Using Social Norms to Engage Parents in Child Behaviour Interventions

New research funded by Australian Rotary Health suggests that while the majority of parents are enthusiastic about online parenting programs, more parents are likely to use the programs if they are recommended by other parents.

Dr Jeneva Ohan from the University of Western Australia was awarded a Mental Health Research Grant from Australian Rotary Health from 2017-2018 to investigate whether social norms are helpful in engaging parents in interventions for their child’s behaviour problems.

“For children with behaviour problems, parenting programs can have lasting benefits in reducing problems and improving family life. However, only a minority of parents use these programs,” Dr Ohan said.

“In this project, we wanted to see if it is more effective to tell parents about ‘social norms’, that is, other parents’ experiences with the program, such as if they found it helpful or would recommend it.”

Dr Ohan and her team asked 214 parents of children aged between 3 and 8 with behaviour problems to read one of two brochures about an online parenting program.

Both of the brochures described the program, but one of them included information about research findings and facts, while the other included information about social norms. Parents were then asked if they wanted to enrol in the program.

“Regardless of which brochure parents read, most parents wanted to enrol in the program,” Dr Ohan said.

“However, for parents who enrolled in the parenting program, 59% who read about social norms started the program, compared to only 36% of parents who read about research and facts.”

On average, parents who read about social norms also completed 1.41 modules compared to 0.4 for parents who read about research.

Dr Ohan said that these findings clearly point out that social norms resulted in more parents using more of the parenting program.

“This might be because parents want first-hand information from others who share similar parenting experiences – for example, knowing that other parents have found the program a good use of time helps parents prioritise the program in their own busy lives.”

Moving forward, Dr Ohan believes we need to take steps to increase parents’ use of online parenting programs and using social norms may be the way to do it.

“Using social norms to engage parents is easy and low-cost. Most agencies and research tests routinely collect and summarise information from parents about their satisfaction with the program and can use this information in describing their programs and services.”

“We sincerely thank Rotary for providing the funds to do this study! This was especially brought home to us by a phone call we received from a parent participant, thanking us for providing them with the opportunity to participate in both the research and the online program.”


Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or

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