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A Papatoetoe mother whose 13-year-old son stole the family's holiday money says a parenting course taught her and her husband to work as a team.

"We had money put away for a trip," says Karlene Mager.

Unknown to her or husband Mark, their son Jesse had been dipping into the cash bit by bit.

He had no particular motive. "I bought food," he says.

His parents took him to the police.

"I needed help," Mrs Mager says. "I wanted Jesse to suffer the consequences - not too harsh, just let him know how he affected us."

To the parents' surprise, they became part of the solution. Jesse, still too young for the Youth Court, was dealt with by "alternative action".

He had to do 30 hours of community service, and he and his parents agreed to attend family counselling with the Genesis Youth Project, an offshoot of Mangere police.

"Most of our clients we recommend to the parenting programme. It's voluntary, but it really helps with family life at home," says Temple Paora, the Genesis youth worker who worked with the Magers.

For two hours on one evening a week for 10 weeks, Mrs Mager, Jesse and Jesse's 11-year-old sister Casey attended sessions that will be replicated compulsorily for parents subject to parenting orders this year.

Mr Mager could attend only a couple of sessions because of work.

"We worked in groups," Mrs Mager says. "The parents would go and work among themselves and the youth would go away with the youth workers."

Then the two groups came together and spoke about their feelings about the other group in general, not naming individual families.

"We did have a lot in common, hearing what the youth are missing or looking for," Mrs Mager says.

"I felt a lot of sadness for the families, wanting to help. I suppose now the times have changed, it's two parents working. When we were growing up mothers were always there."

In the Mager family, Mrs Mager still works only part-time and is home for the children after school. But Mr Mager is an industrial electrician and often works 14 to 16-hour days.

Says Jesse: "I didn't get along with Dad. We just were not talking."

Things got worse after Jesse stole the money because his father was angry. But the Genesis programme encouraged him to make an effort.

"This programme got me to ... how to talk to him more, how to sort things out," says Jesse, who is now 15.

"It took a bit of time to get him to trust me again and stuff like that. We just started talking again. We talk heaps now."

The programme helped with his schoolwork and encouraged his sporting interests. He plays rugby and swims competitively. Last summer he took part in the Prime Minister's Youth Programme, training with the Auckland Blues and the Warriors.

Mrs Mager says the Genesis parenting programme helped her to forgive her son. She and Jesse had always been close and she had sometimes sided with him when his father punished him for something.

"That was another thing I learned - Mark and I had to be together as a unit," she says. "I think there was a lot of compassion and they taught me over time to trust, and it was like learning to love again as well, and to try to work to come together again as a family."

Monday: The parenting maze
Tuesday: Incredible years