Just Say Something: Helping Parents See the Forest Through the Trees

Unfortunately teenagers don’t come with operating manuals. And none of us are perfect parents! So…where can we go for help? Mary Brown asked this very same question when she and her thirteen year-old son, Pierson, were having trouble connecting.

Ever since Pierson was a toddler he has lived life to the fullest. His headfirst approach to navigating the world can be summed up in his own words; “I’ve got an idea!”  Pierson always has an idea and he is hard-wired to act on it.

As you might imagine channeling Pierson’s enthusiasm and his belief that he can do things better has made life a challenge. Following the rules, especially as he has gotten older, has become difficult.

“Pierson has always seen the forest but not the trees that make up the forest” shared his mom. “We needed to connect and communicate better so we could both understand the importance of the trees. Last fall I found a place to help me do this when I was introduced to the Back in Control Enrichment Program.”

Back in Control is a 6-week course designed for parents of adolescents and teens to help them regain control of their kids. Just Say Something (formerly known as Greenville Family Partnership), a nonprofit organization founded in 1984, offers the program along with many others. The mission of Just Say Something is to help youth, parents and communities have open, honest, and ongoing conversations about risky behavior, drugs, and alcohol.

The Back in Control Enrichment Program includes the following topics: why rules are important, the four elements of a good rule, effective follow through, responsibility and trust, the four W’s of parental supervision, consistency, and consequences.

Lynn Hooper, long-time parenting coordinator at Just Say Something shared, “I know that raising teenagers is an arduous task. Many parents struggle with out-of-control teens and appreciate the help Back in Control offers.  Of the many skills we teach, I have always found rules, follow–through and consequences to be the most helpful.”

When Mary attended her first session of Back in Control she admitted she was hesitant. She would need to commit time and energy to change her relationship with Pierson. This would be no walk in the park. “From the start, my instructor, Lynn Hooper was kind, but firm. At the beginning of our first class she locked the door and set boundaries.  From that point on, I was hooked!” shared Mary.

The classes reinforced what Mary knew as a parent and gave her some new tools for her toolbox. She found the use of deflectors and sponges to be very helpful. She needed some practice using her words to reroute a conversation or to absorb and show Pierson that she valued him. She worked on implementing these tools in class with other parents, but more importantly at home with Pierson.

Mary began noticing that when she successfully used these tools, Pierson stopped talking back. This led to the next step, which was helping him to set his own goals. “I allowed him to come up with his own strategies and he started to understand that good things will happen if he met his goals. In the past, punishment was what he expected,” explained Mary.

The other critical element that Back in Control emphasized for Mary was that she needed to be firm and set clear boundaries for Pierson. In the past she felt like she had been a pushover. With Lynn’s guidance and encouragement, Mary now views herself as kind yet firm. By setting boundaries that are enforced, Pierson has learned to stay within them. “It is like the sun has come out,” shared Mary.

“When parents learn the importance of clear rules, and the child understands the consequences of not obeying, problems occur less and the parent regains control of their child’s behavior,” explained Lynn.

Over the past few months, Mary and Pierson’s relationship has improved and so has his behavior, at home and school. He has also been meeting his goals. As a result, Pierson has got some important privileges back. He once again has use of his cell phone!

“If I hadn’t participated in Back In Control I don’t think I could have woven all of these parenting strategies together. Learning beside other parents was so valuable, since it allowed me to see that I am not alone and that other families have similar challenges,” added Mary

“Back in Control helped me see the forest through the trees. First, Pierson and I had to slow down to find our way through the trees. He then needed to understand that I value him and his ideas. I needed to learn how to establish rules, set boundaries and stick to them while being kind and firm. For other parents who are lost in the woods like we were, I would recommend attending Back in Control,” concluded Mary.

Debbie Nelson is the president and founder of DNA Creative Communications, a woman-owned public relations and inspirational marketing firm for nonprofit organizations. Under Debbie’s leadership, in 2010 DNA founded Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, an annual training program for Greenville nonprofits in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greenville County, the United Way of Greenville County, the Hollingsworth Funds, the Jolley Foundation and The Graham Foundation. To support other nonprofits across the state, she also manages professional development for Together SC. As an advocate for the nonprofit community, regularly Debbie shares nonprofit stories in her Shine the Light columns in the Greenville Business Magazine. Debbie is a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Leadership South Carolina and the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative. She has served on the boards of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the United Way of Greenville County and the United Way Association of South Carolina.

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