Thursday, January 5, 2012

How is a birthing class different from a workshop for parents of teens?

We suspect that many parents reading this blog participated in some form of birthing class while expecting their first child.   Lamaze and other childbirth education classes have become a normal part of what many expectant parents do.  It is important to note that this was not always so.  It is also important to note that women have been having babies for a long time, and it can be done without taking a class.

Here in midcoast Maine, birthing classes are suggested as a way for new parents to become educated about what to expect, some of the potential hazards that may come along, and what tools and techniques others have found helpful.  People can see the logic in signing up to learn more even if they probably will not have a difficult birth.  The classes are not treatment—they are more preventative in nature; they increase the likelihood of a positive experience.

Parenting workshops and classes for parents seem—to us—to fall in the same category as birthing classes.  They provide information about common problems encountered when raising children, provide an opportunity to share ideas with other parents, and provide coaches who model techniques that parents may find useful in given situations.  Taking a parenting workshop doesn't imply that you can't parent, any more than taking a Lamaze class implies that a woman couldn't have a baby without it.  You can successfully parent a child through their adolescent years without taking a parenting workshop, but participating in quality parenting workshops has been shown to increase the likelihood that these years can be navigated with less conflict.

Happily armed with this knowledge, and driven by data indicating that family conflict was a widespread risk factor for the problem behaviors that our CTC Coalition is trying to reduce, we began offering a program known as Guiding Good Choices or GGC back in 2005.  This series of five workshops for parents of 9-14 year olds has been proven in multiple studies to improve parenting skills and parent-child interactions; reduce adolescent substance abuse; reduce adolescent depressive symptoms; and reduce rates of self-harm by teens.  In high quality research studies, children of participants had 40% lower rates of alcohol and marijuana use; 54% less progression to more serious substance abuse; 26% greater likelihood of remaining drug free if not already using drugs; 38% lower rates of self-harm; and 28% fewer feelings of worthlessness. In other words, it works!

We recruited great facilitators, offered free childcare and homework help to all children in the family during the program times, and provided a meal for the entire family prior to the start of the workshop.  It requires that families give up only one night a week for five weeks.  We offered the program to parents for free.  We addressed all of the barriers that we could think of in order to have high rates of participation from local families.  We set out to reach our goal of serving at least 45 Five Town parents of 9-14 year olds each year.

We ran a few workshops and got great feedback from parents who came.  Those who came found it enjoyable and useful, but getting more parents to take the important step of coming to the first workshop proved frustratingly difficult.  We began to ask other agencies across the nation how they encouraged participation in parent programs and began to realize that American parents don't seem to flock to parent workshops if they aren't having "problems" with their children.  Most parents of pre-teens, it seems, go along without the sense of urgency to arm themselves with new knowledge that they have when the first pregnancy test reads positive.

Now, this may be because most of us have memories of being a teen and some parents believe that they learned what they needed from how their parents handled their upbringing.  (Memories of being born are not quite so accessible!)  But, it seems to us that there must be a larger issue at work here when considering why parents don't see value in workshops for parents of adolescents.  An adult's experience as a teen is pretty limited if you really think about it.  Most of us were raised by only one (or maybe two) family units, and many of us learned a few unhealthy habits from parents who were doing the best that they could.  Our memory is also affected by the fact that our experiences as teens are formed when our brains aren't yet done developing.

Could it be that our community doesn't think family conflict happens here?  Data tells us differently; in 2010 more than 57% of grade 8 students in the Five Towns reported that their family regularly experiences conflict.  Could it be that our community doesn't think that the programs offered work?  Data tells us differently; Guiding Good Choices has been repeatedly tested in many different types of communities and has been shown to make significant, positive differences.  Could it be that parents here don't care about their kids?  We don't believe so.  We have plenty of evidence that parents here care very much about their families.  Could it be that signing up for the workshops makes parents look vulnerable, or like they are "bad" parents?  Perhaps...

We really would like to hear what YOU think about this.  Why YES to birthing classes but NO to Guiding Good Choices?  Or did you say no to both?

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