A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

From the Principal - Edition 6 - 2019

Teenage Brains are Under Siege was the headline of a great article on the ABC by Maggie Dent on Saturday morning. The pressures of social media on students, along with the changes they are going through in adolescence, can lead to a volatile cocktail of emotions and relationships. This week we have been fortunate enough to have Paul Dillon speak to Years 10, 11 and 12 students about some of the issues that they are facing. He also spoke to staff and parents.

Maggie’s article on the weekend suggested that as parents and educators we could do three things to connect with our teenage children:

  • Show empathy
  • Be there
  • Shine a light.

Showing empathy is linked to the way the teenage brain functions, which for parents and teachers can be very frustrating. In the world of wellbeing, it is generally understood that teenagers’ brains go through a remodelling that leads to a form of ‘neural shearing’ that can make them forgetful and being less organised. When, as parents or educators, we overreact to this it can make them feel dumb, useless and promote self-loathing. As challenging as it can be, Dent encourages us to treat this sort of behaviour with patience, compassion and kindness. She goes on to say that if we lecture, they feel they can’t get anything right; if we criticise they feel useless and incapable; if we nag they feel disrespected. I wish had remembered this last night, when my own teenager showed no organisational skills! Given an adolescent’s proximity to their phone, she suggests a text and emoji can be very effective (if they have remembered to charge their phone and check it!).

Being there is linked with mindfulness. When our adolescents want to talk we need to be prepared to stop and make them the centre of our attention, actively listen, reflect and encourage them to tell us more. We need to avoid stepping in and solving their problems. Instead, we have to try to help them find their own path in sorting out the issues in front of them. This is a big lesson (for all of us) to help develop their resilience.

Finally, Dent suggests we need to help our adolescents establish lighthouse relationships or beacons with safe adults who aren’t their parents, such as uncles, aunts, family friends, God Parents or neighbours - older people who have the ability to form positive relationships with students and help guide them. Beacons or lighthouses don’t judge, they can show where danger is or guide the path without fully illuminating it. Unlike parents, when a lighthouse holds up a mirror for self-reflection or a different lens for perspective, the feedback is much more willingly accepted. It has a different level of credibility, even though it might be exactly what a parent would have said. This can help adolescents navigate through a very challenging time.

Paul Dillon echoed many of Dent’s ideas as he spoke to parents, staff and students yesterday. As parents, we need to listen to the opinions of these specialists and synthesise what they say with our knowledge of our children. Remember that we are parents first, not ‘peerants’ or friends. Our relationships with our teenagers will always be challenged by the smallest yet most powerful word we can say to them and then adhere to - when we need to say “no”.

Simon Shepherd

Maggie Dent’s article can be accessed at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-04/connecting-with-your-teenager/11043272
Later this month, Maggie will be hosting a new podcast ‘Parental as Anything’ on the ABC.