Program helps foster communication within families

Healthy communication between children and their parents is always important, but sometimes the communication foundation begins to crumble when children enter their preteen and young teen years. During that time, children are challenged not only by the changes occurring as they enter puberty, but also by increased peer pressure to engage in risky behavior such as using drugs and alcohol. Simultaneously, their changing lives may cause them to become more withdrawn and less willing to engage in conversation with their parents or guardians. The Strengthening Families Program, which will be offered beginning next week to Elk County residents through the Penn State Cooperative Extension, is a free program designed to help youth ages 10 to 14 and their primary caregivers communicate more effectively to help prevent drug and alcohol addiction and other risk-taking behaviors that could have negative consequences for youth. Victoria Dippold, assistant extension educator at the Penn State Cooperative Extension for Elk and Cameron counties, said Strengthening Families provides fun and positive experiences while helping both children and adults learn new strategies for keeping the lines of communication open. "It helps set goals and it helps widen the path of communication between parents and their children," Dippold said. "When kids are more willing to talk, they don't hold things within themselves. If they don't feel like they can talk with their parents or their families or their caregivers, then they bottle it up inside, and they're more likely to act out in areas of their life that may not be so favorable." The seven-week program begins on Sunday, Feb. 27 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the St. Marys Area Middle School and will be held at the same time on successive Sundays. Dippold said each session begins with a sit-down, family-style dinner with all participants. Following the meal, youth and caregivers split into separate groups for various workshops. All activities associated with the Strengthening Families Program, including the weekly dinner, are free. The registration deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 23; to register or for more information, contact Dippold at 814-776-5329.

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