Newsletter | Sep/Oct 2017

Willows in the Wind: A Parent Support Group for Parents of Struggling Teens

by Suzan Swabacker
Here’s a question for you. Name 3 things that cause you stress right now.
Most of us would grumble about the travel time/stress to get to and from our jobs. We’d complain about the incredible cost of living in the Bay Area. Lastly, most of us would state that we work too many hours and designers don’t get paid enough. These problems probably don’t keep us awake at night. Now consider a problem that does keep us awake: parents with teens who are unmanageable.

There are thousands of teens and young adults in the Bay Area who struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD and low self-esteem. Many of these issues manifest through isolation, cutting, bullying, suicide attempts, gaming, anorexia. Many of these young people get hooked on marijuana, alcohol, video games, heavier drugs, or the internet. The parents are frantic. The first thing that parents attempt to do is engage with the school. Some schools are “getting it” but most pretend not to see the school’s part in the problem. Instead, the issues and solutions are the responsibility of the parents. In fairness to our schools, many teachers are dealing with overwhelming issues in the classroom. One disruptive kid or one kid sleeping in the back of the room should not impinge on their peers. Instead, remove the student.

The outcome? Sooner or later these youth usually stop going to school.
While some parents and relatives are naïve in thinking that “teens are like this, I was like that;” others recognize that the time of parental influence is fleeing quickly. A child magically becomes an adult at age 18 and no parent can force a child to go to school. Indeed, a whole industry of educational consultants, residential therapeutic centers (RTC), therapeutic boarding schools (TBS), and wilderness therapy programs have arisen over the past 20 years. These programs center around the teen. Who helps the parents?

Willows in the Wind does. Willows provides safe space for parents to come and talk, “unload”, share information with other parents, and start to learn that the only person they can change is themselves. Teen trauma is color-blind, socioeconomic-blind, and age-blind. Teen trauma occurs with adopted kids, foster kids, biological kids, and grandkids. Willows is a non-profit organization based in the Bay Area for over 10 years. Meetings are in San Rafael, Los Altos, and Oakland once a month.

First and foremost is the topic of shame which families have to deal with, usually before and during treatment. Who in the highly successful Bay Area wants to admit they have a child who won’t leave the house, or who runs away? The purpose of the organization is to provide support to those in caught an underground society no one else wants to acknowledge. Typically, it’s the mothers who show up at Willows meetings but progress is faster when dads show up as well.

Why write about Willows in a design professionals newsletter? Because you may benefit from going to Willows. Because we also seek donations and a permanent office space in order to extend our reach to other parents. Because someday we hope to create a video that we can take into classrooms all over California to raise awareness about struggling teens. As the saying goes: we are not alone, nor should you be. If you have further questions you can contact me at (650) 743-1989 or Jan Rao at (650) 868-1988,


Suzan Swabacker
Architect. Board member Willows in the Wind

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