By Sarah Bahn, PEPS Communications & Marketing Manager (Estimated reading time: 7 minutes)
When Lucrecia Choto signed up for a PEPS Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT) Group in the fall of 2021, she’d been cooped up at home with her husband and kids for months during the pandemic. Seeking connection with other caregivers and guidance about parenting through the adolescent phase, Lucrecia registered for the PAT Program, hoping to find an outlet to both validate and examine her parenting choices.
PEPS launched pilot groups for the Parents of Adolescents and Teens Program in 2021 after an extensive program development process, including a landscape analysis, research and data collection, and curriculum development. The PAT Program aims to strengthen family relationships, reduce parental isolation, and improve the mental well-being of youth and parents during a critical phase of adolescent development and family transition.
PAT Curriculum Development
Julie Ellett, a licensed psychotherapist trained in clinical psychology, is a PAT Group Leader and worked closely with the PAT Program Manager and other contractors to help develop the program curriculum. Having worked with adolescents in many settings throughout her career, Julie was thrilled to contribute her expertise to the PAT Program. Julie reflected, “So much dedicated focus was truly given to this new population of parents that PEPS wanted to serve. A need was seen and followed up on.” Using data gathered from the landscape analysis, Julie and the PEPS team identified the discussion topics that would be most relevant to parents of adolescents.
Once the topics for the PAT curriculum were selected, Julie paired her clinical knowledge and experience with the latest scientific research to develop a plan for each weekly session that would support parents in learning, building understanding, and applying the information to their own lives. Julie’s process involved doing “a meta-analysis of the topic to see what practitioners, scientists, and therapists were writing about, for example, mental health in adolescents. Then, I would modify my search in these scientific journals to the last year or so and see what new elements were being explored and identified.” For parents like Lucrecia, who regularly researched the latest parenting resources, the PAT Program offered new information she hadn’t found elsewhere. Julie credits this to the curriculum development process that ensured the most current research was incorporated.
In addition to sharing resources on adolescent development, the PAT Program uses a model that has been central to the success of PEPS over the last four decades: parent peer support. Julie shared, “The curriculum and program designed really are structured to promote engagement, connection, and authenticity among the parents of each group.” As a Group Leader, Julie ensures that the data-backed research shared in PAT Groups doesn’t stay in scientific journals but instead trickles down to the dinner tables, carpools, and text threads of the families participating. Julie said, “I take the curriculum information and ask how each caregiver has seen this manifest in their own families. I’ve come up with discussion topics and activities where they can take a tried-and-true method of great communication, for example, and practice that with the specific challenges they are seeing with their own teens.” In this way, the PAT Program prioritizes both learning and applying that learning.
Curriculum in Practice
Lucrecia translated strategies she learned through her PAT Group into tangible results at home. Learning new methods for effective communication with her adolescent children was especially impactful. Following a PAT Group meeting, Lucrecia began having more discussions with her children side-by-side rather than face-to-face. Instead of the stereotypical serious talk at the kitchen table, Lucrecia found that broaching challenging conversations with her kids in lower-pressure environments, such as on hikes or in the car, helped create more comfort and space for her children to share openly. Lucrecia learned this technique from other parents in her PAT Group and found it to be an effective way to increase healthy communication with her kids.
The improved communication went beyond Lucrecia’s relationship with her kids. For years, Lucrecia had been the primary caregiver in her family. While she took her role as a mother very seriously, she also reflected that she sometimes took on more than she should have and felt overwhelmed by the demands of parenting. Conversations in her PAT Group empowered Lucrecia to approach her husband and not only ask for help but invite him to be more involved in the parenting of their adolescents. Discussions about the division of parenting labor in her PAT Group helped Lucrecia feel that she had “the words and the language that I needed to not be defensive or accusatory when approaching my partner with regards to his involvement with the kids. And I was able to bring him into the fold.” Her husband responded with curiosity and openness, and the communication methods learned through PAT allowed Lucrecia and her husband to renegotiate the terms of their parenting partnership in a way that supported the health of the parents and children alike.
Beyond the Curriculum
The PAT Program provided an outlet for Lucrecia to be open and vulnerable about the challenges of parenting each week: “In this space that the PEPS program provided for me, I could be really raw, and I could really ask for the help that I needed without having to pretend that everything is fine. And it was a relief.” While parents often join PAT Groups to learn how to support their kids during adolescence, many find that the dedicated space to reflect, connect, and work through challenging emotions becomes a crucial way to care for themselves as parents, too.
While the curriculum provided structure and information on many of the most relevant topics to parents of adolescents, some of the most helpful discussions that Lucrecia’s group had were those based on issues or questions the group members brought from their own lives. As the group built rapport, they became increasingly comfortable bringing up their current challenges for conversation and support. For Lucrecia, having a group of peers with kids in a similar age range but whom she did not know personally provided a level of anonymity that helped her feel more comfortable opening up to her group.
The PEPS philosophy emphasizes that all parents deserve support, connection, and community. In Julie’s words, “The care given to building up group connection is part of that magic that has made PEPS Groups so longstanding, and we’re delighted to have found a way to offer that to parents of adolescents and teens as well.” PEPS creates spaces for parents to build confidence and learn from one another, not sit and listen to a lecture on the right and wrong ways to parent.
The combination of research-backed curriculum and intentional peer support helps parents leave the PAT Program feeling more confident, supported, and validated as they navigate the challenges of parenting adolescents.
The Future of PAT
In the process of launching the PAT Program and sharing it with more parents, PEPS has been listening to feedback from families. Many parents have shared that joining a 9-week group is too big of a time commitment to fit into their busy schedules. In response, PEPS recently introduced a collection of 4-week PAT series. These groups focus on a specific theme, with each week exploring a different topic within that theme. For parents looking for a longer session to build community and dive into a variety of topics, PEPS continues to offer 9-week PAT Groups that cover a range of themes with an opportunity for group members to select some topic discussions themselves.
With groups for parents raising middle or high schoolers or spanning the whole age range (10-19) and Flexible Pricing available for all groups, PAT Groups provide accessible support for families in various stages. Whether it’s a 4-week series focused on a specific theme a parent wants guidance on, a 9-week series to experience community building on a deeper level, or attending a PAT Community Event to learn about a specific topic, there are now more ways than ever to access this support at a crucial phase for parents and adolescents.
Interested in participating in the PAT Program? Learn more and register today!
About the Author
Sarah Bahn (she/her) is the Communications and Marketing Manager at PEPS. She loves amplifying the incredible stories of the PEPS community through the PEPS blog, website, and social media. Sarah is passionate about the community-building power of nonprofits and loves to support our local organizations. In her free time, she enjoys taking long walks through Seattle neighborhoods and parks with a coffee in hand.