Once again, this is a program based on a belief that a great many of the problems and concerns of preteens and teenagers are based on their self-centeredness. If we can get our adolescents to get their minds off themselves and their worries, most of their problems are solved. If we can get them to get their minds on to the needs of others, they cease to be part of the problem and become part of the solution. Perhaps the best name for this ability to think about others rather than self is sensitivity.
This is not a psychological or analytical treatise on teenage behavior, nor is it a bunch of generalizations about what happens or should happen at each age or phase of adolescent development. Rather, it is a program of methods and exercises aimed at the objective of learning and teaching sensitivity. It is an organized, categorized, list of techniques to help you increase the empathy and extra-centeredness of your children and of yourself. (Extra-centeredness is the ability to think of and feel for other people-- the opposite of self-centeredness.)
Sensitivity is made up of several elements: the ability to see and observe, the ability to feel and communicate, the ability to empathize and give service and encouragement to others. The goal is not necessarily to make children into "good Samaritans" or people who spend their full time doing good turns and serving others. Such a goal with busy, volatile, moody teenagers would be unrealistic. The attitudes and skills that go into service and charity, however, can best be developed in children while they are in their adolescence. It is these charity-related attitudes and skills that this program is about.
We feel that sensitivity must be learned, one element at a time. We also know that it is difficult for busy parents to concentrate on learning or teaching more than one concept at a time. Thus we suggest that parents concentrate on one element each month, making the program a nine-month sequence for developing more sensitivity in themselves and in their children.
Before we get to those one-a-month elements, though, let's think together about ourselves and our children. The simple fact is that teenagers are tough - tough to raise and tough to live with. To say they are a challenge might win first prize in a contest of understatements! A friend of ours says that the only thing she can think of to compare her teenager with is a werewolf or a Mr. Hyde. The daylight of his sweet childhood was transformed by the full moon of adolescence. He grew fangs! He started to bite!
There aren't any perfect teenagers, but then again, there aren't any perfect parents. There aren't even any perfect solutions for teenage problems. But there are some things that help.
Whom the Program Is For
Though this is a program for all parents and teenagers, it is especially for parents of young teenagers and preteen adolescents. It is a simple fact of life that twelve year olds are more teachable than sixteen year olds. Many parents will find that some of this program's methods work well with eight year olds and even younger children.
This program is not written for parents of children with severe problems such as drug addiction, serious criminal activity, or even total alienation from family. We leave such problems to experts who are far more qualified to deal with them than we are.
Rather, it is for parents who want a program to avoid those problems. It is for parents who want to act rather than react, who prefer the positive notion of "parenting by objective" over the negative approach of solving problems when they grow too big to ignore. Our belief is that the best defense is a good offense, that parents who seek to give their children greater capacity for sensitivity will, in the process, give themselves freedom from many problems that would otherwise arise. We believe that service, empathy, and sensitivity are preventive medicine.