Parenting (healthy) adolescents: big responsibility, little support
We know that parental influence is an important factor when it comes to creating better health, education and employment outcomes among adolescents – but how do we support the parents who shoulder this responsibility?
Adolescence represents a crucial life point at which to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours, yet most health education programs for parents are aimed at addressing issues for newborns and children under the age of five. If we are to advocate for better life-long health by preventing or disrupting common diseases such as diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, and mental health issues such as depression or anxiety in adolescence, we need to ensure parents of young people are better-equipped with the right knowledge and education.
As highlighted by John Prawira of Universitas Gadjah Mada, “Adolescents are the backbone of Indonesia’s demographic bonus that will reach its peak in 2030…. Cost-effective interventions have to be implemented, starting from adolescence.”
AIC Health Cluster Lead Prof. Susan Sawyer adds to this, saying “technical expertise in adolescent health is lacking… [This] highlights the need for Indonesia to grow its capacity to develop policies, programs and practices to advance adolescent health”.
A crucial first step in building this technical expertise is examining the role of parenting in addressing the NCD burden among adolescents, and identifying the type of support parents of adolescents need. To fill this gap in knowledge, a research study led by Professor Lena Sanci of The University of Melbourne and Dr Bernie Medise and Dr Fransisca Handy from Universitas Indonesia heard directly from parents. The study captured perspectives across a broad range of urban and rural settings, as well as various socio-economic groups, to hear from parents of adolescents who lived with chronic illnesses and those without, as well as adolescents with particular developmental needs.
Through a series of focus group discussions with parents, the research team uncovered the following findings.
- While parents are familiar with puberty as a biological period, they want to learn more about adolescent health so they can encourage their adolescents to thrive. The study showed that parents often sought knowledge about managing the transition from childhood to adolescence, and about adolescent health more broadly.
- Parents want better communication and engagement strategies for connecting with their adolescent children; as one participant described, “I need support to know how to deal with adolescents; I need knowledge about adolescents and health” – particularly in relation to healthy lifestyle habits.
- Parents need support in managing gadget use among their adolescent children; even among parents with established limitations on gadget use. They emphasised that maintaining these set limitations with their adolescent children was often a source of frustration.
- Parents could benefit from more knowledge around what healthy lifestyle behaviours could be adopted, or which risky behaviours could be disrupted or prevented in order to combat the onset of NCDs later in life. These behaviours include smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, unsafe transportation and poor mental health literacy.
Among participants, knowledge about NCD prevention and healthy behaviour varied. Parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds struggled more so with this – most fathers from this group were smokers with lower understanding of healthy eating and struggled to communicate effectively with their adolescents. And while parents from higher socio-economic backgrounds may have had better awareness of healthier lifestyles, they also struggled with their adolescents in terms of communication and appropriate gadget use.
A key outcome of this study revolved around how parents of adolescents could access the type of support they need. While parents spoke about their concerns around gadget use for adolescents, they highlighted that they prefer online platforms to access to quality, evidence-based health information .
Professor Lena Sanci says the next steps for this research are to work with parents to design an engaging and informative online support platform. She says, “Our underlying aims would be to promote parents’ understanding of this developmental period and to model effective communication skills when relating to their adolescent children on health and wellbeing issues.”
Ultimately, to empower parents and their adolescent children in the fight against NCDs – and to promote healthy living more broadly – access to parental support is key.
Read more about this study here.