, Active Parenting Today (Popkin,
1993), a revision of the 1983 program, and Active Parenting
of Teens (Popkin, 1989b), on children's and teens' behavior
as perceived by their parents. It was hypothesized that parents
would perceive their children and teens' behavior more favorably
after completing the parenting program.
The participants were parents who registered for parent education
classes focusing on either young children (Active Parenting
Today) or on teens (Active Parenting of Teens). There
were 42 groups for Active Parenting Today (n=287) and 15
groups for Active Parenting of Teens (n=98), with groups
ranging in size from 5 to 20 parents. Parents were recruited through
letters, flyers, and newspaper announcements, and the groups were
conducted in setting such as public schools, churches, and mental
health agencies throughout the United States. As is common for
this type of program, informal screening of parents through group
interaction took place during the first meeting.
Approximately 71% of the participants were female and 29% were
male in the groups for children and the groups for teens. The
majority of the participants in the groups for children were Caucasian
(85%), with African-Americans making up 9% of participants and
Hispanic, Asian, Native American and Other each accounting for
approximately 1.5% of group members. In the groups for teens 77%
of the members were Caucasian, 20% were African-American, 1.5%
were Hispanic, and 1.5% were Native American.
In the groups focusing on children, 6% of the parents had less
than a high school education, 31% had graduated from high school,
45% had at least some college or a four-year degree, and 18% had
done graduate work. In the groups for parents of teens, 8% of
the parents reported less than a high school education, 38% had
graduated from high school, 44% had at least some college or a
four-year degree, and 10% had done work at the graduate level.
Approximately 63% of parents in the groups for children were from
families with both biological parents in the home, 18% were single
parents, 15% were in blended families, and 4% were "other."
In the groups for parents of teens, approximately 53% of parents
were from families with both biological parents in the home, 24%
were from single parent families, 19% were in blended families,
and 4% were "other."
The attrition rate for these groups varied from 10-15%. This is
the typical drop out rate for Active Parenting groups according
to Terrence Gibney, Executive Assistant at Active Parenting, Inc.
(personal communication, January 12, 1998).
The Active Parenting Today group completed the 22-item
"About My Child" (AMC; Poplin & Mullis, 1995a) questionnaire,
while the Active Parenting of Teens group used the 29-item
"About My Teen" (AMT; Poplin & Mullis, 1995b) questionnaire.
Reliability (alpha) was estimated at .78 for the AMC questionnaire
and .87 for the AMT questionnaire; both estimates exceed Nunnaly's
(1978) recommended standard for reliability estimates. To establish
content validity, persons familiar with the Active Parenting programs
and with Adlerian concepts related to child and adolescent behavior
verified that the questionnaire items were adequate for measuring
what they were supposed to measure and were also adequate representations
of the content of the Active Parenting materials. Ary, Jacobs,
and Razavieh (1990) state that content validity is essential for
questionnaires. These instruments were selected because the questions
are specifically targeted at behaviors discussed in the Active
Parenting programs and would, there fore, provide a better indication
for whether or not parent were applying the principles taught
than would other, more generic questionnaires.
The questionnaires asked parents to select the child or teen about
whom they were most concerned and rate the child or teen on each
item according to a Likert-type scale from (1) almost never to
(5) almost always. Examples of questions were "My child cooperates
with others," and "My teen quits or gives up on tasks
before completion." Higher scores indicate that the child
or teen is engaging in behaviors that are useful rather than useless,
as defined in Individual Psychology.
Both sets of materials are built around ideas developed by Alfred
Adler (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956) and refined by Rudolf
Dreikurs (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1964) with further modifications
by Michael Poplin (1989b, 1993). Concepts taught include social
interest, encouragement, mistaken goals of behavior, communication
skills, and logical and natural consequences.
The parent education class leaders used the materials from either
the Active Parenting Today or the Active Parenting of
Teens kit. The self-selected leaders had varying degrees of
training in the use of the materials. Some leaders attended the
Leader Training Workshop presented by Active Parenting and others
were self-trained. Although some leaders may have deviated from
the outline provided in the materials to meet the needs and interest
of the participants and to fit their personal teaching styles,
they followed the general outline of the materials and presented
the key concepts. All of the groups met for two-hour sessions
once a week for six weeks, for a total of twelve hours of training.
A test for correlated sample was used to test the hypothesis that
parents would perceive their children's behavior more favorably
after completing an Active Parenting group. The probability level
was set at .05.
Analysis of results indicated a statistically significant difference
in pre- and post-test means of parent's perceptions of behavior
between the correlated samples for both the AMC group (77.07;
81.61; t=-7.96) and AMT group (88.18; 91.63; t=-2.68). In both
groups, the results indicated that parental perceptions of behavior
were more favorable after completing the parent education program.
A conservative assessment of effect size was computed by dividing
the difference mean by the standard deviation of the pre-test
scores for the AMC and AMT groups. The AMC group showed an effect
size of .42 (-4.5436/10.879), which indicates a medium deviation
from the null case. The AMT group had an effect size of .20 (-3.4490/16.914)
indicating a small deviation from the null case.
Analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) were used to assess if there were
differences in the post-test means, adjusted for the pre-test
scores for the different educational levels or family structures
of the participants. The assumption of equal regression slopes
was tested and found tenable for both educational level [F (3,272)
= 0.63 ns] and family structure [F (3,272) = 1.34 ns] in the Active
Parenting Today group. The assumption of homogeneity of regression
slopes was also found tenable for educational level [F (3,86)
= 0.49 ns] and family structure [F (3,88) = 1.06 ns] in the Active
Parenting of Teens group.
The ANCOVAs indicated that neither educational level [F (3,275)
= 0.96 ns] nor family structure [F (3,275) = 2.16 ns] had significant
influence on post-test scores in the Active Parenting Today
group. Neither educational level [F (3,89) = 1.47 ns] nor family
structure [F (3,91) = 0.28 ns] had a significant influence on
post-test scores in the Active Parenting of Teens group.
There was a significant change in perception indicating that parents
viewed their child's or teen's behavior more favorably after completing
the parent education class. Parents who attend Active Parenting
groups are taught to use effective communication skills, such
as listening and responding to feelings, and to lecture and criticize
less. Using effective skills results in more effective parent-child
interaction, and the changes in the questionnaire scores quite
likely reflect this. Parents are also taught to use intervention
strategies that are motivating and supportive, such as encouragement
techniques and logical consequences, rather than punishment. Improved
interactions, including using different intervention strategies
to deal with misbehavior, often lead to positive changes in the
child's or teen's behavior.
However, because no behavioral observations were used, it cannot
be said unequivocally that the behavior improved. The reported
changes could result from the parent's having more realistic expectations
for behavior based on learning about developmental stages and
general expectations for behavior during each developmental stage
or parent's becoming more accepting of less than perfect behavior.
Parents have reported that their expectations for themselves and
their children changed after completing a parent education course
(Cooke, 1992). However, even if the difference was simply the
result of changing parental perceptions or expectations with no
actual behavior change, the parent education course was helpful.
Campbell and Sutton (1983) posit that viewing behavior in more
positive or realistic ways leads to more harmonious and cohesive
family relationships. As Medway (1989) states, "Parent education
is a process of attitude change" (p. 238), and changing attitudes
is often the first step in modifying behavior.
Another limitation of the study was that a control group was not
used. Evaluations of parent education programs frequently lack
rigor (Medway, 1989). In the real world, leaders of parent education
groups are often volunteers who contribute their time for little
or no compensation and are interested in providing education to
parents, not in organizing control groups. The positive outcomes
found in this study could result from social desirability or other
invalidating issues. It has been my experience that parents often
want to present a "good front" when they begin a study
group; therefore, if social desirability is a concern, it could
have affected the pre-test as much as the post-test.
That there was no interaction effect found for the parent's educational
level suggests that the materials are effective regardless of
the participant's years of formal education. The absence of evidence
of an interaction effect for type of family structure suggest
that parents from intact, blended, and single parent families
can use the program information to change their perceptions of
their child's or teen's behavior. This latter finding is particularly
heartening because many stressors are associated with single-parent
and blended families (Hetherington, Law, & O'Connor, 1993).
Parenting programs that effectively address child-rearing problems
for these types of families can help reduce some of the stressors.
Suggestions for Future Research
Although it is not difficult to determine which general parent
education model is used by leaders (Dembo, Sweitzer, & Lauritzen,
1985), sessions tend to deviate from the structured format based
on participants' needs and the leader's teaching style (Medway,
1989). Information regarding deviations from the structured materials
and the reasons for the deviations would be useful. Gathering
more data on the leaders themselves would also provide helpful
information. Davidson and Schrag (as cited in Medway, 1989) found
that parents are more likely to carry out recommendations from
more experienced consultants that from less experienced ones.
The background and training of parent education leaders vary considerable
regardless of the model used. Recording leader data would allow
the assessment of this variable and would be useful in deciding
whether or not to encourage or require potential leaders to attend
leader training workshops.
Adlerian parent education groups frequently report changes in
parental attitudes or feelings, but rarely report the assessment
of behavior change in children (Fine & Henry, 1989). Identifying
behavior that the parents would like to change, stating the behavior
in observable terms, and charting the behavior to assess its change
would be one way to address this need. Using outside observers
to evaluate behavioral change would lend more credibility by providing
criterion-related evidence of validity, but such observations
would be difficult to implement as part of a typical parent education
Parents continue to be interested in learning more about rearing
children, and express the belief that parent education programs
are beneficial for them and for their children, regardless of
the rigorousness of research on parenting programs. As this study
suggest, both of the Adlerian programs, Active Parenting Today
and Active Parenting of Teens, are effective in assisting
parents in the daunting task of child rearing.
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