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Family Life Education

Family Life Education For Adults

Two characteristics distinguish family life education for adults from that for children and adolescents: first, it is more complex and more varied, as adults must not only meet their own needs for family living but may also bear some responsibility for the family socialization of the next generation(s); second, it is more likely to be related to family life tasks and transitions than to age or developmental level, that is, getting married or becoming parents is more important than the age at which these transitions might occur (Hennon and Arcus 1993).

The earliest family life education for adults was parent education, provided for mothers who met in groups specifically organized to improve parent understanding and parenting practices (Lewis-Rowley et al. 1993). Fathers are increasingly involved, but most parent education is still provided to mothers. Important outcomes of parent education include more positive child behaviors, more positive perceptions of child behaviors, and improved parent-child interactions (Brock, Oertwein, and Coufal 1993). Early generic programs have been adapted to specific target groups, including parents with different backgrounds, different parenting needs, and children of different ages. Despite the diversity of programs available, research indicates that no one parent education program is more effective than the others (Medway 1989). The two most widely used programs, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) (Dinkmeyer and McKay 1989) and Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) (Gordon 1975), were developed in the United States, but are available in many countries throughout the world.

Concern for the potential negative impact of divorce on children has led to the development of special parenting education for divorcing parents (Geasler and Blaisure 1998). First documented in 1978, these programs have proliferated since then and are now mandated in some U.S. states. Most are relatively short-term (single, two-hour sessions), and are designed to help parents understand and moderate the effects of divorce on children and to improve their coparenting skills. There has been little systematic evaluation of these programs (McKenry, Clark, and Stone 1999), but exit questionnaires suggest that participant satisfaction is high (Geasler and Blaisure 1998).

ParentLink, an innovative coalition of agencies and organizations in Missouri (U.S.), facilitates access to a wide range of parenting information, services, and support throughout the state (Mertensmeyer and Fine 2000). In addition to a library loan service and community resource lists, ParentLink provides assistance through a toll-free 1–800 number, development of an Internet site, review and evaluation of other websites, a monthly electronic newsletter, and access to consultants (both face-to-face and through listservs). This statewide initiative helps overcome the typically fragmented and piecemeal nature of much family life/parent education for adults.

Marriage education has been a focus of family life education for adults since the earliest programs were developed in the 1930s and 1940s in the United States and Great Britain (Stahmann and Salts 1993; Mace and Mace 1986). Since then, different marriage education programs have been developed to provide premarital couples with opportunities to gain knowledge about and discuss the critical issues and tasks of marriage, to acquire behavioral skills and problem-solving strategies to enhance their relationships, and to evaluate their relationships, including any romanticism, untested assumptions, and/or unrealistic expectations (Stahmann and Salts 1993). Premarital programs appear effective in meeting at least some of their goals, but they may not be equally effective for all participants (Fowers, Montel, and Olson 1996; Gottman et al. 1998). Little is known about the long-term effects of these programs.

Originally, marriage preparation was provided primarily for young adult couples; however, variations of these programs have been developed for couples marrying for the second time, for those marrying during later years, and for those in committed relationships other than marriage. Because premarital education is based on a companionate view of marriage, these programs may not be relevant to all cultural or religious groups. Websites on the Internet can help to disseminate program information to interested persons throughout the world.

Another form of marriage education— marriage enrichment—emerged during the 1960s in Spain and the United States, designed to help people maintain and improve significant interpersonal relationships (Stahmann and Salts 1993). Programs emphasize the strengths of relationships and help participants increase their awareness of self and others, explore and express thoughts and feelings, and improve and use relationship skills. Enrichment programs are typically delivered either through a series of weekly meetings or in intensive weekend retreats. Reviews indicate that marriage enrichment programs are effective, although their effects appear to diminish over time (Stahmann and Salts 1993).

During later adulthood, special family life education needs emerge related to the impact of developmental and health changes on one's self-esteem and sexuality, the loss of significant others such as parents or partners, changes in work roles, and the impact of changing family structure on roles and relationships (addition/loss of family members) (Arcus 1993). Family life education for this age group is limited, but examples include Becoming a Better Grandparent (Strom, Strom, and Collinsworth 1990), designed to increase satisfaction and performance as a grandparent, and Survival KIT for the Holidays (Wood 1987), designed to help adults deal with loss and grief through educational experiences and the development of support systems. Preretirement programs typically focus on financial planning (Riker and Myers 1990), but they may not include important topics such as later-life transitions and changes in family roles. Because transportation and mobility may be issues for older adults, innovative approaches such as a correspondence course in human sexuality (Engel 1983) and disseminating gerontological information through interactive television (Riekse, Holstege, and Faber 2000) have promise for later-life family life education.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesFamily Life Education - An Overview Of Family Life Education, Family Life Education During Childhood, Family Life Education During Adolescence