Parenting teenagers isn't easy. There are the traditional worries of sex drugs and rock 'n' roll, hormones and peer pressure. Then our modern lifestyles add another layer - online safety and device use, family time pressures as most households now have two working parents, and rising levels of mental illness, peaking in the teen years.
Research into teen mental health emphasises the role that schools, parents and the community have to play - which means that school parent associations could be uniquely placed to assist families. One association embracing this is the P&C at Mount Stromlo High School. Over the last few years they have run four parent workshops each year featuring highly regarded speakers.
"Our aim is to offer opportunities to educate and provide parents and carers with practical skills to support their children," said Anita Mack, the P&C President.
"Last year we had a great range of speakers. Mental Illness Education ACT ran a fantastic program on body image in teens. The presentation was designed to work in conjunction with their student and teacher designed sessions. Annie Bleeker, internationally recognised alcohol and drug expert, talked parents through alcohol and drug use in Australia and provided a guide for parents on how to support our teens in making good choices.”
“This year, we had teamed up with Melrose High to organise two evenings with Steve Biddulph - raising girls and raising boys - one each at the schools,” Anita adds, “but we have had to cancel that when the Coronavirus lockdown started in Term 2."
“We have tried to adapt and have just run our first online workshop, presented by Headspace. We had 27 parents tune in to the workshop using Google Hangout Meet and had positive feedback from attendees afterwards. We chose Google Hangout Meet because it is the system used in schools so, if necessary, parents could access it using their child’s chromebook.”
“We try and vary the content. SHFPACT (Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT) have just presented a workshop and our first workshop in 2021 will be on recognising concussion – it’s impacts and how to manage it in our kids.”
The P&C also organises the events so there is a chance for parents from the broader community to benefit.
"We usually open our workshops up to parents from our local feeder primary schools and nearby schools such as Alfred Deakin and Melrose high schools," Anita explained.
"We had over 300 people attend a showing of the documentary film ‘Screenagers’ at the school last year. It was a terrific school event. Parents and their teens learnt the impact 'tech time' has on development as well as practical measures for teens to navigate the digital world and maintain balance.”
“The school support staff were available afterwards to answer parent questions which was really helpful."
As with many P&C events, linking closely with the school and mobilising their support has been crucial.
"We've been careful to tie in with the school,” said Anita. “This year 'YAM' - a Year 9 mental health program by The Black Dog Institute - is being trialed at the school, and we had plans to run an evening session about this for parents.”
"We also appreciate the school’s support. Staff help at the workshops - the setup, getting the technology working and organising tea and coffee," she said.
"We usually don't aim to make any money from the events. Sometimes we charge a small entrance fee to cover the cost of the speaker or film license. Last year at Screenagers we ran a sausage sizzle along side, and made $1000 or so."
“But fundraising isn’t the focus. If we can give a little bit back to the school at the end of the year we are content.”
Council has compiled a list of possible topics and speakers for forums which parents at your school may find useful.
This article is part of a series "At Out P&C..." sharing great things that ACT P&Cs are doing.