WESTMINSTER >> Teen health and wellness is a daunting topic, especially these days with so many influences between home, school, and the ever-present social media.
Compass School recently hosted the first of four events designed to support parents and teachers with a workshop on adolescent development that did more than just convey information — it centered on parent-to-parent collaboration and sharing.
At this year's initial meeting, parents were asked to recall an occasion where they felt effective, when communication and connection between parent and teenager felt strong. Sharing their individual experiences in groups, parents created a list of "Our collective (but a bit uncertain) advice on good parenting." The title reflected the tenor of the parents' conversations — acknowledging that we have many good ideas among us, but there is always the deeper understanding that probably nothing works all the time with teens, and that our relationships with youth at this age involves continual adjustment and responsiveness.
Without exception, parents rave about the value of sharing this time with other parents and teachers. Compass School Board member Eaddy Sutton noted the lack of supports out there for parents of adolescents: "There is a lot you can find for parents of toddlers or elementary age children, but when it comes to the high school years, people seem reluctant to share parenting struggles, maybe because it is so challenging."
The parent gatherings at Compass address this shortcoming, involving parents talking with parents within a structure provided by the school counselor who organizes the night.
One important element of Compass' health and wellness program is parent education to help families improve communication and support for each child's growth in these critical middle and high school years. As school counselor Nancy Wohl explained: "We recognize that students are in school less than one-third of their day, so what happens at home is at least as important as what we can do at school."
Eric Rhomberg, a parent of an 11th grader, added: "We learned that one of the protective factors for teens is having parents connect and communicate with the parents of their child's friends. At the end of the evening I really do feel more confident and connected in my role as a parent of a teenager."
Sara Vitale, a parent of a new seventh grader, spoke of the value of this gathering for her: "It was helpful to meet with parents. Meeting the staff gave us an opportunity to engage one on one and have our questions answered. It was a great night of fun and learning."
Some of the most profound insights from the parent group related to the seeming paradoxes of working with adolescents, such as the need for consistency and flexibility or to set boundaries but to allow for mistakes. The final list of parenting advice they made for themselves included: the need to continue to find conditions to help connect with your child; to keep perspective and choose your battles; and to collaborate with your teen to build your relationship, even through the challenges.
The parent education component compliments the powerful mental health training that Compass teachers have been part of the past three years. As school director Rick Gordon pointed out: "We know that one in four teens have serious mental health issues during their high school years. And even when they may get support elsewhere from a counselor or therapist, they return to our classrooms still dealing with challenges. Most teachers have no mental health training yet are working with these kids every day. Our mental health training, led by experts from the Center for Health and Learning, has provided our teachers with insights and tools that make them more skillful supporting students in these sometimes difficult teen years."
Other components of the Compass health program include having students choose from an array of health classes on a quarterly basis, a student organized health event each semester, and funding for the school-based clinician. With this comprehensive approach to health and wellness that includes students, parents, teachers, and outside professionals, Compass is supporting every student to be successful in their teenage years, and beyond.
These parent sessions are made possible through a grant from the Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund and are open to the public — all community parents and educators are invited to a free dinner and to join in the conversation on teen health and wellness.
This year's topics include Nov. 15, "Technology &Teens: Parenting the Digital Generation"; Feb. 1, "Texting, Sexting, Bullying & More: The Influence of Social Media on Teens and Families"; and April 3, "Substance Use Prevention for Teens."
Brian Whitehouse is the Director of Admissions for Compass School. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.