December 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA3

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The Magic Years: Parent Education by Spanish Language Radio

The Magic Years is a series of 40 three- to four-minute Spanish language radio spots on parenting infants and toddlers. Of the 224 women who signed-up to listen to the series on Spanish language radio, 154 completed both pre- and post-series interviews on their parenting beliefs. At post-program interviews, these women expressed appreciation for the series and, compared to their pre-program answers, were significantly more likely to give correct responses to a number of the parenting questions.

Dorothea Cudaback, Ph.D.
Family Development Specialist
Cooperative Extension
University of California
Berkeley, California
Internet address:

Mary K. Marshall, M.A.
Home Economist (Retired)
Cooperative Extension
San Bernadino County
University of California

Josephine Knox, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Social Work
University of Texas
Arlington, Texas

Extension's justifiable concern about young children prompted one of our newest national initiatives, Plight of Young Children (PYC). One aspect of this initiative promotes educational programs for parents of infants and preschoolers who are at risk of delayed development, neglect, or abuse. Our Magic Years series, a California PYC program, is designed to provide needed information to one group of parents, Spanish-speaking mothers, likely to face especially difficult child-rearing challenges.

Hispanics, our fastest growing minority group, grew 53% between the 1980 and 1990 censuses--a growth rate more than seven times that of the non-Hispanic population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). Today, one in ten persons in the United States is Hispanic and it is expected that by the year 2050 one in five persons will be so identified (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). Hispanic families are unevenly distributed; 34% of the nation's Hispanics live in California, 19% in Texas, and 10% in New York (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993).

Life for Hispanic families is often difficult. Compared to white non-Hispanic families, Hispanic families are more likely to be poor and their children are more likely to live with a single or an unmarried mother (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993; Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, 1991). Hispanic children are more likely than non-Hispanic children to do poorly in school (Curiel, 1991) and to drop out before completing the tenth grade (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990).

The Program

Our concern about Hispanic parents prompted us to conduct a series of focused interviews with members of the Hispanic community. From these interviews, we learned that Hispanic women wanted and needed parenting information and that Spanish language radio is a popular source of information and entertainment for Spanish-speaking mothers.

In response to our interviews, we developed "The Magic Years (Los Anos Magicos de la Infancia)," a series of 40 three- to four-minute parenting information radio spots for parents of infants and toddlers. The series, broadcast on Spanish language radio, includes 16 scripts related to child abuse and neglect (handling personal tensions effectively, preventing childhood accidents, using non-physical discipline, etc.), four scripts on nutrition and food, and nine on play and teaching. Other scripts deal with such topics as showing affection, communicating with children, and building children's self-esteem. The topics were chosen in consultation with a Hispanic mental health worker.

The series has been aired twice. Each series was publicized by Spanish language radio, flyers distributed through Hispanic agencies, and items in Spanish language newspapers. Enrollees were promised a set of handouts on parenting and an invitation to a post-series fiesta. Listeners enrolled in the series by phoning the county office of Cooperative Extension where a Spanish-speaking interviewer completed a pre-program questionnaire about child development and parenting. Each series aired at regularly scheduled times. One hundred and thirty-five people signed up for the first series of broadcasts, 119 for the second.

The one-hour, end-of-the-series fiesta featured Mexican music, clowns, radio station personalities, pinatas, raffles of donated prizes, and refreshments. These were lively and popular events attended by mothers, fathers, and children. During the fiestas, those who had signed up for the series were interviewed again, 61 at the first fiesta, and 93 at the second.


Of the 135 women who signed up for the first radio series, 8% were younger than 20, 24% were between 20 and 24, 50% between 25 and 34, and 19% 34 years old or older. Sixty-six percent had less than an eighth grade education; 33% had received some high school education and of these, 2% had attended college. Forty- seven percent had one or two children, 44% had three or four children, and 10% had five or more children. To simplify and shorten the interviews, we did not ask for personal information at the second airing.

Participants' pre-program responses to some interview questions indicated a need for child development or parenting information. Sixty-two percent believed that most children are ready to be toilet trained by their first birthday; 50% believed parents should punish children who have temper tantrums to make them stop; 57% believed that when children won't eat their dinners, parents should fix something special just for them; and 61% believed that parents can keep babies safe by telling them not to touch things and "then you don't have to baby-proof your home."

Between the pre-program and post-program interviews for each radio series, a significant number of participants improved their correct responses to certain questionnaire items. The 61 first- series respondents were more likely to give correct responses to the two statements: "Even good parents feel overstressed sometimes," and "Spanking is the best way to make children behave."

The 93 second-series respondents were significantly more likely to give correct responses to four questions (McNemar's test for pre- and post-test differences, p<.05):

  • "You can teach children right from wrong by spanking them."

  • "Parents should punish children for temper tantrums to make them stop."

  • "You can spoil babies by comforting them when they cry."

  • "Some babies do things just to make trouble for parents, like crying a long time or soiling their diapers."

The success of the program was also reflected in participants' spontaneous comments (translated from Spanish):

  • "The program was extremely helpful in showing methods of raising my two year-old daughter, Alejandra, and 16 month- old son, Andres."

  • "Before the program, I considered all children the same, but afterwards I came to the conclusion that the way our parents educated us may not necessarily be the way we should educate our children."

  • "I learned the value of sharing time with my children; the program had great impact with my husband, too."

Several parents said they were looking forward to similar programs in the future. One suggested that the next program might be on the magic years of adolescence.

After the first airing, we developed a set of 14 one-page, illustrated handouts in English and Spanish on the parenting topics which our interviews with participants had indicated were particularly desired and needed. The topics included managing stress, playing with infants and toddlers, sibling rivalry, managing temper tantrums, discipline, toilet training, nutrition, and parent-child communication. A set of these handouts was given to each parent who attended the second fiesta.


This initial test of "The Magic Years" suggests that many Spanish-speaking mothers need and want information about parenting and child development, that they will listen to a radio series on parenting, and that the series will positively influence some listeners' parenting knowledge and beliefs. The parents we reached appreciated the practical and understandable parenting information, the easy-to-read illustrated Spanish- language handouts on parenting topics, and the family-oriented fiesta.

Our Magic Years program could not have succeeded if we had not listened and responded to our Hispanic informants. They taught us that they cared deeply about their children and wanted to help them succeed in what, for many, was a new and confusing environment. They nudged us into developing a program that fit their special needs and lifestyles. Programming for them was challenging and terrifically rewarding.

As we in Cooperative Extension work to address the Plight of Young Children, we must respond sensitively to the needs of our growing numbers of ethnic minority parents. This will not be business as usual; we will have to learn from them what kind of information they want and how they want to receive it. We may be surprised by what we learn.


Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. (1991). A state by state look at teenage childbearing in the U.S. Flint, MI: Author.

Curiel, H. (1991). Strengthening family and school bonds in promoting Hispanic children's school performance. In M. Sotomayor (Ed.), Empowering Hispanic families: A critical issue for the '90s. Milwaukee, WI: Family Service America.

Nicolau, S., & Ramos, C. L. (1990). Together is better: Building relationships between schools and Hispanic parents. New York: Hispanic Policy Development Project, Inc.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1993). Hispanic Americans today, current population reports. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.