Parenting Adolescents in Developing Countries

To identify ways in which parents and programs can help adolescents in developing countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened leading researchers and practitioners from around the world in 2006. Their report, Helping Parents in Developing Countries Improve Adolescents’ Health, drafted by Raising Teens Project Director A. Rae Simpson, PhD, identifies the five basic principles of parenting adolescents in the developing world:

  • Connection: Love
  • Behavior Control: Limit
  • Respect for Individuality: Respect
  • Modeling of Appropriate Behavior: Model
  • Provision and Protection: Provide

These principles, based on international research and consensus, are remarkably similar to those identified by the Raising Teens Project—which was based on cross-cultural U.S. research. The international report, however, combined the concept of monitoring and limiting behavior in its second principle, “Behavior Control.” The WHO report also gave special attention to “Respect for Individuality.” Across cultures, parenting that is controlling, critical, intrusive, and manipulative can result in problem behaviors—including risky sexual activity, substance abuse, and depression.

About 85 percent of the world’s adolescents are growing up in developing countries, where lives often are compromised and cut short by poverty, famine, war, ethnic and racial discrimination, oppression, trauma, and lack of access to education and healthcare.

Parenting programs in the developing world face a number of extraordinary challenges, including a wide range of cultural expectations; the difficulty of involving parents, particularly fathers, in such endeavors; and the ramifications of living in desperate conditions where trauma, poverty, and disease are commonplace.

Ultimately, the most urgent need of parents and families—everywhere in the world—is relief from conditions that cripple their efforts to support their adolescents.