Social media and gamification: Engaging vulnerable parents in an online evidence-based parenting program

The aim of this study was to examine the feasibility (accessibility, engagement and impact) of adding social media and gaming features (e.g., social sharing with anonymity, badges to incentivize skills practice, an accredited facilitator for support) and access via smartphones to an evidenced-based parenting program, Triple P Online. The highly vulnerable population included 155 disadvantaged, high-risk parents (e.g., 76% had a family annual income of less than $15,000; 41% had been incarcerated; 38% were in drug/alcohol treatment; and 24% had had a child removed due to maltreatment). The ethnic groups most commonly identified were African American (24%) and Hispanic (66%). Respondents were primarily mothers (86%) from five community programs in Los Angeles. The study used a single group repeated measures design (pre, post, 6-month follow-up). Data collected included standardized self-report measures, post-intervention focus groups and interviews, website usage reports, and Google Analytics. Significant multivariate ANOVA time effects were found, demonstrating reductions in child behavioral problems, reduced lax/permissive and over-reactive parenting, and decreased parental stress. No effects were found for parental confidence, attributions, or depression and anxiety (which were in the normal range at baseline). Positive effects were maintained or improved at 6-month follow-up. The participants engaged in the online community and valued its flexibility, anonymity, and shared learning. This foundational implementation trial provides support for future rigorous evaluation of social media and gaming features as a medium for increasing parental engagement in evidence-based parenting programs online-a public health approach to protect and improve the development of vulnerable children.