Tuesday, July 03, 2012


As with the last few summers   - just too busy with the kids for blogging. TTFN. THM.

The Parenting Teenagers Course, Week 5: Helping them Make Good Choices

The final week of The Parenting Teenagers Course contained a whole load of information and inspiration to help us help our teenagers to handle the increasing responsibility we hand them over these transitional years. By this stage in the course we were well-used to the format they used over the course, of informative talks, mixed up with interviews with a range of experts, along with teenagers and their parents too. This week the information and experiences related focused on the hot topics of drugs, alcohol, sex and the internet - with a wide range of useful pointers with how to empower teenagers and discuss issues meaningfully with them. Interestingly, the experts and parents all agreed that a "drip" approach of initiating small non-threatening discussions regularly is much more useful for shaping teenagers opinions than that of rare, intense, and long discussions which make might make parents feel that the issue has been ticked-off a to-do list, but us unhelpful for any teens. Equally interesting, was the observation made by several teens that they often felt (especially with sex), that they were being pressured into doing things they felt were wrong, or were too soon for them; and that parents can play a useful role in empowering them to have confidence in such decisions for themselves.

After the group discussion - in which we learnt a lot from parents with teenagers several years ahead of our kids, about how they have addressed such issues, part two of week five was entitled, "Equipping Our Teenagers". This re-iterated what we had previously learnt about listening and being available, but built on this with some useful suggestions. One of these was to work through various scenarios with them to ask what they would do, what they would say, and how they would extricate themselves from any situation in which they were uncomfortable. So - one teenager we know was being pressured to smoke, which was something he didn't want to do. He knew when all his mates would be smoking and when he would be under most intense pressure to conform. However, with his parents he had already rehearsed his answer (about his fears about his reduced sports performance) so he wasn't caught unawares, but was ready with an answer. Similar situations on the DVD were discussed including what to say if you realise the person about to drive you home has been drinking..

Other sections suggestions include, offering good and reliable information about sex, drugs, internet, alcohol, keeping track of where they are, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, exposing them to positive role-models, maintaining family traditions/identity. While some of what we are doing accords with much of this, it was useful to identify some areas where the suggested approach might be better.

There was also a short section in week 5 entitled "Praying for Your Teenagers", which was the only 'in yer-face' Christian element of the course which might have been a surprise to anyone coming to the course from outside a church context. The course is billed as being 'from a broadly Christian perspective', and there is a very short prayer at the end of the previous weeks course; but aside from this, the course is suitable for anyone, but anyone advertising the course should be up-front about this, so that any visitors know what they are coming to. The overtly Christian-element is carefully done in a way which is descriptive ("I pray for my kids because...") rather than prescriptive ("you should do x,y,z, because..."). Experience with the Marriage Course suggests that non-church folks are usually either intrigued by this, or dismiss it as irrelevant; but are very rarely offended, nor do they seem to think that it detracts from their appreciation of the course. As such it is nicely pitched so that a church can offer it to the community as a useful, practical service that has the potential to do real good; but without denying or covering-over what the church stands for.

The course is also quite broad in its inclusivity, in that examples given reflect a broad range of family set-ups common today. The caricature of a church-based course is that it would all be based on the experience of white middle-class, traditional family units. The course-writers have made sure that this is not the case, and so the course material is accessible by step-parents, single-parents, separated/divorced parents as well as those in traditional structures. Amongst interviewees on the DVD's there are a whole range of experiences reflected as well.

We come away from the end of the Parenting Teenagers Course with many observations and comments. The first is a positive recommendation, that the course is relevant, helpful, realistic and enjoyable. We are at the very beginning of the teenage years, but have already made quite a few changes to our parenting for the better, both as a result of the DVDs and the conversations with other parents. We have some very specific things we need to aim at, both in terms of our own approach to parenting and what we model to them, and have probably gained important insight into some of the reasons that our teenager reacts to situations the way he does. This inevitably makes us more patient... although there is perhaps more work to do there as well!

The course finale helpfully points out that they are NOT suggesting that their material is a formulaic guide to achieving perfect kids. Rather, they say that the wisdom and tools imparted through the course can enable us to do the very best in the real situations in which we find ourselves. Some great parents have dodgy kids, some great kids have dodgy parents. Nevertheless, our responsibility is to do the very best we can for the kids in our care for a decade or two - and this course has really helpful us.

More at http://www.relationshipcentral.org/

Monday, July 02, 2012


I haven't posted any music up here for ages - but I've been listening to Midlake today, love it... that Mellotron/strings/flute sound soaring through the background with haunting minor chords is so reminiscent of Woolly Wolstenhome.

The Parenting Teenagers Course Week 4: Developing Emotional Health

Week 4 of Alpha's "Parenting Teenagers Course" was as interesting and relevant as the first three weeks - this week looking at the area of "emotional health". Within this there was a very strong emphasis on the uses and abuses of that most powerful emotion; anger.

The DVD began with outlining some of the reasons that households with teenagers are often the scenes for considerable anger. Doing a course like this with other parents is great, because we sometimes have a very angry house - in which emotions can run high, voices rise and sometimes doors slam. While the people on the DVD assure us that this not unusual, its a very reassuring feeling to know from others in the room that we really are not alone in this! The section on "understanding anger" was therefore useful for us - not because it was new information (it was actually quite familiar from the Marriage Course), but as a timely reminder that anger itself is not wrong - but it is something  which can be handled well or badly. Helpfully the DVD points out that learning to handle anger constructively  might take a child 18years, and that modelling patience while they learnt this skill is more helpful for them than responding to their anger with anger.

The Marriage Course contains a useful section on anger in which spouses look at whether they tend towards "Rhino" or "Hedgehog" behaviour, that is to say exploding into anger, or burying anger and avoiding necessary conflict. The same typology is applied here, with the aim of helping firstly parents and then teenagers to be able to address conflict in constructive ways. Critically, (and relevantly for us) this is based on the understanding that our children will learn emotional skills from what they observe from us primarily, and so we need to apply these things to ourselves first, if we are to create the calm, safe and accepting environment they need. They suggest the following principles, (i) don't over-react, take time to calm down in the face of provocation, (ii) don't say hurtful things when angry, don't negatively label teens when addressing poor behaviour (iii) don't withdraw and be afraid of conflict, somethings do need to be said, and issues confronted. I was impressed with the experts who were interviewed on the DVD's who all stressed that as teens develop their own ideas and opinions they should be listened to, but that does not mean they can speak however they want to their parents. The aim must be to create an environment in which they are able to express what they want - but within some basic rules of politeness and respect. Easier said than done - but it does establish a sensible framework for us to strive towards.

The principles for resolving conflict at the end of the evening were again familiar to us as they are not radically different to the Marriage Course ideas which we know so well. What has been challenging has been the change from our kids been small and having to basically passively receive instruction, to a more negotiated pattern as they become teens with their own opinions. This is an ongoing and not always easy process which will continue for a few years yet!

My main learning points from this are to model the controlled and positive use of anger, especially in from of them, as well as to be much more willing to listen to what makes them angry, rather than just rushing on to the next item on life's frantic agenda.

July 1st Sunset

Another irresistible Perth sunset display last night. Click on an images to see them in a detail.