Thursday, April 30, 2015

Parenting Workshop in Secondary School (part 1)

I have recently attended a parenting workshop at Montfort Secondary School and I thought some of the issues we’ve discussed are worth sharing. Parenting after all is a lifelong learning process – from the time our kids were born up to the time they have families of their own.

This specific workshop invited parents of Secondary 3 boys – teenagers and challenges parents face in this stage. Although we have not encountered any serious problem having a teenager in the house, I felt there is still a need to educate ourselves (myself and my husband) on the HOWs and WHYs and WHATs, to know what to expect as we all go through another phase in our child’s life.

The topics listed in the letter to parents were as follows:
  • ·         Revisit your own adolescence
  • ·         Be a boundary
  • ·         A period of tremendous change
  • ·         Teens think differently

I found the workshop very helpful in opening up new insight about parenting as well as enlightening me in some issues that have been troubling me for years. I was quite impressed with the speaker, Mr Alvin Ong, who is also the Director of Pivotal Lifeskills. He has more than 10 years of experience as life skills trainer and promoter of healthy family values. His warm and bubbly personality created a very cozy atmosphere to the parents to open up. He conducted the workshop in a more interactive and fun way so the attendees didn’t feel too serious and restricted. He introduced himself and asked each of us to do the same (name and how many kids we have). Then he asked us to stand up, shake hands and tell each other something good about our sons. Would you believe we even played thumb wrestling to loosen our nerves?

Anyway, here are some highlights of the parenting workshop that made me reflect on my parenting ways and make necessary adjustments, if need be, to achieve a more harmonious and struggle-free relationship with my boys.
  • Parents want control, children want freedom. Isn’t that true for most of us? Even when we think about our teenage years, some of us probably have gone through this stage of wanting more freedom to do what we want to do because we thought we were already becoming adults. At this stage though, parents are still hanging on to that role as someone who has control over their teenagers because as the saying goes, “we know what’s best for our children”.

Alvin asked us to rate ourselves (from 1 to 10) what we think is our control level. After that, he asked us to rate our spouses. Most of those who rated themselves very high have rated their spouses low. It shows that someone usually takes a more controlling role between the parents while the other seems to be more lax. This issue of control has to be discussed clearly between parents so as not to confuse their already bewildered teenager. Wouldn’t it be better if we can strike a proper balance between our want for more control and our teenagers’ yearning for more freedom? Two words come into mind – LETTING GO. I have to always remind myself to learn to let some matters go and let my boys explore, make mistakes and learn from their mistakes.
  • Remember that it’s just a phase. We’ve gone through it, got pass it, and grew up to be mature individuals (I hope). Expect problems to arise because our boys are going through physical and hormonal changes. They themselves are also confused about what’s happening to them at this stage. If we are not there standing by them, guiding them, supporting them and growing with them, it becomes a more challenging life chapter for both parents and teenagers. 

  • Believe you are the best. Alvin threw a question which most of us found difficult to answer. “Who do you think is the best parent?” No one dared to raise a hand. Maybe out of modesty. Maybe because we all believed we weren’t. He then approached one of the parents and said that since she thinks she’s not the best parent would she be willing to give her son for other parents to raise? She immediately answered with a resounding NO. His follow up question was “why”? Her answer, and probably what all of us in that room thought about, was, “because there is no best parent to raise our kids but ourselves”. That kept us quiet in our seats as realization sank in and Alvin reassured us that we are the best parents to our own children. He followed up by asking us to say this reaffirming phrase, “I am the best parent to my children”.

At one point during the workshop, he also asked us to look at the parent on our right and give him/her a pat in the back, then look to the one on our left and give him/her a pat in the back. Then turn to ourselves and give ourselves a pat in the back. We have done and continue to do the best we can to guide our children as they grow up and for that we deserve a pat in the back. Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves that we forget to acknowledge our own achievements as parents. No one is a perfect parent but the fact that we try to be the best for our children is already good enough.

The Cycle of Parenting was also discussed. It took into account different parenting strategies more applicable and effective to use in the different stages of our children’s life. I thought that if couples have this information way ahead of parenting stage it will be more reassuring knowing we know where to go from and where to head to.

  1. age of imitation (age 0-5) – at this age, parents should instill DISCIPLINE to their children. Parents act as role models
  2. age of instruction (age 6-12) – at this stage, children are old enough to be follow instructions. Parents should TRAIN their children according to what their reasonable expectations are (eg. In terms of studying, manners, etc). We teach them what’s right and wrong, and the repercussions of doing what is wrong.
  3. age of inspiration (age 13-21) – at this stage, parents should act as COACH to their teenagers. Someone to give them inspiring words, reassuring them that they are there to support the children every step of the way.  
  4. age of maturity (age 21 and above) – BEFRIEND. At this stage, children have already matured and become adults like their parents. And what better way to have a closer relationship to your children than to be their friends who treat them as matured adults and still be able to gain their respect as parents.

These parenting strategies for each stage in our children’s lives reinforce the idea of “growing with our children”. Some rules, conditions, boundaries and punishments applicable in the earlier stage of our children’s lives are no longer be appropriate at the later stage. Although the age limits set in the stages mentioned are arbitrary given that children mature differently from each other, we have to be able to gauge what parenting technique is most effective in their development.

Alvin shared a story pertaining to this matter:
During dinner, a mother calls her son who happens to be playing games in the computer (wearing a headset). When the son did not reply, the mother shouted and threatened to turn the computer off if the son doesn’t go to the dinner table immediately. Still, there was no action from the son. The mother shouted again and this time walked to the son’s room carrying a cane and about to hit the son with it. The son blocked her mother, took the cane out of her hand and threw it outside the window. Then he went back to playing his computer game.
The question thrown at us was whether the son was wrong in doing that to his mother. Most of us said it was very wrong and disrespectful for the son to do that. Others thought that the mother was in the wrong. The twist in the story – the son was already an adult, an ITE or poly student. Some of us may say it is still not right for the son to behave the way he did with his mother but the point of sharing that story was to show that the mother did not progress in the cycle of parenting. She was stuck in the stage where she used discipline and instruction and treated her son as if he was still a little boy who would cringe with fear at the sight of a cane. The mother’s shouting also didn’t help as it made the atmosphere between them more strained. Instead of calmly approaching her son, she barged into the room threating to beat him. The story made me reflect on the times when I was not able to control my temper and resorted to raising my voice instead of calming myself down before confronting my son. I’ve personally experienced the difference in outcome when I do consciously choose to have a more calm approach to a heated situation rather than blow up in front of my kids. How we retain our composure does affect the outcome of such encounters with our children.

This is just the first part of the workshop that I wish to share with you. Part 2 is coming up. There I will share topics discussed during the workshop about boundaries with teens.

Feel free to share your parenting experiences which you found effective in dealing with your children, especially teenagers. I would love to read about parenting techniques that I may be able to apply at home.

I felt good leaving the workshop with a renewed commitment to continue being the best parent my children could have. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us, reassure us. And that we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves when things don't go the way we planned. It's just a phase and we will go through a lot of theses phases with our children. If we don't learn to let go of some for them to be able to spread their wings, we may well be hindering their development and the possibility of building a very good relationship with them when they grow up to be adults.

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