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"LEADER" Online: Vol. 5, No. 2

Announcing Families in Action, a new program for parents and teens

Michigan leader Peggy Hendrickson adapted Active Parenting of Teens to fit her grant objectives—and created a new program in the process

by Virginia Murray

When the staff of the AuSable Valley Community Mental Health Center learned that they had been awarded a substantial Center for Substance Abuse Prevention/High-Risk Youth grant, they were thrilled. But they also knew they had a lot of work ahead of them.

One challenge was fitting the parenting education objective. After reviewing available programs, AuSable's Director of Prevention Services Peggy Hendrickson selected Active Parenting of Teens. While the program met their needs for parents, the objectives required a program that takes a family systems approach—one which incorporates both parents and their children. Thus some customization of the program was going to be necessary.

"I called Active Parenting hoping to hear that someone had already created a program that incorporated the teens so I wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel," recalls Hendrickson. There was nothing available at the time, though, so after getting permission from Active Parenting, Hendrickson set about developing a supplemental curriculum herself.

The plan was to use the same Active Parenting of Teens program for both groups—parents in one room, teens in another. The first step was to translate the concepts from Active Parenting of Teens to appeal to a teen audience. Explanations were rewritten to be age-appropriate. Activities, games, and mild competition were added and less of the video was shown. The development committee (educators recruited from the three-county area) also added a segment at the end of each session for parents and teens to come together to practice their new skills.

With each pilot test of the expanded program came surveys and revisions. "We did a lot of process evaluation in the first year to identify problems and make improvements," notes Hendrickson. For example, "we found some of the concepts in Active Parenting of Teens to be a bit theoretical for our families," so specific examples were added that the participants could easily relate to. The program was revised several times over a period of five years.

In Families in Action, teens learn in one room (shown here) while their parents learn in another. At the end of the session, both groups meet for a closing activity. A teens-only edition of the program is also available.

The agency covers a three-county area in rural Michigan, serving about 60,000 people. The target audience for the new hybrid program—redubbed Families in Action—was families with middle-school-aged children. After a few years of testing, says Hendrickson, it became clear that when families learn together and then practice the skills together, they are more likely to continue to use those skills on their own. They also realized that when parents and teens attend together, they motivate each other to come back each week.

"We found that the kids would get excited about the program and insist that their parents bring them week after week," notes Hendrickson, "so the parents would come back even if they felt too tired or busy." In fact during the first pilot test of the program, several families had a scheduling conflict and were unable to attend the final two sessions. But the teens "didn't want to be left out, so they asked that the sessions be rescheduled."

Participants were mostly families with children in their pre-teen or early teen years. Hendrickson found that younger teens were more willing than older teens to participate in an activity with their parents, and were often the most enthusiastic about the program. "If you can get them through the first two hours, you've got them hooked."

What about Families in Action is so appealing to notoriously hard-to-please teenagers? For one, says Hendrickson, there is a focus on increasing their self-esteem, on helping them feel good about themselves. The teen component of the program works to develop a cohesive group from the start. Plus there is the fact that "teens are very interested in their peer group. They like learning communication skills that are useful for functioning in that group."

After creating the teen component, they recruited group leaders from all parts of the community. To publicize the groups, they sent home flyers to parents through the schools. They also encouraged parents to recruit other parents. One valuable lesson they learned in this sports-loving community was to schedule groups during the off-season.

AuSable was pleased with the results of the Families in Action groups. Eventually 414 families participated, including 514 parents and 471 teens, for a total of 985 Families in Action graduates.

Long-term research proved that the program was effective in helping with the issue of substance-abuse prevention. One of the studies was published in The Journal of Primary Prevention in 1998; the other will be published in The Journal of Drug Education in the summer of 2000.

The author of Active Parenting of Teens, Dr. Michael Popkin, was also impressed with Hendrickson's work, and in 1999 Active Parenting Publishers agreed to publish the entire program. Hendrickson revised the program again, this time updating it to work with the revised edition of Active Parenting of Teens. The program was renamed Families in Action for Parents and Teens and will be available in May.

The new Families in Action program kit is actually two kits in one. The Parent and Teen Program includes videos and participant's guides for both parent and teen groups, two separate Leader's Guides, reproducible handouts for parents, and promotional materials. The Teen Program, on the other hand, can be used for teen-only groups. Teens will learn the same valuable communication, relationship, and conflict-resolution skills as found in Active Parenting of Teens, but with all the fun (and informative) activities developed by Peggy Hendrickson and her team of advisors.

Leaders who already own the revised edition of Active Parenting of Teens (the one with the blue-jeans cover) can take advantage of the "upgrade" offer, which provides all the extra elements necessary for a Families in Action program.

Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2000 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.