by Trenna Ahlstrom
Parents gathered in the Academic Commons. The warm, well-lit room was hung with banners of various colleges. Each banner represented a college where Discovery Ranch graduates had been accepted. The banners were a promise of a better future. All the parents in attendance had experienced challenges with their sons. They had each taken the step of enrolling their sons in the Discovery Ranch program because they believed that the future could be better for them, all of them, the sons and the entire family.
Parents came from all across the country. While each parents’ background was different, they all seemed to share a sense of realistic optimism. They wanted change, and they were going to make change happen. Parent Days provided one of many opportunities to learn new strategies and skills to help their families. The theme of this session of Parent Days was communication. Parents were able to learn new skills, then given opportunities to practice them.
Parents of struggling teens sometimes feel like they are the only people facing challenges in their families. However, at the welcoming ceremony of Parent Days, the large room full of caring parents proved otherwise. These parents gathered to visit their sons, meet with other parents, and learn more about the Discovery Ranch program.
Wednesday, February 21st
After the welcome instructions, parents broke into two groups. Returning parents enjoyed an Equine Activity in the indoor arena. During this activity, parents had the chance to see their sons’ demonstrate their horsemanship skills. Meanwhile, parents who were new to the Discovery Ranch program were introduced to each department. These departments include Clinical, Academic, Recreational Therapy, Residential, and Program Research. These departments will be featured in future blog posts. Meanwhile, you can get to know the staff on the website.
Afterward, the parents took a break for lunch. As parents walked to the cafeteria, they were greeted by the scent of grilling meat in the crisp winter air. The lunch featured ribs barbecued by Executive Director, Clinton Dorny. During lunch, parents had the chance to talk with their sons and get to know other parents.
When they finished dinner, the parents gathered for a Variety Show. The main event of the show was the musical “Newsies”. It was obvious that each of the young men in the production gave it their all. Each actor, in roles big or small, committed to their part and sang and danced with enthusiasm. The production of “Newsies” was followed by individual performances. The young men showed off their skills.
Thursday, February 22nd
The second day began with breakfast and introductions. Each therapist took three minutes to speak on the topic of communication. Three minutes was long enough to get a sense of each therapist’s personality, as well as learn something about communication. The topics focused on giving appropriate validation, ways of providing healthy feedback, and when criticism becomes unhealthy. Parents participated energetically in the discussion. They shared their own opinions and personal experiences as if they were among friends.
The Ego States, Enabling Parents, and Critical Parents
Clinton taught a lecture about the Ego States based on research by Eric Berne. The lecture focused on negative ways that people, parents, and children, relate to one another. These included being enabling, critical, rebellious, or insincerely appeasing. Clinton also discussed positive ways of relating to each other, which he called The Wise Executor. The Wise Executor is the ego state in which people make mature, informed choices.
Following the lecture, parents did some self-analysis. Each parent decided whether he or she was more of Critical Parent or Enabling Parent. Critical Parents went to one group. Enabling parents formed another group. Each group worked together on activities designed to help them recognize the pitfalls of each Ego State, and learn new strategies for parenting.
After the activities and lunch, parents and sons participated in a ropes course and equine activity. During the ropes course, families worked together to make their way through an obstacle course. They worked in pairs. One member of the pair was blindfolded. The other member of the pair had to guide the blindfolded person through the obstacle course with words alone. This gave them a perfect opportunity to practice communication. Afterward, the parents and sons processed the activity with the recreational therapists, so they were able to take more meaning from their experience.
In the equine activity, Experiential Director Jerry Christensen demonstrated horse training. Jerry worked with a horse that was only two-years-old. No one had ever ridden this young horse. She had not even worn a halter or a saddle. Jerry patiently demonstrated training the horse and related the methods that he uses to psychology and parenting while he did it. By the end of the demonstration, the young horse wore the halter for the first time.
Friday, February 23rd
The parents woke up early Friday morning to help their sons feed the calves. They helped prepare the food and feed the calves. This gave parents the chance to see the strong connection that their sons had with the calves first hand. It also gave the sons the chance to demonstrate the way their growing sense of personal responsibility. Then the families enjoyed eating breakfast together.
After the relaxing family time, it was time for more hard work. The parents were able to put the communication skills that they learned to good use during a therapist-lead role play.
After lunch, the Parent Days event concluded with a slide show. The show had highlights from the previous three months of the program. There were pictures of the boys and their parents, as well as short videos of the boys working together on experiential activities. These activities included zip-lining and a race where two groups of boys had a race while connected to the other members of their group on a wooden board with rope handles. The part of the slideshow that gained the most audience applause was a short video. The video showed groups of boys in the cafeteria spontaneously practicing for the musical “Newsies” while cleaning up the school cafeteria. The energy and excitement that the boys felt for their performance was evident in the way they belted out the songs that they were singing, and their push-broom accompanied dance moves.
Progress and Purpose
Even though the Parent Days activities happened during the first major snowstorm in Utah this year, the attitude of the parents and their sons could not have been warmer. When thslideshowow concluded, and most parents were preparing to leave on their private visits, Clinical Director Matt Child pointed out that the theme of this session of Parent Days was communication. Matt asked, “What do we want you to communicate?”
Multiple voices of young men called back to him, “That we love each other!”
For these families, the process of building better communication and healing seemed well underway.