(from the P.E.T. book, 2019 revised edition)
Everybody blames parents for the troubles of youth and for the troubles that young people appear to be causing society. It’s all the fault of parents, mental health experts lament, after examining the frightening statistics on the rapidly increasing number of children and youth who develop serious or crippling emotional problems, who become victims of drug addiction, or who commit suicide. Political leaders and law-enforcement officials blame parents for raising a generation of gang members, homicidal teenagers, violent students, and criminals. And when kids fail in school or become hopeless dropouts, teachers and school administrators claim that the parents are at fault.
Yet who is helping parents? How much effort is being made to assist parents to become more effective in raising children? Where can parents learn what they are doing wrong and what they might do differently?
Parents are blamed but not trained. Millions of new mothers and fathers take on a job each year that ranks among the most difficult anyone can have: taking an infant, a little person who is almost totally helpless, assuming full responsibility for his physical and psychological health and raising him so he will become a productive, cooperative, and contributing citizen. What more difficult and demanding job is there? Yet, how many parents are trained for it? Far more now than in 1962 when, in Pasadena, California, I decided to design a training program for parents. There were only seventeen in my first class, mostly parents who already were experiencing serious problems with their children.
Now, so many years later, having trained millions of parents, both in the United States and in countries throughout the world we have demonstrated that this course, called Parent Effectiveness Training, or simply P.E.T., can teach most parents the skills they need to be more effective at the job of raising children.
We have demonstrated in this exciting program that with a certain kind of training led by a qualified P.E.T. Instructor many parents can greatly increase their effectiveness in parenthood. They can acquire very specific skills that will keep the channels of communication open between parents and children—both ways. And they can learn a new method of resolving parent-child conflicts that brings about a strengthening rather than a deterioration of the relationship.
This program has convinced us that parents and their children can develop a warm, intimate relationship based on mutual love and respect. It has also demonstrated that rifts need not exist in families.
When I was a practicing clinical psychologist, I was as convinced as most parents that the period of rebellion in the teen years was both normal and inevitable—the result of adolescents’ universal desire to establish their independence and rebel against their parents. I was sure that adolescence, as most studies have shown, was invariably a time of storm and stress in families. Our experience with P.E.T. has proven me wrong. Time and time again, parents trained in P.E.T. have reported the surprising absence of rebellion and turmoil in their families.
I am now convinced that adolescents do not rebel against parents. They only rebel against certain destructive methods of discipline almost universally employed by parents. Turmoil and dissension in families can be the exception, not the rule, when parents learn to substitute a new method of resolving conflicts.
The P.E.T. program has also thrown new light on punishment in child-rearing. Many of our P.E.T. parents have proven to us that punishment can be discarded forever in disciplining children—and I mean all kinds of punishment, not just the physical kind. Parents can raise children who are responsible, self-disciplined, and cooperative without relying on the weapon of fear; they can learn how to influence children to behave out of genuine consideration for the needs of parents rather than out of fear of punishment or withdrawal of privileges.
Does this sound too good to be true? Probably it does. It did to me before I had the experience of personally training parents in P.E.T. Like most professionals, I had underestimated parents. P.E.T. parents have taught me how much they are capable of changing, given the opportunity for training. I have a new trust in the ability of mothers and fathers to comprehend new knowledge and acquire new skills. Our P.E.T. parents, with few exceptions, have been eager to learn a new approach to child-rearing, but first they have to be convinced that the new methods will work. Most parents already know their old methods have been ineffective. So today’s parents are ready for change, and our P.E.T. program has demonstrated they can change.