A communal living program for adolescent boys and girls
A serious problem of our society and age is the lack of suitable support for young people struggling through the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Many of the small nuclear families which are typical of today's society seem to be inadequate in their attempts to cope with and help adolescent members striving to attain maturity. And few families today have the supporting outer fringe of grandparents, aunts and uncles who were available in the past to draw off some of the "heat" which inevitably builds up between parent and adolescent.
The Viking Houses program is designed specifically for adolescents who have decided they can no longer live in a foster home, group home, treatment centre, adoption home, or with their own families (however much they might really need both family and parents) and are seeking some source of support in the community of a non-family, non-parental nature.
Male and female adults are employed in each house to provide a co-operative communal environment for three or more sponsored adolescents. The structure of each house varies depending on the adolescents in it and the adults operating it. The adolescents participate in setting the life style and nature of relatedness between one another and the adults in each house. It is a non-institutionalized, co-operative style of living with the staff from time to time introducing as much fami-liness with each person as he or she can accommodate.
The adolescents are encouraged and helped to participate in the daily life events of the house: shopping, housekeeping, shared activities. The emphasis is placed on bringing out the strengths and capacities that each adolescent has available, or potentially available.
There are three general provisos as preconditions for all staff and adolescents in Viking Houses. Drugs are not used, al-cholic beverages not consumed, sexual relations not permitted, within the house. These three restrictions are set, not in parental fashion, but out of the reality that the living arrangements — to provide security — must be constant, reliable, acceptable to community standards and safe from being "busted" by the police.
Group and individual talks and discussions are carried on by the adults in the house to provide an informal learning environment. Professional group therapists are also available to come to the houses, on invitation, for more structured talks geared to specific problem solving.
The Viking Houses program is geared to deal with all the demanding problems of adolescence, including normal adolescent emotional problems, but not deep psychiatric personality disturbances. The program is | intended primarily for adolescents 16 years and older. It can help adolescents who fit the description "emotional disturbance and neuroses of adolescent adjustment", first offenders, unmarried mothers, sexually acting out youngsters, kids experimenting with drugs, adolescents suffering from severe family crises — death, separation, hospitalization of parents, or serious breakdown of adolescent-parent: relationship.
Viking Houses has started its program in Ontario, but is prepared to discuss the establishment of such houses in any community. The model developed can be copied and Viking Houses will be very pleased to consult with interested persons on how to proceed with setting up a similar program. Enquiries should be made to Browndale International, P.O. Box 125, Newmarket, Ont., Canada.
We thought it might be helpful to share with readers of Involvement the following preliminary statement on communal living by John L. Brown which was given to the staff of the Viking Houses program.
John Brown talks about Communal Living
Communal living has been a part of man's experience from the beginning of his existence and no other form of living has failed more miserably, nor succeeded more beautifully, in terms of providing for the security, love, protection and stimulation of the individuals participating.
In recent .times, successful communes have incorporated the following characteristics and the communes that have failed have not. These are:
- A strong central leader;
- A deep cause or dedication to a goal or a principle;
- A well established role as assignment for each member with that member agreeing to the assignment and fulfilling his function
If we wish to develop and extend the commune principle as a way of living with and helping troubled adolescents, we must outline some basic premises.
- The primacy of the self:
The self or the "I" is the centre of the universe. All things exist around, and in terms of the self. This is the nature of human consciousness. At birth we exist in a state of isolate loneliness without knowledge and uncivilized, with our perceptions and our potentials imprisoned within our body; from the moment of birth our consciousness begins to explore and discover the world within us and the world outside us through an orderly process governed by, limited by, dependent on the functioning of our sensory modalities of communication.
As the self is fed and nourished and as the self's needs are met and satisfied — stage by stage — the "I" grows into a person and the intellect of the "I" begins to assess, evaluate, and extend the heritage of our culture and civilization. The knowledge that existed before is extended through our experience and our thought and we become one with millions in a flowing, evolving river of life.
The commune must recognize the "I" at its present state for each of the individuals that make it up. There are aspects of the self which will determine the role, the nature of the contribution, and the nature of the demand of the self on the commune. To be unaware of the reality of the need of each self in the commune is to be unaware of what it is the commune must provide for its members. This knowledge will constitute one part of the burden to be borne by the commune and also one part of the potential which can be brought to blossom for each individual by the commune.
- Transcending the self:
The commune is the "we" and the "we" transcends the self. This is so because we are organisms with needs that must be met if we are to exist in a productive and happy state: in a state of harmony within and without. The "we" is comprised of the self's fulfillment and an extension to one another. A state of relatedness exists which encompasses in part, our need for each other. This need for each other is not always the same, either for the group or for the individual. But it exists and it comes into being whenever selfs gather. The success of the commune then depends very largely on our awareness and acceptance of who we are, why we are together, and where it is we wish to go. Further, it is essential that we all know and understand what we will each contribute to that journey.
- The commune:
The commune consists of the self and of the "we", but the self and the "we" does not make a commune. To make the commune we must define for each member in it his immediate need and his long range need and we must remember these will change. We must assess the immediate need and the long term need of the commune as it will be contributed to by the specific self and we must remember that these things will change. A commune is a contradiction between the needs of the self and the needs of the "we", and the order and life of the commune are the rules laid down to civilize the needs of the "I" and the needs of the "we".
The individual aspires to transcend himself and others around him. The "we" aspires to ensure all selfs will be the same. This is their nature. We must work in harmony with their nature to bring each to a higher level of functioning. Because this is the order of their nature, conflict and contradiction are central themes that must be dealt with.
- High and low priority problems:
Because the idealism of many is established, and is part of communes, many communes function impractically and fail. Others that are strongly rooted and firmly in routine, fail because of lack of inspiration.
We must understand that in commune’s idealism and practical work must be seen to be of equal importance. The idealism cannot be allowed to cloud the necessity to keep house, prepare food, care for the sick and teach and learn. Nor must the life essential daily functions become emphasized and focused on to such an extent that the idealism that nourishes the “we” and stretches our own goals can find no fertile place in which to express itself.