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Tackling Tough Conversations: ParenTalks Postscript

The first ParenTalks presentation of the 2021-22 academic year at St. Michael's College School (SMCS) provided plenty of perspectives and insight into how best to tackle tough conversations on difficult topics with teenagers.

SMCS ParenTalks panelists on discussing tough topics with teens

Moderated by John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs at SMCS, the panel featured:

Jasmine Wong, Associate Program Director, Facing History and Ourselves, who works with educators from across Canada to provide professional learning curriculum resources and support. 

Dr. Mark Broussenko ’07, family physician and hospitalist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Chief Medical contributor for ParenTalks.

Kristy Onyeaju, Assistant Head of the English Department at SMCS, founder and coordinator of the Teacher Advisory Group (TAG) programme, and co-moderator of the Modern Man Movement. 

The 60-minute live webinar covered themes including:

  • Contemporary and historical cases of racism and oppression
  • Consent culture and sexual citizenship in the 21st century
  • Significant life upheavals
  • Social media and digital footprints

Dr. Mark Broussenko on ensuring a safe space:

"One of the things that we've been focusing more, especially as interactions become more digital, and people become more removed, and some of the old edifices of authority of people coming into my physical office have changed, is really an emphasis on effective communication, and to really focus on making sure that people know what to expect, what kinds of things are going to happen.

“The point that we're trying to encourage people to do in healthcare is to signpost all of your conversations. This is just as equally effective, if not, frankly, more effective, for younger adults and adolescents, as it is for full-fledged adults. Tell them what you're going to talk about.

“Signposting, especially if you're not about to have the conversation immediately, really provides a lot of reassurance and structure, and it tells people what to expect for that interaction. And then it makes that conversation safe by its initiation, because people don't think they're going to get surprised by it."

Kristy Onyeaju on consent culture:

"Consent culture is centred around healthy relationships, and mutual consent between two parties. A key component is that it has to be continually asked for, and it can never be assumed or implied — even in the situation where there's a pre-existing relationship. 

“In the wake of ‘Me Too’, and ‘Time's Up’ and an emerging culture of sexual assault on university campuses, this is a topic that we cannot ignore, especially as a preparatory school for post-secondary life. 

“In terms of justifying the conversation, I always think it's important to say to parents, our entry point is not an assumption of wrongdoing, or the assumption that your sons would be facilitating a compromising situation. 

“It stems more from a place of knowing the statistics. And knowing that our boys have mothers, sisters, female friends, girlfriends, that they value deeply and would love to protect. And statistically speaking, the women in their lives will come in contact with this type of conduct. 

“In some scenarios, statistically speaking, our boys have women in their lives who have experienced this. And so, we value the conversation in the context of being an ally, being the person who does the right thing, if they happen to be in [that] space."

Jasmine Wong on a student disclosure of being racialized:

"I think the first thing that you do as an adult is you check on the student. Ask him, How did that land for you? I noticed what happened. I think that for a young person to know that there is a caring and trusted adult who can help them hold whatever they've experienced and offer them ways to work through and process that whatever it is that they experienced — is tremendously helpful. 

“Kids are going to go through things that they should not have to go through. But doing it in community, doing it with an adult who can reassure them to say, that's not right, what you experienced. It's not your fault. I think those kinds of reassurances are really important. 

“Then I think as an adult, as the teacher in the room, we can offer — would you like to tell me something more about what happened? Is this something that we can address?

As an educator, you hope that there is a community of educators who you can talk about it with and say, you know, I'd really like to take this to trusted colleagues. Let's talk about what our plan is going to be in the moment."

Related links:

ParenTalks archive

Parents Portal

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