Why the feeling's mutual
I have been involved in teaching part of a master's degree programme in family education and family counselling for the past eight years. When students finish the programme, they have a 'family perspective', which makes a difference in their approach to working with families. Let me give you an example of how a family viewpoint transformed a traditional sex education programme in a Christian secondary school in Hong Kong.
Sex education programmes in secondary schools aim to teach about puberty and the changes that occur at this developmental stage. Youngsters have to cope with emotional ups and downs, physiological changes, hormonal changes, and trying to work out who they are. This stage of development can be scary and confusing
Usually, if this programme also incorporates the parents, it tends to repeat the same emphasis and focus, educating parents on how to understand and support their children during puberty. The traditional model is based on a child-centred perspective that perceives the parents as significant resources or means in facilitating the healthy development of their children. But the personal problems parents might also be dealing with are largely, if not totally, overlooked by these programmes.
With a family perspective, my two students (one is a teacher and the other is the social worker for the school) modified the sex education programme to provide a parallel presentation of the challenges of adolescents during puberty and the various life challenges their parents might also be facing.
With parents in Hong Kong waiting longer these days to have children, adolescents often have parents in their forties or even older. Middle-aged, their parents may be facing their own mid-life crises. These can include feelings of despair about their working lives, the early signs of ageing, and the gradual loss of their good looks. Like teenagers, these parents may be dealing with physiological and hormonal changes due to the occurrence of menopause in females or andropause in males, which occur between the ages of 45 and 55. Some may experience hot flushes, night sweats, sleep difficulties and irritability. These parents may also be caregivers for their own parents.
In brief, a family perspective calls for mutual understanding between family members of different generations, instead of putting all the obligation of understanding and support on the parents.
A child-centred perspective is good at protecting children's rights, but risks reinforcing an individualistic mindset on the part of the children, making them sensitive to their own age-appropriate struggles without realising those of their family members.
A family perspective means that different members recognise the needs and challenges of the others, and fosters mutually caring family relationships.
Dr Lau Yuk-king is a consultant with the department of social work at the Chinese University