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Parenting expert says try to see the world like your kid does

Quality relationships make the most difference


Parenting should get a system upgrade. What works on younger children has to be adapted for teenagers, and that's the message Christopher Burt will deliver at two conversations in Whistler Nov. 14 and Nov. 28.

Burt, a North Vancouver-based parent educator and family therapist, will speak as part of a Communities That Care series hosted at Whistler Secondary School. The first event is targeted at parents of elementary school children, who crave direction and instruction.

"One of the reasons for splitting (the series) was to target parents with kids that are pre-teen. That's one of the issues: parents often try to apply standard discipline techniques across the board, from age six on, and the reality is that when they're entering a new developmental stage, they have a different way of understanding their behaviour in terms of their relationships," Burt said.

Complicating the strategy, said Burt, is newer research that shows a teenager's brain doesn't fully develop until the child is well into their 20s.

"Teenagers don't have the ability to forecast accurately the consequences of their behaviour. But I get why a parent would try to shut down and control some of the stuff that the teen is doing."

It is a fine line between discipline and direction. Burt said parents must be prepared to adjust their methods, particularly for teenagers.

"One of the things we need to do is stand in our kids' shoes for half a second — really understand the messages they're hearing and how they see the world."

One example of this might be a child's use of social media, which parents may rail against. "For us to criticize, it's really our way of highlighting that we don't know, we don't understand. How powerful would it be if we said: 'I don't really like it, but can you explain it to me?'"

Burt said what matters is the quality of the relationship, rather than the quality of the discipline. "It's actually through relationships that we're going to be able to influence people."

Specific to Whistler is a 2013 Communities That Care study that found favourable attitudes toward alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, which raises the question of how parents are to educate their children. One example is how parents often host events in their homes and allow their underage teens to drink alcohol within a controlled environment.

Parents may see this as their responsibility to help their underage teens understand the safe and responsible use of alcohol — but how do you teach someone if they are underage? Is this acceptable? Or does a parent assume the teen will learn the difference between use and abuse once they turn 19?

"That may be a dangerous thing, too," said Burt.

A good place to begin the education is to ask yourself how you use alcohol, said Burt, and to maintain respectful conversations.

"If you think you need to be there to help them make a decision, then we're in trouble. We need to have established that. It's not happening when we're there — it's happening when we're not," he said.

Tickets are $10 for each session: The Nov. 14 topic for preteens is "The problem with discipline," and the Nov. 28 topic is "Teenagers: Challenging behaviours." Tickets are available by searching and the session headline.