Navigating the teenage years

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July 2011

Parents can call out for help during the turbulent years of raising teens.

Having last month assessed the media’s coverage of the horrific crimes committed against local teen Kimberly Proctor, it would be easy—no, tempting—to be done with the topic and move on. To some degree words in themselves are futile anyway, and a further million spent on worried introspection would still not lead to the enlightenment and resolve required to rid society of such wickedness once and for all.

But the battle is not hopeless, and a community as intricate as ours has many pockets where well-placed support can amount to a good investment in current and future wellness and security. Parenting is one of those crucial pockets, healthy children being the ultimate legacy that one generation can give to the next. The tone of tomorrow’s society—the vision, priorities, compassion and goodness—is, to a large degree, determined by the work of parents today.

Raising a child is a difficult job that gets plenty of mixed messages from the public: You’re on your own (but everyone’s a critic); Lucky you, all cushy at home with the kids; Poor you, all tied down for 20 years and with your wallet on empty; etc.

Having ushered our own kids into young adulthood, we now joke that they were our experimental guinea pigs. Like most parents, we had no real idea what we were in for when they first came home from the hospital. To be caregivers and mentors day in and out, to hold steady against the tide of societal pressures, and to navigate through the uncharted turf of the teenage years—well, we have both the laugh lines and the grey hairs to show for the experience.

The happy times far outweighed the stress, but I do keenly remember the disquiet of slammed doors and the loneliness of early morning hours spent waiting for teens to come home, praying for their safety while casting around for the right words to vocalize the things they didn’t want to hear. We longed for a support group, but because we were merely muddled and not in crisis, never managed to find one. Self-help books mostly induced self-doubt, until we read Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté. An eminently sensible tome, this became our bible for the next few years.

Fortunately, many local resources now offer support for parents as well as for children. The FORCE, a society that advocates for kids’ mental health, has a Victoria chapter that also offers peer support and private consultations specifically for parents. “We don’t have waitlists and all of our services for both parents and kids up to age 19 are free,” says co-ordinator Lisa Hansen, who’s happy to refer parents of children with non-mental health challenges to other good programs in town. Call her at 250-479-1192 or check out the web page at www.bckidsmentalhealth.org.

The Single Parent Resource Centre (www.singleparentvictoria.ca) offers free counselling services and instruction in parenting and life skills. Parents Together, a program presented by the Victoria chapter of the Boys and Girls Club, is a 10-12-week training session for parents wanting to strengthen their relationship with their teens. Find out more at www.bgcvic.org or phone 250-384-9133, ext 222.

Saanich Neighbourhood Place (www.saanichneighbourhoodplace.com) runs several supportive programs including Families CAN, a 13-week program that “builds on parents’ strengths and capacity to nurture their children.” Esquimalt Neighbourhood House offers a similar menu of free services—see www.enh.bc.ca.

Parent Support Services of BC organizes local Parent Support Circles that are “free, confidential, anonymous, weekly meetings of parents who wish to learn new ways to nurture and protect their children.” For further information, call 250-384-8042 or visit www.parentsupportbc.ca.

Find a more comprehensive list of resources, including options for parents of kids with special needs, at www.islandparent.ca/resource/family.html. It’s a document worth keeping and sharing with every parent you know.

These days there’s no need to soldier on alone. It takes a village to raise a child, and while few of us have that in the form of a large extended clan, we do have people and services committed to supporting both parents and children. It takes a caring village to foster its citizens and bring to light the very few people truly incapable of functioning safely in public. It takes a village to save innocent lives.

Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Master Gardener and writer. Her Pier 21: The Gateway that Changed Canada has just been updated and released by Nimbus Publishing.