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Changing Ways of Working with Children, Teens, and Families


Ever since I was not much older than a child myself, I’ve always been captivated by children and their enchanting ways of perceiving the world and behaving. It’s especially interesting to watch and try to understand family interactions in light of stark generational differences. I’m actually not a parent or a therapist myself, but I often work with young children in a range of situations, such as babysitting, tutoring, volunteering, and in the past, working as a camp counselor.

I know that when my parents and grandparents were growing up, parental authority was central in the household, but it’s clear that things have shifted. It seems many parents now develop relationships with their children that are more akin to friendships than classic parent-child relationships. Today’s parents, shaped largely by their own childhoods as well as a variety of factors specific to the context of today’s society and culture, are parenting their children differently, and children are behaving very differently than in the past.

It seems that one such factor, technology, has had an enormously significant effect on children’s perceptions and behaviors. I remember remarking to my mother once about the difference between my generation and my brother’s generation. She raised her eyebrows and told me that that’s not possible, since we’re only four years apart—of course we’re in the same generation. I shook my head, no. My family got our first computer when I was in elementary school, but my brother was still a baby, and that alone makes a huge difference. My peers regularly comment on the differences between our “generation” and that of our older or younger siblings—did they grow up with iPods or CDs? Smartphones or landlines? How old were they when they first got on Facebook? It all makes a bigger difference than it may seem at face value.

My interest in children and their behavior made the Networker’s recent January/February issue, “Are Parents Obsolete?” that much more fascinating. PNJF12CoverRon Taffel, an expert on working with children, adolescents, and families, crafted an enlightening cover piece called “The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority—and What Therapists Can Do About It.” He explored his experiences with kids and families, what families looks like today, especially in light of new technologies and the economic situation, and how therapists can help both children and parents. He wrote:

“Adults were already under siege trying to handle the incomprehensible newness of what seemed to arise each week in kid-universe. That was followed by financial stress, chronic joblessness, underwater mortgages, and college savings raided to cover family living expenses. It’s little wonder I’d begun to register parental impatience and resentment toward child ‘experts’…On top of losing faith in a secure future, mothers and fathers deal with everyday dilemmas that make a joke of traditional rules and childrearing practices.”

The other features in this issue were also striking. For example, David Flohr’s article “The ParentCircle,” explains how parents, like therapists, are often isolated and how they can—and should—tap into the wisdom and support of other parents. Flohr’s model provides an opportunity for parents to “co-create their own support community,” which becomes a place for them to honestly discuss their stressful moments with others who can empathize, share with each other what techniques worked for them and why, and feel validated in their struggles and successes. Although I’m not yet a parent, I find myself blown away by both the simplicity and complexity of this therapy model. From my experiences working with kids and being around their families, I can see how even those who are involved in their communities must feel terribly alone sometimes. I’ve had countless, embarrassed parents actually apologize to me for their children’s behavior, saying things like, “You must think we’re so weird!” No, I don’t—I’ve seen it before—but how are they to understand that—despite my protests? How wonderful it must feel for parents who participate in the ParentCircle to see nods of encouragement, feel others’ genuine concern, hear words of support, and best of all, listen to someone say, “I’ve been there before.”

On a different angle, “Brain-Based Parenting,” by Jonathan Baylin and Daniel Hughes, outlines how therapists can use the latest brain science understandings and apply it to helping parents and children. It was so interesting to first read how children’s behaviors are changing in light of various 21st-century factors, and then what recent neuroscience findings are showing us about connecting with kids. Michael Ungar’s Case Study article, details the complicated case of a 13-year-old boy, and how a collaborative, resilience-focused treatment approach worked. If you got the chance to read this issue, what struck you the most? Do you think working with children today is significantly different from working with kids in the past? If so, why and how?

Personally, I always loved learning more about children and families, so I’m particularly looking forward to attending at least one Symposium 2012 workshop on this subject. It was difficult to choose between all of the interesting options, especially because some of the authors who contributed to the January/February issue will be presenting—Daniel Hughes and Jonathan Baylin on Connecting with Kids’ Brains, Ron Taffel on Reclaiming Parental Authority, Michael Ungar on Resilience and Children, and David Flohr on The ParentCircle.

There are also some other workshops on interesting, relevant topics—CBT for Anxious Kids with Aureen Wagner, The Healing Power of a Child’s Imagination with Charlotte Reznick, Attachment and Intimacy in Stepfamilies with Patricia Papernow, and much more. Check out all of the workshops on the topic of Children and Adolescents that’ll be offered at Symposium 2012.

02.21.2012   Posted In: Symposium 2012   By Jordan Magaziner

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