Education: Teenagers and how to survive them: Nicholas Roe joins a group of parents going back to school for lessons in the tricky subject of adolescence

IT IS NIGHT in a classroom at the City of Portsmouth Girls' School and a group of cheerful-looking parents are about to study the worst years of their children's lives.

Subject heading: 'Skills for Adolescence'. Unspoken sub- text: how to survive that crucial period of rows, sulks, late nights, dirty bedrooms and toe-nail clippings on the bathroom floor which can drive a family mad. As one mother put it: 'We've come because we don't want anything drastic to go wrong. I want to know that if a problem arises, I can deal with it.'

The lesson begins and out pours a mixture of wry anecdotes, gentle instruction and home-grown wisdom that keeps the class bubbling for two hours.

Janet Aughey,, senior teacher at the 710-place comprehensive, introduced the course that dragged parents back to the classroom because she recognised that caring for teens demands special tactics: 'For some it is an innate skill,' she says, 'but others struggle tremendously. Their young ones are treading two paths - being children and young adults. They switch from one to the other and that is one of the things that makes it so difficult for parents.'

Her course runs once a week for a month and is crucially aimed at parents whose children are aged 11 and 12: pre-teen. Start now, is the central message, and problems will be easier later.

Adapted from a US drugs education programme aimed at the family, Mrs Aughey's rules are straightforward. She teaches that explosions occur when lifestyles drive early wedges between parents and their offspring. You remove those wedges by building confidence in your child, by learning to talk to them properly, and by defusing individual conflicts in an ordered, unemotional style.

Easier said than done, of course, and the trouble with teaching parents to suck eggs is that it takes tact. A similar course planned earlier in a nearby school failed to run after Mrs Aughey wrote to mothers and fathers suggesting that the classes 'might help with problems in the family'. Nobody came. 'Now we say they are skills for life and you can be part of it . . .'.

So a major emphasis for the 20 or so parents who gathered at Portsmouth Girls' was on prompting students' themselves to share their own solutions to individual flashpoints. For instance, how on earth do you manage to talk to your child when most evenings they are out rigorously improving themselves at drama, music, sports . . ?

One mother had come up with a neat solution: she had arranged for her three children to do their homework together around the dining-room table so that she could chat to them while cooking in the kitchen.

Another mother (three-quarters of those who turned up were women) had stopped sending her two daughters to bed at the same time. With a year's difference in their ages she had an excuse to spread bedtime so that she could read each their own story instead of sharing the moment.

A father said he had learnt to put his newspaper down when his daughter started chattering, explaining privately: 'She just doesn't stop talking, and when I came here last week and they wrote up the subject heading: 'How To Stop Your Child Talking To You' I thought: yes, I want that. But it was ironic. It was about the way we stop children communicating. It made me think.'

If Janet Aughey's classes do nothing other than this they will have been successful. But her package includes instructions too. Families facing individual conflicts - dirty rooms, late homecomings - were urged to adopt a six-point problem solving process to eliminate the utterly impossible and arrive at a compromise. And those adopting house rules were asked quietly: 'Have you discussed these with your children?' Silence.

Sound stuff. Parents filing out at the end had just one criticism, which was that their children tended to take a rise out of the new communication process: 'I'll get home and they'll say, 'What are you going to share with us tonight, dad?',' said one.

Headmistress Dianne Smith believes the classes help parents and teachers to team up at a difficult stage, and Janet Aughey delights in a spin-off benefit: sitting in a classroom makes parents more comfortable about coming back at other times to discuss their child's general education.

But perhaps the most illuminating comment came from Jill Smouth, a mother of two, who said as she left: 'When my son was born I can remember thinking, 'I don't know what to do with this . . .' It's presumptious to think that what you are doing is always right. I came because it's a learning process . . .'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
voicesBy the man who has
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
newsFloyd 'Creeky' Creekmore still performed regularly to raise money for local hospitals
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

SEN (SLD/PMLD) Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?