What’s the point of parents?

Up until quite recently I have basically avoided having to include parents in my research, or, at the very least, I’ve dismissed their relevance. I put this down to a combination of factors:

  • At it’s core, my research involves developing a health screening app for young people and GPs  i.e. young people fill it out and GPs review a summary, so parents didn’t seem to be a stakeholder at all.
  • Having worked primarily with young people for almost all my working life, my default lens is very ‘youth-centric’, recognising and respecting their independence and expertise in their own health.
  • I’m not a parent and perhaps less aware of the critical role and perspective parents have in the health and wellbeing (I freely admit, this is naieve and rather stupid!)
  • I was scared that adding another stakeholder group (along with young people, GPs, and practice staff) would create a lot more work (e.g. from literature search to data collection, analysis and write-up (more work!?!).
  • Concern about getting conflicting needs and requirements to that of young people and GPs.

Thankfully my supervisors gently, but firmly, suggested that I include this group. Parents are, in fact, a significant stakeholder, in particular for the under 18, where parents still book their appointments, take them to the appointment and often still go into the consultation with them and, for some, are literally their voice with receptionists and GPs. Thus even though parents will not be using the app themselves, they act as gatekeepers and making the app acceptable to them is critical (ie otherwise they won’t allow their child to use it).

Thankfully, I had included parents in my original ethics submission (‘just in case’) and I was able to organise and run a brief workshop with a group of 8 parents of young people aged 14 to 25 last Thursday.

Some key insights from the evening:

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, the extent to which parents were comfortable with their child talking about psychosocial issues alone with their GP varied between parents and depending on the topic. Influences on this seemed to be their own childhood experience, existing medical conditions (e.g. Aspergers’) and the perceived maturity of their child.
  •  Most parents were not comfortable with their GP talking with their child about drugs, mental health and self-harm – even though they recognised these were issues facing young people.
  • Central to how comfortable parents were with their child speaking to the GP alone about psychosocial issues was the extent to which they trusted their GP. This certainly reflects other research.
  • Understandably, there seemed to be a tension between wanting to be entirely informed about the results and with the need to respect confidentiality. While most understood the survey responses would be confidential, they liked the idea of getting an indication from the GP if there were any areas of concern (e.g. on a scale of 1-5), even though this might simply result in anxiety of not knowing exactly what the issue was. Reassurance that any issues were being appropriately followed up on seemed important.
  • Identified the app as a way to bring parents and child together. While this isn’t the central purpose of my research (if anything it’s about bringing GPs and young people together), it is interesting that this came up (and perhaps also reflects technology’s broader potential of bringing all sorts of people together).

Overall, there was a sense that if parents were reassured about the content, purpose, follow up and privacy/security of the app they would allow there child to use it, even though there was some discomfort about the topics.