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Around Our Town...Family

03/01/2005 - Teens: Experts on Divorce plans retreat

While her family life may not have been the norm, Natrona County High School junior April Zietz is turning a potential negative into a positive through her work as a teen coach with the Teens: Experts on Divorce group(TED).

The TED program, which is offered through Mercer House, is something of a support group for teens dealing with divorce, and offers kids help with communication of feelings, responding to family change and using healthy coping strategies for kids 11-14. Ordinarily the group meets for eight weekly sessions and has two teen coaches, or kids that have gone through the group and are willing to help others their own age, while making $8 a session.

Zietz's parents divorced when she was two. Dad moved to Colorado, and he and April lost touch when a step-family moved in. Zietz took those concerns and feelings and shared them in her TED sessions. "Divorce is hard to talk about, but it is good to know that there are other people that feel the same way you do," Zietz said. "When Dad moved away, we really didn't talk much. The group taught me it is better for Mom and me to get along with him and try to be involved in each other's lives." Unlike Zietz, group facilitator Linda Nelson does not come from a divorced family. Zietz and Nelson, along with other adult facilitators and teen coaches, will be present April 29-30 for a TED retreat, which will be held at the Catholic Pastoral Center. The cost for the retreat is $20, although Nelson said no one will be turned away due to a lack of money.

Nelson has been teaching the Teen Experts on Divorce group for two years after a career as a school counselor in Casper. "The teen years are a vulnerable stage of life," Nelson said. "Teens are in the process of establishing peer relationships and it is difficult for them to cope with divorce and handle the their own feelings, along with their developing sexuality and peer relationships."

The retreat will be capped at 24 kids, along with six

teen coaches. The retreat is the last formal Teen Experts on Divorce group sponsored by Mercer House for this school year, but Nelson said plans are in the works to continue something this summer and resume the TED program in the fall. Nelson said there is now a waiting list for kids

to get into the program.

The group starts with safe "getting acquainted" games and Nelson waits to ask for the heavy feeling stuff until halfway through the program. Six to eight weeks after the program is completed Nelson calls the kids to make sure they remember "I" statements and strategies to help repair relationships within the family. The four units covered in the Teens: Experts on Divorce program are: In the Middle, Feeling and Healing, Families of all Kinds and Caring for Me.

"Kids look pretty put together and a lot of them are mature beyond their years," Nelson said. "But when they tell their story about the abuse they have seen or felt, it is pretty overwhelming. They have put on the appearance of looking all right, but they are really hurting inside. The kids have been busy protecting themselves and their family members for so long, they have trouble working out their own feelings."

Those who choose to attend the retreat should bring their own toiletry items, as well as a towel, washcloth, sleeping bag and a change of clothes. Nelson said to leave the music, electronic games or other distractions at home. For further information or registration details, call Linda Nelson at Mercer House, 265-7366.

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