Study: Key holes appear in books giving parents advice about raising adolescent

11/03/05

CHAPEL HILL -- Books offering advice to parents about teens are less likely to contain injury prevention messages than those that give advice on parenting smaller children, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study. Notably absent from most such books were discussions about preventing automobile accidents among adolescents.

The UNC Injury Prevention Research Center investigation, which appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, involved reviewing the 46 best-selling advice books for parents. Included were 41 with messages related to younger children and 19 with information about teens. Some books covered both age groups.

Prevention of automobile mishaps and burns were the most commonly addressed injury prevention topics in the books focused on younger children, while gun safety was the leading topic in books about adolescents, researchers found. Although injury prevention messages for parents of teens emphasized gun injuries, which was important, too little attention was given to avoiding motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of injury to that age group.

Most books analyzed showed important gaps in safety messages and were not consistent with standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and other groups, investigators said.

"Pediatricians and primary care physicians need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of parenting manuals in providing adequate guidance for injury prevention," said Dr. Carol Runyan. Runyan directs UNC's Injury Prevention Research Center and is professor of health behavior and health education and of pediatrics in the UNC schools of public health and medicine, respectively.

The project was designed to help pediatricians and parents make better decisions about using parenting guides as sources of information on child and adolescent safety, she said.

"We were especially surprised by how little attention the adolescent parenting books devoted to motor vehicle safety, which is the most important injury problem for adolescents," said Wanda M. Hunter, senior author of the paper and associate professor of social medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. "We were pleased, however, that the books for parents of adolescents did not shy away from discussing firearm safety -- also an important issue."

Parenting guides are no substitute for sound guidance from pediatricians about child and adolescent safety but can be a resource for those eager to learn how to keep their children safe, she said. Pediatricians often recommend parenting guides to the parents they serve. The UNC group wanted to be sure that those and other doctors were aware of what was and was not contained in the books.

Besides Runyan and Hunter, authors are Samah Helou, a Clinton scholar and Tulane University graduate student; Dr. Gitanjali Saluja of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at UNC.

"Since injuries are the leading cause of death for children from 1 to 18 years old, it is important that parents receive complete and correct information about how to keep their children safe," Hunter said. "This is the first study to assess injury prevention messages found in popular parenting books.

"The books we reviewed showed a wide variation in the quantity and quality of injury prevention messages, with books aimed at parents of young children doing a much better job in terms of covering the messages recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association."

Why the books gave too little attention to preventing motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death to adolescents, is unknown, she said.

"Our study shows that very few parenting books contain comprehensive information about preventing injuries, highlighting the important role that pediatricians and others need to play in providing guidance on how best to protect kids," Hunter said.

Support for the study came from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Clinton Scholarship Program.

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