YFS offers online tool for Island parents

ParentingMercerIsland.org was launched on March 18.

One step at a time.

That’s how Mercer Island parents can either begin or continue their journey to helping their children achieve success with the aid of a new comprehensive and research-based online tool, which was recently put into action by the city’s Youth and Family Services Department (YFS) and its Healthy Youth Initiative.

YFS launched ParentingMercerIsland.org on March 18 and they’ve been flowing it through the community with some PTAs and parenting groups in the Mercer Island School District along with St. Monica’s and other schools.

The robust website — brought to life with vital help from the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University — guides locals through “everyday parenting issues such as confidence, anger, bullying, chores, discipline, friends, homework, and listening, among others,” according to a city press release.

YFS’s Michelle Ritter, who coordinates the MI Healthy Youth Initiative, said that parents can follow a five-step process to build a strong foundation and relationship with their children that will lead into engaging in critical conversations about the aforementioned issues when they arise throughout their kids’ age expedition.

The five steps, in order, are: Get input, teach, practice, support and recognize — with that final step focusing on providing positive reinforcement and encouragement.

“And so this five-step process can apply to almost anything, whether it is helping them with friendships, whether it’s setting logical consequences, whether it is talking to them about a new skill that they might learn, say, chores or routines. It’s really built so that parents can learn this process and then utilize it in each of the tools,” Ritter said.

YFS Administrator Derek Franklin said his department has been searching for ways to better support Island parents for years, and now the online tool has arrived. They are thrilled to bring it into parents’ domains.

“(The tool) was developed with the needs of Island parents in mind and supports YFS’s ‘up river’ efforts to support positive mental health and prevent substance abuse of all Island youth — strong parenting skills is a ‘universal prevention strategy’ known to correlate with many protective factors for youth across their lifespans,” Franklin said.

Ritter, who is a parent herself, said she was lucky to delve into the site and review all the tools with a colleague. They wanted to ensure that the messages within the site resonated with local parents.

“We feel like we just had a parenting master class because we really got to learn about things,” Ritter said of their traversal through the site. “I was taking notes as I was looking through it. Definitely really wonderful things.”

YFS staffers explain to others that parenting is important, but it’s not always easy to figure out, said Ritter, adding that the guidance within the site can diminish some of parenting’s mysteries. Their goal is to provide connection and communication while helping steer children in the right direction so they can make good choices and thrive in their lives.

“I used to joke with my kids, I said, ‘There’s not a manual for how to be a parent. I’m learning this as you’re growing up and learning how to be a young adult. I’m also learning parenting as I go along,’” Ritter said.

ParentingMercerIsland.org is beamed onto parents’ computer screens through federal grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Strategic Prevention Framework — Partnerships for Success grant is a five-year subsidy of $375,000 per year that is channeled toward the parenting project and the totality of YFS’s prevention efforts.

Annmarie McMahill, senior research scholar for the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University, said: “ParentingMercerIsland.org recognizes that parents face everyday challenges, and it aims to be a trusted resource. We developed practical tools based on social and emotional learning because these skills are crucial for a child’s well-being and future success.”