KINGMAN - Once upon a time, families engaged in meaningful activities together, with parents focused on nourishing and guiding their children as they grew into adulthood.
But with the rise of fractured families and technology that has become both a teacher and babysitter, those days are gone. The result of this shift over the years can be seen in aggressive or withdrawn behavior, negative peer influence, poor school performance, lack of goals and poor relationships with parents.
That's why the Kingman office of the Arizona Youth Partnership is bringing back its Strengthening Families Program. The free, eight-week program for parents and youth aged 10-14 years was created by Iowa State University and has been running in various Mohave County cities since 2010. It took place in Kingman last fall.
"Families are more disconnected to their kids today," said Paul Short, AYP program director in Marana. "They want to raise them through their technology, using it as an unhealthy surrogate family. But technology is not affectionate, so these kids are walking around empty with no one who really cares about them. A lot of it has to do with parents and other caregivers who are so tapped out they can't take care of themselves, let alone their families."
The program, which runs throughout the U.S. and in more than 18 countries, helps prevent teen substance abuse, strengthens family communication, increases academic success and prevents violence and aggressive behavior at home and school. The World Health Organization has named it the top prevention program out of 6,000 programs analyzed for long-term effects on substance use and misuse.
The Journal of Studies on Alcohol noted that for every dollar spent on the program, $9.60 comes back to the community as benefits in the form of less jail time, less time off work and less time in treatment. The program provides positive future guidance, peer pressure resistance skills, positive management of emotions, assistance in building social relationships and empathy with parents.
"The heart of the Arizona Youth Partnership is to strengthen families and equip them with the strategies and tools to help them communicate," said Short. "Stronger families are the foundation of every community. Their existence translates into less crime and substance abuse, and more successful adults."
Any local family with children 10-14 years is welcome to participate, said Rebecca Southall, family relationship educator for the AYP Kingman office. Southall said there often is hesitancy among participants in the beginning, especially with those mandated by other agencies or court, because they are sacrificing time to attend. But that quickly disappears once they get involved.
"By the third or fourth session, the parents who have been texting at meetings and have no eye contact suddenly open up because they're having fun time with their children, which they usually don't have," said Southall. "And they just can't believe the change in their children's behavior. It definitely makes a difference for them."