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 . . .'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there