At a March 9 Oklahoma City Safe Schools Summit sponsored by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, APA launched an extension to its "Warning Signs" youth antiviolence initiative, to help parents talk to their children about violence and other problems.
The "Warning Signs for Parents" campaign is an adjunct to APA's highly successful "Warning Signs" initiative, which was launched last year with MTV: Music Television.
The parents' segment debuted with a forum on communicating with youth for about 3,000 parents and teachers, part of the day-long Oklahoma summit that attracted an estimated 10,000 total individuals attending different sessions about youth and violence. The summit gained special attention due to the presentation by comedian Bill Cosby that capped its evening session (see sidebar).
APA's kick-off forum set the stage for psychologists to run similar sessions for parents across the nation in upcoming months. In that session, APA Executive Director for Practice Russ Newman, PhD, JD, led a discussion on listening skills, ways to avoid emotional outbursts and other communication tactics. Also included on the panel were Pamela Fischer, PhD, president of the Oklahoma Psychological Association and Dale Marshall, a father of two teen-age sons.
"It's important not to confuse listening with doing nothing," Newman told the audience.
Later, during the summit's evening session, Newman further explained the psychological underpinnings of both initiatives, noting that violence has complex origins and getting at its root causes will take time and close partnership among various elements in society.
"Violence is a learned behavior," said Newman. "But the good news is because it's a learned behavior, it can be unlearned."
APA campaign gearing up
A key facet of the "Warning Signs for Parents" campaign will be psychologist-run forums, similar to the more than 600 "Warning Signs" youth anti-violence forums held to date that APA has helped psychologists lead for teens over the last year. Those forums are continuing as part of the well-received effort that has also generated 3.5 million hits to the APA Help Center Web site and distribution of nearly 400,000 "Warning Signs" guides.
In fact, the idea for the parent-communication campaign was born of the anti-violence forums, says Newman.
"During the forums teens consistently expressed concern about being able to talk openly with adults about their problems," he says. One of the most common messages from the young people, says Newman, was, "Adults don't listen. It doesn't help to talk to them."
"Meanwhile," he notes, "we heard from parents that they want to learn how to better communicate with their children, especially on the topic of violence."
Parents specifically asked for forums for themselves and education about warning signs of problems.
In coming months, APA will encourage its members to lead the community forums for parents. Any APA member can request a free kit that offers information on planning a forum, working with community groups, topics for forum discussions and sample news releases.
The parent kits will automatically be sent to all members who requested the youth forum kit. Other members can call for them at (877) 274-8787, ext. 135.
The campaign will provide a communication tip sheet for parents and a list of reading resources. Tips for parents include:
When your children are talking, stop whatever else you're doing to listen to them.
Express interest in what they are saying without being intrusive.
Listen to your child's viewpoint, even if it's difficult to hear.
Let your child finish speaking before you respond.
Focus on your child's feelings rather than your own during the conversation.
Control strong emotional responses when you disagree with your child's point of view. The guide tells parents, "Controlling this response is one of the biggest gifts you can give your child."