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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 1998 Issue #51


by: Cat Jennings, Director 
Stone Mountain School
Black Mountain, North Carolina

Stone Mountain School has always believed that family involvement is a key part of working with youth. The major obstacle we faced in implementation was the fact that we have parents spread out literally from coast to coast. We finally overcame this obstacle by scheduling the first Parent Seminar (February 6th) to coincide with family day visits the following day. This schedule provided us with a great turnout as parents arrived from as far away as California. (We are in North Carolina). 

We had many goals we wanted to address but knew that it would be necessary to focus on the most important. It would be easy to overwhelm ourselves and dampen parent enthusiasm, by trying to cover too much material in too short a time. After all, there is only so much ground that can be covered in a day. 

The agenda was actually simple: 

First, we discussed the guilt that is often associated with a parentís decision to send their child away from home. We looked at it, talked about its value to the family in their time of need, talked about strategies to cope with it, and then put it into its appropriate place, out of the picture. It cannot help anyone. 

We presented an overview of our school philosophy, briefly explaining William Glasserís Reality Therapy and Maslowís hierarchy of needs. We explained how it was utilized as a guide in the development of our level system. 

We presented the following concepts about human behavior and the development of negative and positive habits that we hold to be true: 

All behavior has a purpose. Most behavior is learned (therefore we CAN learn new ones). Behavior is the result of unmet needs (even if we are not aware of them). Everyone is doing the best they know how at the time (even if it looks pretty bad). Consistency among parents, teachers and residential staff is extremely important. 

With a foundation of the above, we discussed why we use the wilderness to work with children and how it helps us do the job. This led us to how they as parents can support the process and their studentís progress throughout his learning experience. This includes regular letters from home, attendance at family days, and maintaining consistent responses that emphasize clear and predictable limits. 

Clearly one of the strongest things that came from this seminar was a better understanding of their childís process working through the program. Often parents want their student to do well and do well the first time. I have never met a child who did not want the same thing. However this is an unrealistic and sometimes counter-productive goal. 

What we are doing is all about practice. The way you learn something new is to try a new behavior, see if it works, and then become proficient. The only way to achieve proficiency is to practice, practice, practice. This takes time. Time to try and fail. Time to try and succeed. To try and fail, etc. No one, and certainly not children, give up unhealthy habits until: A. it is worth it to THEM (not their parents) AND, B. they have another behavior habit that will serve them better. 

This can only be established over time. We talked at length about how frustrating it can be to watch our child struggle, advance, slide back, over and over. But we must remember that this is how we all learn. We need to allow them their process or their success can only be artificial compliance instead of true long term change. 

Of course, it is always helpful to know you are not the only one who is having problems. The parents all reported that it was wonderful to meet the other families and get to know each other. They stayed at the same hotel and had meals together (their own choice) and then were able to spend more time the next day for the family day visit. 

It was a very intense two days for my program director Linda and myself, but the rewards are great. The parents seem very pleased, and an unexpected by-product is a decrease in concerned phone calls from parents after receiving progress reports and calls and letters from their students. 

We remain dedicated to the concept of family involvement and are proud of our parents for the huge turn-out for the seminar. When the family is willing to take on their role in helping their child, the prognosis for success is sky-high. 

Copyright © 1998, 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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