Class giving mother, son life lessons

South Kitsap resident Linda Orton said she knew she needed help when her son starting punching holes in the walls.

“He was yelling at me, cussing at me,” Orton said. “I thought, ‘God, what can I do? I can’t deal with this.’”

So she called the police and had her 16-year-old son arrested. But when he was released, the problems continued.

In desperation, Orton, 51, said she called her son’s probation officer for help, and he then enrolled her son in an anger-management class at Kitsap County’s Juvenile Detention Center.

Formally known as Aggression Replacement Training (ART), the sessions held at juvenile hall are part of a national program introduced in 1987.

Over the course of 10 weeks, the teens — who are all on probation and have been referred to the program by their probation officers — attend one-hour classes three times a week where they interact with each other and their instructors.

Using lots of examples and role-playing exercises, the instructors teach the teens strategies for defusing potential conflicts, controlling their own anger, and creating much more positive social interactions.

During a recent class, instructors Mike Canfield and Robin Carson used role-playing to show a group of about a dozen teens how to react if they are being teased.

Carson, playing the mean teen, said something cruel to Canfield, who responded not with an angry retort or violence, but remained calm and respectful.

The teens were then asked to repeat the exercise in pairs.

“Remember the ground rules: ‘no put-downs, no side-talking and listen,’” Canfield said firmly before the first demonstration began.

Sitting in the audience was Orton, who said she attends each session and has not only learned more about her son’s behavior but how to control her own reactions, as well.

“I’ve gone from wanting to choke him, to learning how to talk and not yell at him anymore,” she said, explaining that the classes helped her deal with problems she never encountered while raising her first four children. “They really help me understand why (he) gets so angry.”

Orton said the sessions offer rare insights into how the kids feel and think, and she wishes all the parents attended them.

“I think more parents should come and watch,” she said, explaining that most times she is the only parent observing. “If you want to know why your (kid) is so angry, come see.”

Orton admitted that during the times the classes are held — from 4 to 5 p.m. on weekdays — most parents are working, but she believed attending at least part or some of them would be worth it.

Carson agreed.

“It is great when the parents attend,” she said, explaining that although the parents do not participate in and can only watch the sessions, “they gain as much as the kids.”

Carson said although the county also offers classes designed for parents held later in the evenings in Bremerton, watching the kids interact with each other provides a different perspective.

“They have really helped,” Orton said. “If they can help me, I know they can help someone else.”

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