Penn State’s PROSPER Program Inspires Healthy Youth | The heart of the farm is the family


Are you a natural caregiver of a young person aged 10 to 14? If you are or have ever been, you know that this can be a difficult developmental phase for adolescents, filled with fluctuating emotions and behaviors.

This phase of adolescence is a stage of brain development. The area of ​​the brain that causes reactions, including fear and aggression, develops before the area of ​​the brain that provides more coordinated thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Based on what we know about brain development, and noted in a 2016 article, “Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making” from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, young people are more likely to act on impulse, get into accidents, and engage in dangerous or risky behavior before stopping to consider the consequences of their actions.

An example of risky behavior is the use of illicit drugs. According to the recent report “Drug Use Among Youth: Facts and Statistics,” from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, national data from 2020 shows a 61% increase in illicit drug use among 8th graders across the country. . In that same report, Pennsylvania data showed 66,000 12- to 17-year-olds who had used drugs in the previous month.

When our society shifted to home learning and working environments at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed families to spend more time together. However, this extended time together did not guarantee that caregivers felt their communication and family bonds were improving. According to data by Rachel Sheffield from the 2020 Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress report, “Marital Health, Parental Well-Being, and Family Connections During the Pandemic: Findings from the 2020 U.S. Family Survey,” 25% of respondents reported a sense of failure as a parent since the start of the pandemic.

Now, with a major increase in young people‘s engagement with technology, that can seem like a huge hurdle to convincing your youngster to take some time to connect with the rest of the family while turning off the screen.

The bottom line is that parenting can be tough these days.

Penn State Extension offers evidence-based family development programs that have been proven to reduce substance abuse in teens while encouraging family involvement. This program is called “PROSPER” or “promoting school-community-university partnerships to improve resilience”. It encourages community partnerships with individuals and organizations dedicated to improving families, building youth skills, and reducing youth substance use across the state.

The PROSPER program has two components: life skills training and the family strengthening program for parents and young people aged 10 to 14.

Life skills training is a classroom-based program designed to coordinate with health courses and college teaching requirements. The Strengthening Families 10-14 program is a community-based program that engages caregivers and youth in interactive activities to learn how to communicate effectively with each other and spend time together.

For 20 years, PROSPER programming has reached 22,744 youth participants through the life skills training program offered in school districts and impacted 2,264 families in 20 counties in Pennsylvania. According to data from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development website, “Reducing Youth Opioid Use,” a longitudinal study followed 11,000 sixth graders for 10 years after participating in PROSPER and found promising results. These participants waited longer to engage in substance use and showed a significant decrease in substance use severity throughout their adolescence. By the time these individuals were high school seniors, there was also a significant decrease in opiate and prescription drug use when comparing PROSPER communities to non-PROSPER communities.

The data clearly indicates that PROSPER is working and can be used statewide as communities and individuals work alongside educators to not only support these programs, but to expand them to other counties, communities and school districts. .

One of the main things that our 10-14 Family Strengthening Program staff teaches and helps families practice is how to facilitate an effective family meeting. According to the 1993 PROSPER program developed by Iowa State Human Sciences and Extension Outreach in the “Family Meeting Ground Rules” document, the purpose of a family meeting is to address specific concerns. For example, meetings can address leaving home for school on time, transportation and/or scheduling conflicts, or correcting bad behavior) and brainstorming solutions to the problem as a family , where everyone’s opinion is heard and validated. Once solutions have been suggested, it’s important to keep track of agreements and decisions, so the family can come back at the next meeting to see if the problem resolves. If the problem is not solved or the solution does not work, another possible solution can be implemented for a fixed period of time with another family meeting to follow up.

Here are some basic rules for a successful family reunion in your home:

  • Start the meeting with compliments.
  • Respect everyone’s opinion without lectures or insults.
  • Stay focused.
  • Keep a list of decisions that are made.
  • Summarize the agreements.
  • Keep the meeting short.
  • Come back at the next meeting to see if the agreements are working.
  • Keep trying.

It is essential to remember that strong families can communicate and solve problems together. And know that it may take several attempts before you find a solution that works for everyone.

If you want to learn more about PROSPER programming in Pennsylvania, go to


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