Program helps parents, children understand each other

More than any other time in a child’s life, the teenage years can be the most volatile and difficult.

Parents often don’t understand why their kids are acting so different during this tumultuous time. Teens are convinced that their parents are being unnecessarily strict. The two sides seem to be at constant battle, and tension is omnipresent.

But a new program through Purdue Extension Johnson County is aimed at helping families navigate those difficulties.

The extension office is offering a free workshop to help local families improve their relationships and tighten the bonds between members. The seven-session program aims at preparing parents and children for the transition to the teen years. Together, they’ll work on improving communication, nurturing and effective guidance.

Formally known as the Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth 10-14, the series has proven successful in stemming substance abuse as well as reducing behavioral and emotional troubles.

“The main goal is to help kids resist peer pressure, and building those communication skills in both the parents and the youth,” said Danielle Dennis, health and human services educator for Purdue Extension Johnson County. “A lot of times, we’re only focusing on the youth, but sometimes we forget about the parents. So we’re bridging that gap.”

Strengthening Families was created by Iowa State University Extension, who put together the curriculum and all of the materials that have been used by extension groups all over.

In Indiana, the program is being piloted in Indianapolis and the surrounding counties, including Johnson County, Dennis said.

“We’re very fortunate to be part of this pilot program, and to see if this is going to be successful in our county, and to see what we can do to really empower families to build that connection with their children,” she said.

The program unfolds over seven weeks. Participants meet every Thursday night for two hours. At the start, the parents and the children are separated to work in their own small groups.

Facilitators will help each group understand the concepts and practices that make a strong, healthy family. They’ll watch videos about how to improve interactions between family members, how to listen to each other and how to show love while setting limits.

The kids session will focus more on activities and games to teach the best way to get along with parents, siblings and peers.

“Making the kids and the parents feel comfortable by separating them first to have those conversations, then bringing them back together so that they’re not afraid to speak up,” Dennis said.

After the two groups work separately, parents and children will come back together to put some of the concepts they’ve learned into practice, said Brooke Price, one of the facilitators of the program.

Topics covered include having family meetings so everyone understands each other’s schedules, having house rules and the consequences that come when those rules aren’t followed.

“It will help each side understand each other,” Price said. “It will help the youth to know when their parents are stressed, that it’s not just that they’re being mean or being bad parents. It lets them know that life does happen and stress does happen.”

Price and the other facilitators will also have resources, such as trained counselors, where families can turn if they have additional issues that the program does not reach.

While the core goal of the program is to build stronger family bonds, research by Iowa State University has found that an ancillary benefit is that participating youth are less likely to use drugs, alcohol and tobacco later on.

The World Health Organization named Strengthening Families the No. 1 prevention program for substance abuse out of 6,000 programs analyzed around the world.

“We’ve seen substance abuse and misuse go down as a result of this program,” Dennis said. “We’re really excited to bring it here and hopefully make an impact.”

The first session starts on Feb. 28 and lasts until April 18. A second session is already planned to start in June, Price said.

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Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth 10-14

What: A seven-session program that works to improve family relationships, parenting skills and youth social skills.

Who: All families with youth ages 10 to 14.

When: Feb. 28, March 7, 14 and 21, April 4, 11 and 18.

Time: Dinner is provided at 5:30 p.m.; program is from 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Grace United Methodist Church, 1300 E. Adams Dr., Franklin

Cost: Free; childcare is provided for children not participating in the program.

Register: By contacting Danielle Dennis at 317-736-3724 or [email protected]. RSVP by Feb. 14.