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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 1, No. 1
Winter 1995

Interventions with Teen Parents

Child welfare professionals working with teen parents may often find themselves wondering, "How can I teach this young mother better parenting skills and help her understand her infant?"

An Intervention Program to Build Competencies in Adolescent Parents speaks to this question. In this article, Butler and colleagues examine a year-long peer counseling program for teen parents. In this program, college women were trained to be "peer counselors" and matched with demographically similar teen mothers. The goals of the program were to decrease stressors and to increase parenting competencies in teen mothers. To see if having a peer counselor made a difference, the mothers were tested on a variety of measures before and after the intervention. They were then compared to a control group of teen mothers who did not have peer counselors.

At the beginning of the year, peer counselors worked at building rapport. This was followed by an education component, during which peer counselors gave the teens information about existing resources. The teen parents were very receptive to this information, in part because it was presented by someone close to their own age. The peer advocates attended childbirth classes, helped parents open bank accounts, and helped them consider education options.

At the start of the year, the mothers who were given peer counselors had more negative perceptions of their children than the control group mothers. During the year, all of the mothers' perceptions of their children became more negative, a common response to the realities of parenting. However, those with peer counselors were less negative than the control group. These mothers reported that they perceived their children's behavior to be "about average" or slightly better. The control group viewed their children in a more negative way, one that could lead to problem parenting.

Parent Education for Adolescent Mothers, by Dickinson and Cudaback, presents a less labor-intensive intervention aimed at helping teen mothers understand their child's development. The study examined the differences between two groups of teen mothers. One group received age-timed brochures detailing the developmental phases their children were in and suggesting activities to enhance the infants' development. A second group received the usual services offered to teen mothers in the area, but not the parenting brochures.

The brochures themselves were short, with a reading level of sixth grade or below. They explained specific tasks the babies were learning at a given phase of development and gave examples of how a mother could help her child's development. Toys, activities, and other types of stimulation were described.

Of the mothers who received the brochures, 93 percent reported reading them thoroughly, 95 percent tried at least one of the suggested activities, and 83 percent were motivated to obtain more things for their infant to touch, listen to, and play with. At the end of the intervention, these teens reported wanting more information about child development and requested a similar series for the toddler age.

Surveys showed that mothers who received the brochures were much less likely than the control group to have scores that would indicate risk to their children. However, the authors also note that in both groups the number of risk scores was high, indicating that brochures alone cannot address all the needs of teen parents. Mailing age-timed brochures to new teen mothers does represent an easily implemented, cost-effective way to provide teen mothers with strategies to assist in their child's cognitive development.

Brochures: The Parent Express Infant Series and the Parent Express Toddler Series, by the University of California Cooperative Extension, can be obtained by writing to: Communication Services, Divisions of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, 6701 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, CA 94608-1239, Tel: 510/642-2431. Fax: 510/643-5470.


Butler, C., Rickel, A. U., Thomas, E., & Hendren, M. (1993). An intervention program to build competencies in adolescent parents. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 13(3), 183-197.

Dickinson, N. S. & Cudabeck, D. J. (1992). Parent education for adolescent mothers. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 13(1), 25-35.

1995 Jordan Institute for Families