By JOE LAMBE
The Kansas City Star
Make no mistake, Pegi Denton of Lenexa is against dropping off troubled teens with the state, as some parents did in Nebraska before it recently changed its safe-haven law.“We don’t have any throwaway kids,” she said.But sometimes, you do have to get their attention.After all else failed decades ago with their 16-year-old son, Denton and her husband put the teenager into a psychiatric ward for months.Today, that boy is grown up and has a good job. He thinks his parents did the right thing for him.“It takes a courageous act of love to put the relationship at risk,” the son said.Amid that turmoil 26 years ago, Denton founded her first parents’ support group, which was an effort to set firm limits for children.Now 76, Denton is national program director for another volunteer group she founded, StandUp Parenting. It has groups in nine states, including three in Johnson County and another in Liberty.If a teen refuses to get out of bed to attend school, he could awake to the clinking cups, saucers and chatter of the “breakfast club” — Denton and friends sitting in the bedroom sipping tea.They tell the offender they plan to watch him sleep, and school suddenly seems like a better option.If a child is causing trouble at home, he might be sent to the home of another member to stay for a while, she said. Typically the troublemaker is polite while in exile and often returns to be better behaved at home.“I think teenagers are delightful when they’re not your own,” she said. “They’re generally good kids. They just have a lot of growing up to do.”One disturbing trend, she said, is that more and more parents in her area groups are not there just for teens. The ages of their children range from 10 to 43 years, and about half are adults.Then you try to support the parents and help them set limits — measures and deadlines that shove older children toward jobs and independence.Denton thinks that support also helps parents in setting rules and sticking to them. When she had trouble with her son, she said, “We just couldn’t follow through with the consequences, because he would start acting good, and then we’d think we were too tough.”Now she and her husband, Mo, also serve on the Juvenile Probation and Review Board, a Johnson County group that advises courts on how to handle youths who violate probation.This woman with three sons, one grandson and one great-grandson just won a Citizen of the Year award from United Community Services of Johnson County and has proved she can help parents and children. Ask her 42-year-old son who went to the psych ward.He declined to give his name because he has a job with a prestigious international group that helps poor children. He’s also done social work with troubled youths and earned two college degrees.But back when he was bad, he said, “I was really on a course of self-destruction.”He did drugs and alcohol routinely, skipped school daily, talked back and ran away.The last time, he ran away for many days after his parents took the door off his room because they thought he smoked marijuana in it. He felt indignant, because he did not smoke pot in his room — he smoked it across the hall, under a vent fan in the bathroom.When he returned home, he and his parents cut a deal. He would go in weekly for counseling.But on the first such trip, his two older brothers rode on each side of him like guards. And when the institution doors shut behind him, he could not open them. He was in the psych ward.“I was looking out through the mesh at them, and my dad was crying,” he said. “That was the first time I saw him cry.”Three months later, he walked out and started going to school again.He still remembers his father’s tears, he said, although he never admitted seeing or caring about them back then.They may have even saved his life, he said. Three of his friends from high school died young, two from drunken-driving accidents and one from a drug overdose.At the funeral for one of them, he said, the dead youth’s mother told him, “I probably should have been tougher on him, like Pegi was with you.”
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