Area parents can go to school to learn about handling difficult teens

By Paige Williams

Rockbridge Area Community Services, or RACS, is offering a 10-week course that teaches parents how to handle their children’s destructive behavior and look for warning signs of violence or drug use.

This program is the largest of all court-mandated intervention strategies in the country, according to American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. According to its website, the project aims to “identify, prevent and intervene in” adolescent substance abuse.

Rockbridge family court judges had been referring families to the same program offered in Waynesboro, said Annie LePere, a RACS employee who is teaching the class. She said the court asked RACS to begin offering the course locally to make it easier for families to attend.

LePere said RACS will receive referrals for the class from social services, the courts, police, school counsellors and family doctors.

She said it’s a coincidence that the program will be offered here weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“It’s been needed,” she said. “We’ve been having school shootings for 20 years … which one is going to be the one that changes things?”

“It’s been needed,” she said. “We’ve been having school shootings for 20 years … which one is going to be the one that changes things?”

Buena Vista Police Chief Keith Hartman, who will be a guest lecturer at the Parent Project, said some parents summon the police when their child is disobedient.

“We get calls quite often ‘Johnny won’t go to school today he’s just not listening to me. Can you send a police officer over to get him up out of bed and to school?’ And that’s not our job,” he said.

Ralph Fry, a retired police supervisor from Los Angeles County, and Dr. Roger Morgan, a child psychologist, designed the Parent Project 28 years ago in response to large numbers of parents who were calling the police about their children’s drug use.

Adolescents, compared to their parents, have different high school experiences because of the digital age, Mat Rapoza, school counselor at Rockbridge Area High School, said.

Rapoza said when he was in high school, bullying usually stopped once students left school grounds. But today, it spreads to social media, and bullied students can’t escape it.

“They’re figuring out who they are and they never shut down. … With Facebook and social media, it’s nonstop. You’re constantly connected to school,” he said.

Even when students go home, they may not receive the support they need, Rapoza said.

“A lot of times [the kids] just need to feel connected to someone, and they don’t get that at home,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the parent’s fault. I think they just don’t know how to do that, and they need to be educated to do that.”

Susan Wheeler, who became a widow when her daughter was 10 years old, said they argued a lot during her teenage years.

“I’ve tried other things from other parents,” she said. “If there was a group of parents and you pick up something they do, that makes things easier.”

The class will meet from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, starting March 13 at Buena Vista Baptist Church, 2173 Chestnut Ave. The class will end May 15.

Parents will be encouraged to form a weekly support group after the completion of the course to offer advice and talk through problems they have in common with their kids.

The course costs $75 for a single parent and $100 for a couple. The fee covers course materials, dinner and the instructors’ time. LePere said a payment plan can be worked out.

Parents must register by March 9 to attend. For more information, visit