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Online parenting classes bring personalized knowledge home

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 5:30 p.m. MST

Parents come into parenting classes thinking they need to change their kids. They soon learn that the parent changes. "How am I communicating effectively or ineffectively? I see as many parents over-parenting as under-parenting or those who parent too harshly," Godfrey said. "If you educate yourself, you can set the balance better."

Battling bias

Deutsch believes most parents could use advice or benefit from learning what others are doing. But it's not always easy, she said, to ask. Slattengren agreed.

"There's a lot of bias: 'If you were a decent parent, you wouldn't need classes.' I think a lot of parents wait until they're in pretty big trouble before they start looking for outside help," she said. "It's important to realize there's no reason not to get some of this information and get started on the right path before you're in trouble. By that time, there's usually pain and grief" in the relationship.

Minneapolis-based Search Institute (online at search-institute.org), which runs classes through its parentfurther.com, has long gathered data on children and families, particularly adolescents, said Gene Roehlkepartain, vice president of research and development.

"We're focused on supporting families around healthy development of kids," he said. "There's a real need for families to focus on basic strengths kids need, and we help families be good families."

Parenting classes are a very practical way of connecting with families. One of the hottest topics, Roehlkepartain said, is online and media use for kids — something parents may not have learned from their own parents because many of the tools kids use all the time today didn't exist a generation ago.

Developmental issues — "the ages and stages," he calls it — are a perpetual favorite for parents. The Search Institute has a popular webinar class on bullying. Deutsch and Ouida note that some subjects, like potty training, never get old because there are always new moms waiting to learn. Like parentfurther.com, some of the classes are conducted by staff; for others, outside experts are brought in.

Terrific teens

Roehlkepartain, dad to kids 16 and 22, lights up over the joys of parenting teens. "Kids introduce us to thinking we never would have thought of before," he said. If there was just one thing he could teach the parents of teens, it would be this:

"Your teenager still needs you," he said. "That message is important because kids that age are naturally and developmentally starting to separate from their parents."

Parents react to this in different ways. "Sometimes, as kids push away, it's easy to say, 'If she's going to do that, I'm out of here, it's too hard.' But stay connected, stay engaged," Roehlkepartain said. "Working with a child is critical for them to move through adolescence well. And there's a lot of fun in learning to love your kid as a teenager."

Surveys show teens are strongly influenced by their families. "Parents and families are critical in the decisions they make. You can't control them, but you matter," he said.

All of the experts noted many different ways to be good, effective parents. With so many approaches to parenting classes available, Godfrey said it's sometimes hard to figure which one you want. She recommends finding someone you can stand to listen to who offers practical, usable advice.

"If someone's talking down to you or their voice drives you crazy, it's not going to work," she said.

There are also price differences. Many parenting classes charge a small fee per class. Both parentfurther.com and mommybites.com offer resources free online. Others may have price variations: Some offer classes at a small fee each, or charge based on time (three months or a year, for example).

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