Youthlinks delivers advice to parents and their teens

Posted July 03, 2011, at 4:53 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Gordon Liu sat with a box of oatmeal raisin and a box of chocolate chip cookies, just in case. But he didn’t expect any parents to show up to his “how to talk to your teen” seminar last week and eat his sweets.

He has been running the parenting program through Youthlinks, a nonprofit in Rockland, and so far six parents have enrolled in as many months. It’s a pretty basic program that asks parents to spend some time with their teenager discussing anger, communication, friends, drugs and more.

“A lot of the parents say it’s too much time. We ask them to spend two hours a week with their teen,” Liu said.

For the parents in the program, it’s working well, he said. He knows because Youthlinks gets feedback from a website where parents report what things they like — or don’t — in the self-paced, at-home program.

For instance, the program, which includes free DVDs and books, asks parents to think back to what they were like as teenagers and share that with their child.

“They realize they have a lot of similarities,” Liu said.

But some things parents look back on in their own past can be uncomfortable to share with their child. Like drug use.

“One thing is how much to disclose to their teen about what they did themselves,” Liu said.

The answer is, “it depends on their relationship.”

Another discussion parents have told Liu has been helpful is anger and how to deal with it. Sometimes, when arguments get heated, the teen or the parent will walk out infuriated. The program aims to give the child and parents tools to try to calm down and communicate that they are angry and why, rather than letting it escalate.

One thing that comes up frequently is parents who want their children to stay away from drugs.

“It seems to be difficult to convince their teen they shouldn’t smoke, for example,” Liu said. “It can frustrate them not to know what to do.”

So the program tries to empower the parents, according to Youthlinks program director Amie Hutchison.

“A lot of this is about telling the parents that what they say matters,” Hutchison said. “A lot of teen behavior depends on if they think they will get caught and having clear boundaries.”

The reason Youthlinks started the program was because both sides seemed to be begging for the help.

“We hear from parents that they are worried about their teen, that they don’t know how to talk to them anymore. This program is such a good tool to give parents a thing to turn to,” Hutchison said. “We also hear from teens all the time that their parents ‘don’t get me,’ ‘they don’t communicate’ or simply, ‘they suck.’”

And Hutchison isn’t naive enough to think a few books, DVDs and sit-downs with a teenager will resolve all those issues, but it’s a starting point, she said.

“It’s cheesy, but if your parent approaches you and says ‘I care about you and here is something we can do together’ the teen will see they’re trying,” she said.

And according to the feedback the program is getting, the teens are trying. They’re having the discussions with their parents.

But it’s difficult to get parents to enroll in a parenting program like this one.

“I think there is a stigma involved in asking for help. Are you a bad parents if you need a parenting program? And they don’t think their teen will be into it. We have a lot of barriers,” Huchison said.

The “how to talk to your teen” program is free. Youthlinks will hold another seminar 6 p.m. Thursday, July 28, at its home on Broadway in Rockland. It will also host one at the same time on the same date in Belfast at 5 Stephenson Lane. For more information visit youthlinksonline.org.

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