Family "not the enemy" of teenagers

Family "not the enemy" of teenagers

Media release — 30 March 2010

Parents are not the natural enemies of teenagers and shouldn’t be seen as irrelevant or the cause of all the problems their adolescents face, according to a discussion paper published today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

At a time when teenagers need their families most, the Institute says that few services operating around the country bring young people and their families together.

“A review of a decade of randomised clinical trials concluded that including parents in the treatment of adolescent psychiatric disorders is effective. At a minimum, good clinical practice should involve family, especially when it comes to containing the risk of suicide,” said the Institute Research Fellow Elly Robinson.

“Yet while parents and families are seen as vital to successful early childhood interventions, far fewer programs focus on families once late childhood and beyond is reached. The sad irony is, it’s a time when parental involvement is still very much needed to provide a secure base and emotional and physical support,” she said.

The Institute says the importance of parental monitoring and limit setting is often under-valued. Poor parental monitoring has been clearly linked to negative outcomes like antisocial behaviour, substance use and sexual risk taking.

“Some traditional youth work services focus on young people’s rights as individuals to the extent that family involvement gets over-looked. Even when there are no issues that dictate the degree of family involvement, such as abuse, too often the family has been cast as irrelevant, the cause of problems or the outright enemy,” Ms Robinson said.

The strongest evidence exists when it comes to the effectiveness of family and parenting interventions in reducing the time adolescents spend in juvenile justice institutions. Family therapy for preventing depression, eating disorders and adolescent substance abuse are also among the most effective current treatments.

The Institute has highlighted three Australian programs that improve at-risk teenagers’ prospects for social inclusion, by giving families and adolescents a stronger voice.

  • Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy program - run by 12 different organisations throughout Australia, mediation and family therapy is offered to young people between 10-21 and their families to work on issues like violence, substance abuse and truancy that may lead to homelessness.
  • Family Reconciliation and Mediation Program – a state-wide Victorian initiative administered by Melbourne City Mission involving ‘brokerage grants’ enabling funding to go to young clients to finance family reconciliation and mediation services.
  • Reconnect – an early intervention program for 12-18 year-olds who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless that seeks to repair their connections to their families, education and employment. Mediation, counselling, practical support and collaboration with other service providers with three quarters of young people and parents reporting an overall improvement in their situation.

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