Influential Parenting Program ‘Stuck in the 1950s’

March 22nd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
One of the world’s most influential programs for teaching parenting is “stuck in the 1950s” according to Australian researcher Dr. Richard Fletcher.  Read about it here (Sydney Morning Herald, 3/12/12).

The study, published in the United States journal Fathering, looked closely at the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, developed by Professor Matt Sanders and his team at the University of Queensland.

Over the past two decades the program has been adopted around the world and evaluated – mostly positively – in many studies that showed ”parent” behaviour changed for the better, and as a result so did the child’s.

But when they say “parent,” what they mean is “mother.”  That’s because the program doesn’t tend to attract fathers, nor does it retain them in the program when dads do show up.  Fletcher analyzed 23 studies of the Triple P program and found that, out of almost 5,000 parents enrolled, only 983 were fathers.

That low turnout and retention rate is no surprise given that the program itself, as well as those who teach it have a “father blindspot,” very much the way people in the 1950s tended to look at parenting.

”It’s as if parenting courses are stuck in the 1950s where the gender division is accepted as natural and entrenched,” said Richard Fletcher, head of the fathers and families research program at the University of Newcastle.

A ”fathering blindspot” among practitioners and researchers meant they were not being reached, retained in courses or studied separately to mothers. Results showing the success of parenting courses disguised low attendance by fathers and the lower impact the programs appeared to have on the few who did attend.

So once again, fathers are treated as second-class parents and we wonder why they tend to take a backseat to mothers when childcare is involved.

The other side of the coin is equally pernicious.  We’ve preached for decades now that women should pull their own weight in earning the family’s daily bread, but, despite all the encouragement, they still don’t.  Study after study, dataset after dataset show that men still work and earn more than do women.  That’s true even though the latest economic turndown affected jobs held by men far more than it did women’s.

Why don’t women work as many hours as men do?  One possibility is that they’re continually being told that their natural bent is mothering.  The Triple P Program is one example of that, but in fact the message is pretty much constant.  Like most such messages, there’s more than a germ of truth to it.  Certainly women do want to bear children and care for them, and those desires merit support from all quarters.

The problem comes when women’s natural inclinations toward children come at the expense of everyone and everything else.  When women are considered free to work and earn or not at their whim, but men are not, that’s unfair to both men and children.  It tends to take fathers out of children’s lives and lock them in the workplace.  We need a society that encourages equally men’s and women’s desires to support their families financially and through hands-on childcare.

That’s precisely what the very influential Triple P Positive Parenting Program doesn’t do.

Dr Fletcher said it was absurd a government-funded program should convey the message mothers should take all the responsibility for child development, and it was the mother’s behaviour that determined the child’s success…

”From other research we know fathers have an important role in managing their children and influencing their development,” Dr Fletcher, author of The Dad Factor, said. ”If fathers are not involved results will be worse for the children.”

He said making courses more father-friendly was not ”rocket science” and involved use of male facilitators, online courses and a problem-based approach.

Interestingly, Professor Matt Sanders of the University of Queensland, who developed the Triple P program defended it, but seemed to agree with Fletcher.

”There’s no doubt fathers are important in the lives of children but there’s contradictory evidence on whether increased father involvement in parenting classes improves outcomes for children.”

Right.  That’s because, as Fletcher sees it, those parenting classes aren’t aimed at dads.  They, like the U.S. Census Bureau, countless family court judges and much of the communications media consider fathers to be a sort of vestigial appendage of mothers, i.e. something that’s generally useless and gets in the way.  Once we realize on a basic, everyday level, that children need their fathers as much as they do their mothers, maybe the sidelining of dads will stop and parenting programs like Triple P will reach their potential for helping parents.

Until then, they won’t.


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