We've decided that we're going to have a look at Alpha's Parenting Teenagers Course, with another couple. Alpha's previous courses on Marriage and Parenting children have been really useful, and so as we embark on this next phase of life, we thought it would be worthwhile looking for wisdom from those who have had teenagers before us!
Week One of The Parenting Teenagers Course was fascinating. As our oldest is 12, we have a lot to learn and so while the Parenting Children Course re-enforced a lot of things we already knew we ought to be doing - I learnt a lot of new things on this.
The emphasis on the first week of the course is on keeping the long view, or keeping the end in sight; in other words contextualising the various storms that come and go with turbulent teens in the light of our stated goals as parents - the kind of responsible, caring people we hope to turn out at the other end! In the light of this the first week of the course contained a lot of material which is designed to educate parents about the pressures teens are under (both socially and biologically) and what parents can do to support them through all this. Some of the medical/social/psychological stuff about stages of brain development and hormones was really fascinating. My wife's medical training meant that she was aware of much of this, but to me it was all new (it is after all, a mighty long time since I was a teenager!).
The second half of the evening asked us to think through what kind of home environment we should be seeking to create which is a safe, happy, accepting place, a secure base from which teenagers can start to explore the world, and their new identities as newly emerging adults. The importance of modelling good values such as love, forgiveness, saying sorry, handling anger, valuing people over possessions (more than lecturing on such topics) may be obvious, but probably can't be overstated. The evidence suggests that teenagers lean a huge amount about how to conduct their own adult relationships by watching us!
One word which came up repeatedly throughout each session of the first week was 'listening'. In the section about moving boundaries, expanding freedoms and evolving rules - it was pointed out that as they become adults they need to be listened to and have their views respected - even more so than when they were smaller. Listening requires availability and proximity and so adjustments to lifestyles may need to be made in order to facilitate that. It was pointed out that a teenager who does not feel listened to about the ordinary stuff of life (TV, football etc), will be less able to speak to a parent if they are really needing to talk about something serious, of major consequence. This was all very helpful.
Finally, like the parenting children course, there is the opportunity for discussion with other parents. The other people we are looking at this material with have got three teenagers, from younger teens through to almost student-age. They have several more years experience in this than us - and so working through the discussion questions with them was really, really good. Having experienced so much, their comments in the discussions were insightful, revealing, encouraging but also quite challenging.
I liked the way that the course DVD emphasised that each teenager, and each family is different and that there are no formulas which can guarantee outcomes. On the other hand, to enter the process with eyes open, expectations realistic and some idea of what we are aiming at and what kind of tools we need to bring to the process is all good. Presentationally the DVD is probably the best of any of Alpha's Family Life stuff which I have seen - nicely put together and easy to use. I'm looking forward to doing the 'homework' section, part of which we work through with our teenager, and on to next week when we look at the subject, 'meeting teenagers needs'.