Parent to parent

When children enter their teenage years they often set problems
their parents feel ill-equipped to deal with. This has led some in
the voluntary sector to launch much-needed services, with
government backing, writes Barbara Kissman.

The media frenzy about parents’ control of “teenage tearaways”
has added to the anxiety and pressures that parents feel about the
one job in life they have never received training for. When the
Home Office introduced parenting orders for parents of young
offenders, many of these parents found, probably for the first
time, someone who was there to listen to their difficulties and
give them some support.

The home secretary, David Blunkett, has recently insisted on the
importance of parenting classes as well as parenting orders. It is
worth emphasising, though, that because parenting is such a diverse
and challenging job, which requires a multitude of skills, all
parents at some time or other need different levels of support and

Recent research has shown that the transition from primary to
secondary school is a time of high anxiety for children and
parents. In addition to the challenge of changing schools, the
young person aged 11 will begin, over the following few years, to
go through the greatest change he or she will ever experience in
their lives, namely the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Although this change may be difficult for the child, it is more
often than not just as difficult for the parents as they have to
get used to the growing realisation that their child is at the
beginning of adolescence and the journey along this road may be a
very bumpy one. This is when the support will really be needed to
help equip parents and enhance their skills to gain an
understanding of the process of adolescence and the role of the

Child care and parenting issues go hand in hand and, in 1999,
the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations (NCVCCO)
secured funding from the Home Office family support grant to
establish a supporting families project. Now in its third year this
project has successfully highlighted the importance of continuing
support for parents and so far has focused on teenage parents,
fathers and fatherhood, and parenting teenagers.

The project has drawn on the voluntary sector’s strengths in
supporting families and has shown the importance of the work that
has been done. However, it has also demonstrated the necessity of
investing more actively in this approach. Many projects and a lot
more work and realistic funding are needed to raise awareness about
the difficulties with all of these aspects of parenting.

Last year we organised a focus group about parenting teenagers
with workers from family support organisations already working with
parents of teenagers. A highly significant gap was identified in
the lack of support services for parents of pre-teens. Support
services for parents at this transitional stage from primary to
secondary school are critical, as it also coincides with the
transitional life changes occurring at puberty. The group discussed
this at great length and concluded that something must be done to
fill this gap and that the voluntary sector was well placed to do
it. Out of the five recommendations from the focus group there was
one in particular which demonstrated that parents themselves were
the best people to give support and advice, and to empower other
parents through their own experience.

With this idea in mind the NCVCCO is launching a pilot
parent-to-parent mentoring scheme, funded by the Home Office family
support grant, aimed at supporting parents of pre-teens. Briefly,
the aim of this scheme is to develop a mentoring or befriending
system by using as “experts” the parents of older teenagers (aged
15-18). These experienced parents will have participated in a
parenting course thereby increasing their own awareness and skills
and with additional training will become volunteers giving extra
support to parents of pre-teens (aged 10 or 11) who have asked for
some extra guidance and support.

The aim is to pilot this mentoring project in several regions in
England and work in partnership with education authorities and
voluntary agencies, who are already working with parents of
teenagers and have good links with schools.

The Parenting Teenager Focus Group report and further
details of the mentoring project from Barbara Kissman, Supporting
Families Project Officer, tel 020 7833 3319 or e-mail:

Barbara Kissman is supporting families
project officer, National Council of Voluntary Child Care

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