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News & Views - Dec, 1995 Issue #37 

by: Stephen & Patricia Whitehurst
Mountain Valley County Home for Girls
LaPine, Oregon

Not long after we started bringing troubled adolescent girls into our home, we began to see a need for a better initial information exchange between the parents and ourselves. To start off on the right foot, we needed to know "What it was the parents were looking for in a transitional home," and the parents needed to be reassured that their concerns were understood and covered. Good information exchange was not easy since the conversations were usually done with a backdrop of confusion, turmoil, uncertainty and desperation. We had been doing fine on exchanging information on things like program details and each girl's behavior problems. What we needed was information that would not only help us help the child, but would allow us to help the parents by understanding their anxieties, confusions, and issues. Out of this need came the "Parents Interview." 

Although concerns of parents have covered a wide range, in our experience, the following six seemed to be the most common, and almost universal concerns by parents looking to place their child in a Transition Home. 

1.)  Safety. 
2.)  Relationships and "emotional growth." 
3.)  Family values. 
4.)  Self esteem. 
5.)  Location 
6.)  Moral values and acceptable social behavior. 

The number one problem that each of the parents interviewed stated as being the most detrimental to the welfare of their child was the lack of moral and social ethics. Each stated that their child was, in their opinion, making decisions about their lives that were putting them in dangerous, and in some cases, life threatening situations. While moral ethics does not seem to be the word of choice, when all is said, the meaning of morals carries the sum of what the parents are in search of. To parents, morals can mean character, or principles in regard to conduct/behavior. And/or, it can mean right, just or virtuous according to civilized standards of right and wrong. Or, it can mean good in character and conduct. 

Most of the parents were bewildered and at a loss as to what to do about their child's sexual activities, especially in this time of sex related diseases with the emphasis on AIDS. It is not for a lack of educational knowledge that these teens seem to have so little regard for their health or welfare. They know the dangers of unsafe sex and drug related hazards. When the teen is asked why they would have unsafe sex, two very honest answers come forth: "It feels better without a condom" and "I really don't think I will get anything." How is a parent going to deal with these answers. Most parents feel inadequate, it's like being in a foreign country and not knowing the language. 

Most of the parents strongly felt that if their child were placed somewhere, away from their present environment, that they would have the opportunity to reevaluate their behavior, their choice of friends and their own lives without the influence of their present peers. While parents do not solely put the blame on the friends of their child, they do seem to unanimously believe that the influence of others is a very strong motivational deterrent to acceptable behavior. The idea of a quiet setting away from the fast pace of city living with its typical malls, hangouts, gangs, was to each parent an appealing prospect. 

Another issue of importance to each parent was that their child be in a place where there was a family atmosphere. Where the child could interact with and be part of a family unit, to learn to face and deal with issues of confrontation, difference of opinions, without the threat of a violent explosion, or a "fight or flight" response. They believed that in the family unit is the ability to learn the art of give and take, and that in an argument no one is the real victor. That it takes compromise on both sides of a disagreement. Adults who grew up in an era where one's parents were to be obeyed and are discovering that in the minds of today's youth, parental authority carries very little weight, are often very frustrated. Teens want to know what gives a parent the right to dictate to them how to live their lives. There seems to be little respect for the older generation which many parents find most unsettling. 

One of the most asked questions was, "Will someone be there for my child at all times?" It seems to be very important that the child not be left alone for any extended period of time. In fact, most parents request that the child not be left without adult supervision for any length of time for at least the first few months. It is important for them to know that someone will always be ready to offer counseling and guidance or to be ready to just listen when the child is dealing with any number of private issues. 

We found the ability to relate ranked high in the interviews. Not only being able to relate to the child, but also to the parent. Phd's and other credentials did not seem to as important to the parents as personal experience, (i.e. "Have you ever been through this?") and years of interacting with adolescent children. 

The "Parents Interview" helped us to obtain vital information early in the relationship. We have found that to help a child, it has been just as helpful to understand the parent's concerns as it is to understand the child's fears. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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