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Parenting Wisely

Ages 6-18

Rating: Level 3


Parenting Wisely (PW) is a self-administered, computer-based program that teaches parents and their children important skills to enhance relationships and decrease conflict through behavior management and support. The program is designed to enhance child adjustment and has the potential to reduce delinquency, substance abuse, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. In addition, it seeks to improve problem-solving, parent–school communication, school attendance, and grades while reducing disciplinary infractions.

The program uses an interactive CD–ROM in which parents view video scenes of common family problems. The program instructs parents in effective parenting skills through the use of demonstration, quizzing, repetition, rehearsal, recognition, and feedback for correct and incorrect answers. For instance, for each problem, parents choose one of several solutions, only one of which is an effective and adaptive method of dealing with the problem. After choosing a solution, a parent sees the chosen solution acted out in the video. The parent then receives feedback through an on-screen question-and-answer format that explains any problems associated with the selected solution as well as why the common mistakes in parenting portrayed in the incorrect solutions lead to difficulties. If the correct solution is chosen, the parent receives feedback on specific skills used in that situation that made it effective. Finally, several review questions follow the feedback to further reinforce the skills. After completing the review questions, the parent moves to the next problem. The video program covers communication skills, problem-solving skills, speaking respectfully, assertive discipline, reinforcement, chore compliance, homework compliance, supervision of children hanging out with peers who are a bad influence, stepfamily problems, single-parent issues, and violence. The program is administered in one to three sessions in 2 to 2½ hours, depending on the amount of discussion in which users engage. Parents using the program also receive a workbook for future reference that outlines all problems and solutions included in the program.

The target population is families with parents who do not usually seek or complete mental health or parent education treatment for children’s problem behaviors. Single-parent families and stepfamilies with children who exhibit behavior problems constitute most of the families targeted. PW has been tested with families in rural and urban areas and is equally appealing to African-American, Hispanic/Latino, and white families.


Numerous studies were conducted to assess the effectiveness of PW, using a variety of different methods, including random assignment. Evaluations were conducted in juvenile detention, child protective services, health and mental health centers, probation departments, schools, and families’ homes. Represented among these studies were some 990 families of white (including Appalachian), African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and Portuguese origin and primarily from lower income homes.

One of the most comprehensive studies was conducted in Ohio, using an experimental design in which eight classes of pregnant or parenting adolescents were randomly assigned to either the control (29 students) or experimental (22 students) group. Most of the subjects were female and white. The average age of the total sample was 16.9 years, with a mean of 11 years of education. Twenty-three of the students were pregnant with their first child, and 39 already had at least one other child. Most students were single, living with their parents, and reported a mean family income of $15,000 to $20,000. The only significant difference between the two groups was age; students in the control group were older than students in the intervention group (17.2 to 16.6). The measures used in the study included a parenting knowledge test, parental attitudes questionnaire, and a supplementary questionnaire.

Additional details on this and other PW studies are available on the Parenting Wisely Web site (


In general, the Ohio evaluation found that, compared with the control group, PW students scored significantly higher at the 2-month follow-up on measures of parenting knowledge, belief in the effectiveness of adaptive parenting practices, and the application of adaptive parenting skills to hypothetical problem situations.

In general, outcomes for parents receiving the intervention in other studies include

  • Improved problem-solving
  • Setting of clear expectations
  • Increased knowledge and use of good parenting skills
  • Reduced spousal violence and reduced parental violence toward children

For children, clinically significant behavior improvement occurred between 20 percent and 55 percent of the time that their parents used the program. Program completion rates for parents ranged from 83 percent to 91 percent.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble


  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • OJJDP/CSAP: Strengthen Families


Gordon, Donald A. 2000. “Parent Training Via CD–ROM: Using Technology to Disseminate Effective Prevention Practices.” The Journal of Primary Prevention 21(2):227–51.

Kacir, Christopher D., and Donald A. Gordon. 1999. “Parenting Adolescents Wisely: The Effectiveness of an Interactive Videodisk Parent Training Program in Appalachia.” Child and Family Behavior Therapy 21(4):1–22.

Lagges, Ann M., and Donald A. Gordon. 1999. “Use of an Interactive Videodisk Parent Training Program for Teenage Parents.” Child and Family Behavior Therapy 21(1):19–37.

Segal, David, Peter Y. Chen, Donald A. Gordon, Christoph D. Kacir; and Julius Gylys. 2003. “Development and Evaluation of a Parenting Intervention Program: Integration of Scientific and Practical Approaches.” International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction 15(3):453–67.


Donald A. Gordon, Ph.D.
Family Works, Inc.
34 West State Street, Room 135B, Unit 8
Athens, OH 45701–3751
Phone: (866) 234-9473
Fax: (541) 482-2829
Web site: