Tuesday, July 03, 2012

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/

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