"Raising Teens: A Synthesis of Research and a Foundation for Action," a new study by A. Rae Simpson, co-administrator of MIT's Family Resource Center, has just been published by the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"America's teenagers are facing risks from violence, mental illness, abuse, neglect, inadequate education, substance abuse and poverty. At the same time, there is confusion and controversy about what qualifies as 'expert' advice on parenting. I wanted to show that there is actually a great deal of common ground among experts, and real value in what research has uncovered in the last 10 to 20 years," Dr. Simpson said.
"Raising Teens" reviews more than 300 recent studies and identifies core actions for parents and caregivers. Dr. Simpson is the author of a 1997 study, "The Role of the Mass Media in Parenting Education," and a book, The Visible Scientists (Little, Brown, 1977).
"Research shows agreement on the basics of parenting teens, and this agreement cuts across a broad range of ethnic, cultural, and disciplinary approaches. It also strongly affirms family influence, so we know we can help teens by helping their parents and other adults in their lives," Dr. Simpson said.
"'Raising Teens' was written be helpful to pediatricians, teachers, guidance counselors and others who work with parents through the schools, as well as news and entertainment media, policy makers, community leaders, mental health professionals, youth workers and business leaders -- all those who work with and on behalf of families, parents and teens," said Dr. Simpson, a mother of three.
Dr. Simpson has been co-administrator of the Family Resource Center since 1989. She is founding chair of the National Parenting Education Network and founding president of the Parenting Education Network of Massachusetts. She received the PhD in communications research from Stanford University and served on the MIT faculty in the area of science writing and public understanding of science.
Dr. Simpson considers her ongoing research and writing on families to be a continuation of her science journalism. "My work is focused on bridging the gap between research knowledge and those who need access to that knowledge," she said.
The 96-page study offers practical guidelines and strategies that can contribute to healthy adolescent development.
For example, one of the report's "Five Basics of Parenting Adolescents," "Monitor and Observe," describes research showing a link between parents keeping an eye on teens' whereabouts and the prevention of problems such as drug abuse and delinquency. Another guideline, "Guide and Limit," concludes that research supports a strategy of maintaining family rules but avoiding rigid restrictions, or "loosen up but don't let go."
The report also features a capsule summary of the major milestones of adolescence that parents need to watch for and support. These "Ten Tasks of Adolescence" include developing new decision-making skills, forming friendships based on mutual trust and understanding, and identifying meaningful moral standards.
Kathy Simons, co-administrator of the Family Resource Center, was research specialist on the "Raising Teens" project until June 2000. "In that capacity, she gathered and analyzed key areas of the research and provided consultation on all aspects of the project. Her counsel and expertise were invaluable," said Dr. Simpson.
The report was funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The Family Resource Center provides work/life services for all members of the MIT community.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 14, 2001.