Helping parents help children: Message framing effects on parent's'cognitions and behaviours related to children's physical activity


Parents are often the gatekeepers to youth physical activity (PA) involvement. Specifically, parental social support-related thoughts and behaviours act as prominent factors for facilitating regular participation (e.g., providing transportation, verbal encouragement); yet, a paucity of research has measured whether persuasive messages can influence parental social support behaviours over time. This study examines the effects of framed messages (gain, loss, or mixed) on parental social support cognitions and behaviours, and changes in youth PA reported over four weeks (Ninitial=224 parents of children aged 5-11, Nweek1=164, Nweek4=126). Repeated measures ANOVAs revealed significant increases in planning PA (p=0.001), subjective norms (p=0.01), perceived behavioural control (p=0.0001), and intentions for social support (p=0.002) from pre- to immediately post-exposure regardless of message frame. However, these positive trends did not carry-over to one-week follow-up. Nevertheless, actual PA social support provided by parents to their children was significantly higher at four-weeks compared to week one (p=0.001), with children's weekly PA participation significantly increasing during this time as well (p=0.03). While no significant overall frame by time interactions were found, parents exposed to loss-framed messages inconsistently reported significantly higher social support cognitions and behaviours compared to gain- and mixed-framed. These findings suggest message presence may have more influence than frame when aiming to enhance parent social support cognitions and behaviours. Furthermore, with these effects diminishing beyond immediate exposure, future interventions should encourage parents to create action plans for their children shortly after exposure to PA messages.