Urpo (singular), Urpot (plural): Finnish slang for stupid, old fashioned, out of touch. It’s a kinder, gentler (and hipper) way for an adolescent to say his parents are idiots.
Urpot.fi is a gathering place for us “idiot parents,” or urpot. It offers help when we’re at wit’s end as parents of adolescents.
A teen arrives at the breakfast table grumpy and shouts at her mother. "Porridge again! I am so tired of porridge!"
The mother, who has risen early to prepare the warm breakfast before the daughter walks to school in the cold and dark, shouts back. “You think I get up every morning and make you breakfast just for fun?”
How will the mother’s response affect the relationship?
It’s behavior like this that Urpot has set out to change. Parental behavior, that is.
As the jokes go, being a parent doesn’t require any education, and no instruction manual comes with your children when they’re born. “But in fact,” notes Dr. Raisa Cacciatore, one of the child psychiatrists behind Urpot “there is lots of help for parents of infants out there.” But Cacciatore saw very little information for parents of teens. So together with Väestöliitto, the Family Federation of Finland, she set out to remedy the situation.
Through expert lectures, videos, and chat rooms, all centered around post-puberty topics, Urpot.fi helps parents cope with the physical, mental, and emotional growth of adolescents.
“In one respect adolescents are all the same,” says Cacciatore. “They’re full of energy and questions. But even though the world is full of information they don’t find answers. They look on the internet and find 100 doctors saying different things. There should be a trustworthy, nearby place to ask questions.”
How would psychiatrists from Urpot suggest our aforementioned parent deal with her emotional teen?
The mother’s tit-for-tat response using the same emotions isn’t the solution. Studies show that the distance between the mother and daughter in our example will grow during the day, and it’s likely they may not speak to one another in the evening.
“A very easy way to reduce the teen’s irritation,” says Cacciatore, “is to listen, understand, and echo aloud what you have understood. ‘You don’t like this breakfast.’ The teen may respond with, ‘I want to have tea.’ ‘So you want to have tea,’ the parent repeats. Soon, the irritation level is reduced, and the teen begins speaking more clearly. It doesn’t mean the mother agrees. It simply means the teen has been heard. Quickly the circle of negativity breaks down, and the teen feels safe and respected.”
Cacciatore and Urpot give parents options, so that children have options. "Emotion is only emotion, and we are more than our emotions,” says Cacciatore. “When you’re in love you don’t have to kiss immediately. When you’re angry you don’t have to hit immediately."
Issues facing adolescents are many: eating disorders, aggression, alcohol abuse, first love, sexual awakening, teenage pregnancy, escaping from home, violence, and even suicides. The need for help is clear. A Family Federation telephone hotline for boys, staffed by qualified professionals, receives 3,000 calls per month. The staff has the resources to handle only 1,000.
The Family Federation is an NGO with limited resources, and it could not exist without support of the assistance of private enterprise. Ensto is proud supporter of the Federation and Urpot.
Cacciatore vividly draws the connection between parents and work: a troubled parent is not a productive employee. “The questions of parenthood are always present in the workplace. Phone calls are made to schools, to other parents. For the parent, the child is more important than work. The employer needs to be aware of this, accept it, and support it.”
What’s an adolescent’s biggest worry? “’How do I find my place in the world, my own identity,’” says Cacciatore. “’Am I the right kind of person with the right skills to get friends, get a girlfriend or boyfriend, and get a job?’”
What's a parent’s biggest worry? “We want our child to be happy and find their way, and we don’t know how to support and help them,” says Cacciatore. “The world has changed and children need a coach to help them learn to withstand disappointment and cope with uncertainty. To help them believe in themselves, and relax without having all the answers.”
While a website is certainly not a panacea for parent-child relations, it is in fact one key solution: it’s a conversation starter.
“It would be great if children would turn to their parents with problems,” says Cacciatore. “Urpot.fi is here to help parents start the conversation.”
Kari Lankinen, the Family Federation’s Business Development Director, says that given Finland’s social welfare system, cooperation between NGOs and for-profit companies is very rare. “We’re very grateful to EM Group, Ensto, and Meconet for seeing the value in this project,” says Lankinen. “Fundraising for these projects is not easy.”
“Company responsibility is the reason why my family and EM Group Oy [Ensto’s parent company] decided to take part in this project,” says board member Anu Miettinen, herself a psychotherapist. “As a Finnish family company, we want to support Finnish families, and we see a clear connection between family well-being and workplace health.”