UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The middle-school years mark a time of rapid change for pre-teens and teens, as well as for their parents. As adolescents seek greater independence, it can be challenging for their parents to connect with and guide them. Penn State researchers, with funding from the Mental Research Institute, are developing a smartphone app to promote positive, engaged family relationships that promote healthy development for adolescents.
The app will guide families through choosing activities that they can enjoy together, establishing healthy routines and practices for monitoring adolescents’ behavior, and giving positive feedback to reinforce behaviors. These practices can reduce adolescents' risk of depression, problem behavior, substance use, and academic difficulties, according to Gregory Fosco, associate professor of human development and family studies and associate director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State.
“We hope to strengthen families' bonds by harnessing fun interactions that bring them joy,” said Carlie Sloan, a co-investigator and graduate student in human development and family studies.
The app will also give parents the choice of establishing routines for morning, homework or bedtime. “Starting a routine can give a greater feeling of control, and once you get it going, you can praise and encourage your kids to keep them on track,” Fosco said.
Benjamin V. Hanrahan, assistant professor of information sciences and technology, is an expert in app development and is partnering with Fosco and Sloan to ensure that the app is engaging, user-friendly and effective in providing helpful guidance and reminders to families.
The project team will recruit 200 families to test the app and provide feedback. They will also evaluate the effectiveness of the app in promoting positive family relationships.
“Our goal is to reach families who may benefit from engaging with an app that fits into their busy lives,” Fosco said. “We hope to smooth the transitions that accompany adolescence, giving long-term benefits to both parents and their children.”