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Parents will help parents in Riviera Middle project

There is a lot of talk about family values and parental responsibility. It is generally agreed that parental involvement in a child's education is an important factor for success in school.

The PTA at Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg decided to do something to promote parental participation and empower the families of early adolescents. With funding supplied through an intergenerational grant from the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, Parent Support Services and Training will offer a series of support groups this school year.

Support groups provide an opportunity for parents to meet and share concerns, information, experiences, resources, options and solutions. They are valuable tools for generating ideas, reducing feelings of isolation and frustration, and making friends.

One national study of parenting trends noted that invariably parents in supportive social networks mentioned "how extraordinary it was for them to be able to hear other parents describe emotions that they themselves felt." Isolation among parents helps create isolated kids, who are more vulnerable to their peers. Parents need each other; they are still the best parenting experts.

The Riviera PTA project will use retired (over age 55) professionals as group facilitators drawn from the vast pool of educators, social workers, counselors and psychologists available in the Tampa Bay area. A major goal is to strengthen and empower families by providing knowledge and skills to manage effectively the problems of early adolescence. Subject areas for discussion will include the self-esteem of parents and their children; the prevention of truancy, dropouts, delinquency and violence; and developing successful conflict resolution skills. Planned are two student essay contests and two family retreats that will focus on support group themes.

According to the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, middle school is the pivotal institution of early adolescence. It is estimated that one in four adolescents is extremely vulnerable to multiple high-risk behaviors and school failure.

Child psychologist Wade Horn notes that "acknowledging that parents are the most important ingredient in securing happy, healthy and secure children is not to deny that there is a role for government programs in supporting parents."

"Indeed, there are times when parents can be assisted, sometimes substantially, by social support programs. But in doing so, such programs should always emphasize parental responsibility, respect the integrity of the family and maximize parental choice."

This reflects the Riviera PTA philosophy as participants engage in structured self-help activities, the outcome of which will be empowered and strengthened family units with improved school and social adaptation for their early adolescents.

Dale J. Hyland is a human services consultant. He lives in St. Petersburg. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which are not necessarily the opinions of this newspaper.