As the old saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Today, this adage too often applies to parents struggling with teens.
Baffled by unruly kids who can’t be reined in, many parents may find themselves seeking help in nearly every corner—doctors, therapists, consultants, clergy, and even celebrity nannies—with the hope of finding a course of action that will fix their problem and take away their family’s pain.
There is hope say parenting and education experts Laura and Malcolm Gauld.
“Things don’t have to become so desperate,” says Malcolm, President of Hyde Schools and, with his wife Laura, co-author of the parenting book The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. “In my three decades of teaching, I have seen even the worst teen scenarios, against the most challenging odds, turn around. There are alternative schools out there for parents who are looking for additional support in raising and educating their children.”
When grades slip, kids get suspended or expelled, or other troubles arise, some parents become uncomfortable with their child’s school, feeling the child is perhaps too far under the radar screen. They begin to consider other school options.
“From our experience, we have found that there are truly helpful approaches in education, including alternative schools that offer teen programs – those that address the whole child, that take a holistic approach to learning and growth,” says Laura, Head of School at Hyde School in Woodstock, Connecticut. “And they often involve the entire family…or the parents.”
The Gaulds speak informatively about the various educational options available for children and families throughout the country. Their own schools boast of a teen program rooted in character education. The forty-four-year-old program sets the goal of creating a positive peer culture for teens who are often highly influenced by social pressures or who are college bound and need additional academic support.
“Parents should know that finding a school for their children that is serious about involving and supporting the parents, particularly at the teenage level, is a real plus…where kids are invited to speak plainly about their challenges and frustrations, are not ostracized for being who they are, and parents are supported and encouraged to share their true experience as parents – often quite different than what they project. This approach can empower parents who often feel at a loss with what to do with their teenagers.”
“As parents, we often try to be perfect,” says Malcolm. “But there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and the sooner we embrace that, the sooner we feel liberated to do the actual work that can move the family in a more productive direction.”
The Gaulds also see and hear from many parents who cannot or do not need to make an alternative school choice for their children, but who seek additional parenting support as either a proactive measure or to gain perspective as their children grow and change. They offer some helpful guidelines that, if applied regularly, can guide parents as they raise their children:
- PARENTS: KNOW THE JOB. Don’t seek to be your child’s friend. This is a tough one, because we all want good relationships with our children. But the goal of parenthood is not to be liked, it is to raise good, decent adults and prepare them well for life.”Parents may be seeking friendship with their children,” says Laura. “If that friendship doesn’t happen, parents may blame themselves and retreat into work. Years go by, nothing changes, and people lament in silence.”
- TREAT YOUR KID LIKE A WORK-IN-PROGRESS – NOT LIKE A PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED. “The fact is many of us think if we could just fix the problem – our kids’ acting out, bad behavior – we could go along in life just fine,” says Laura. “But there is no quick fix.” “When parents stop focusing solely on their kids as ‘the problem’ and start focusing on their own attitudes,” says Malcolm, “members of the family begin to shift and opportunities for family growth present themselves.”
- DON’T WAIT TO ADDRESS ISSUES WITH YOUR TEEN. “Most parents have difficulty asking for help and wait until things get out of control,” says Laura. “Lowering the bar ever so gradually, they are unaware that they are also lowering their expectations of their children. This waiting and lowering of expectations adds to the problem and interferes with our children’s ability to respond and reach their potential.”
- MODEL DAILY CHARACTER. To be an example to their kids, parents need to model daily character. If we want our kids to be honest, authentic people who make positive choices, we need to do the same. Parents need to parent from principles rather than from their emotions — either those tied to their children or their own needs. Through modeling principles daily and showing kids how our actions speak louder than our words, parents can show their kids how they can reach for their best.
“We don’t reach our children with our stoic facades, or with our rules,” says Laura. “We connect to them by sharing our struggles, our vulnerability, our similar experiences and stories from childhood, warts and all. We inspire them when we are real people.”
The Gaulds urge parents to do their research when seeking alternative school choices or parenting advice, reminding them that some of the best answers can be found by calling schools with parenting programs and asking to speak with parents who have been or are enrolled in the program.
“Everyone with kids has or will go through the teenage years,” says Malcolm. “And most everyone is eager to share their experiences with getting through that period – what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes parents can find some of the most valuable information by reaching out to other like-minded parents and just talking.”
“We want parents to know there is hope out there for their families…and a good amount of support,” adds Laura. “Teenage attitudes can be tricky, but there are ways to turn them around and help kids continue to develop the best in themselves…parents just have to engage with those who understand parenting and where to find good resources, such as strong teen programs.”