Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Traditional child rearing places the child as passive and without autonomy. However, children have wisdom and competence, but not experience or clear boundaries. Much child-rearing practice is built on the idea that children will not feel safe if adults do not show power. This creates an uneven dynamic that does not address family issues at their root—dynamics between parent and powerless child that influence behavior. In dealing with issues of young people and families, parents and children are separated and siloed. Adults are taught “parenting techniques” and young people are trained to behave. However, the key influencer, the relationship between these two actors is ignored. Traditional efforts to adjust child behavior treat the child as an object to be trained and the adults as the main actors, rather than placing both parents and child as dual participants in shifting that internal structure.
There is little open, honest dialogue between parents and children. Children are viewed as incompetent, impulsive, and irrational. However, traditional child development is designed from an adult perspective. It compares children at each stage of their development to an ideal adult person, where they inevitably fall short in all measures but basic motor development.
Young people are growing up in a world entirely different from their parents, from gender roles to non-traditional family dynamics to social pressures, but their perspective is not fully included in their family dynamic. Success for a child involves positive mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing, but statistics show that more and more youth are developing psychological problems, particularly depression—an increase of 260% in the past twenty years.
Changing family dynamics and giving young people power, even in small ways, has long-term impact on their emotional well-being. A longitudinal study over a twenty-five year period showed that those young people who had more freedom and autonomy to design their lives around their own needs—including how much and what they wanted to eat—thrived markedly better and developed fewer psychosomatic symptoms in later life. Still, young people are not recognized as equal partners within their own families.
The youth movement has articulated a new framework regarding youth empowerment and autonomy, but only half of it has been surfaced. Youth are being given the freedom and opportunity to create things for themselves and grasp their own potential for making change, but the power structures and systems they live in have not shifted. There are multitudes of youth organizations that focus only on young people rather than the context in which they live. In order to have young people with power, there has to be a release of power.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Jesper is driving a historical shift to redesign the family. Over a thirty year career, he has designed tools for family members to transform their internal dynamics to improve quality of life, reduce stress, foster empathy, and build a culture where young people can be leaders in their own lives. His thirty years of work have been devoted to helping families look to each other—rather than a technique or methodology--to build the most functional relationship, and position young people in a place of respect and competence. Jesper’s technique brings together all members of a family to help forge better interactions with each other, predicated on the notion that the child is competent and able to contribute as an equal partner within a dialogue. His organization, Family-Lab, offers a space where families can discover, invent and experiment on the best way to interact, moving away from traditional notions of obedience and hierarchy towards equal dignity, personal integrity, and competence. It operates on the premise that children behave according to how families are functioning, and that in order for young people to have power, there must be a release of power. Jesper’s work over the past thirty years has changed the paradigm of family care and given families the tools to craft their own healthy relationships.
Jesper’s work brings a set of tools to help parents engage with the changing world in which their children live, and children voice their needs. It moves away from traditional notions of a child as helpless towards a more even footing and mutual developmental progress, “from obedience to responsibility,” giving parents tools to trust their children and meet them with equal dignity. Active in over 13 countries, Jesper offers workshops for families, dialogue strategies, active learning seminars for parents, group counseling for families, contracts to companies who purchase services for their staff, and larger partnerships to build these tools of collaboration. He is taking this field out of the realm of academia, making cutting edge research and family theory accessible by the masses for use in their own lives, making happier families and better balanced children.