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The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning: ParenTalks

From emotional intelligence to consent and how to engage in open conversations with adolescents, the first ParenTalks of the academic year touched on a range of timely topics.

Moderated by John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS), the panel was made up of experts from the school community who provided important insights, knowledge, and advice to parents and guardians participating in the webcast. Dr. Mark Broussenko ’07, family physician and hospitalist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) as well as regular ParenTalks contributor, joined SMCS faculty, Liat Benzacar, Student Wellness Officer, and Kristy Onyeaju, Guidance Counsellor, for the 60-minute discussion.

The panelists kicked off the session by outlining  the social and emotional realities they have been seeing lately.

SMCS ParenTalks panelists on October 27, 2022

“I think we’re having a lot of early mental health presentation,” says Dr. Broussenko. “People, coming out of the experience of the pandemic starting to reintegrate back into a more social and more fulsome life, I think are finding some of their coping strategies have been a little bit rusty. Some of everyone’s coping strategies are really being put to the test, so definitely higher rates of substance use and problematic substance use, and definitely higher rates of social anxiety.”

Questions from parents and guardians around substance use are commonly asked about during ParenTalks and have been addressed in previous episodes on teen mental health and wellness. Benzacar echoes that it’s important that parents, guardians, and caregivers don’t pretend that it’s not happening.

Benzacar suggests acknowledging that students will be exposed to drug and alcohol use, focusing on safety is first and foremost. Parents should still share their feelings around use, “It’s illegal and you are underage but if you find yourself in a scenario you where you are at risk or your safety is of concern, you can always be available as a parent to your child.”

“Open communication about these things is critical and important on an ongoing basis, and sharing with students why you might be concerned,” she adds. “The space where it shifts from recreational to managing emotion, managing pain, that would be one that you can address with your student directly or direct them to the people in the building who would be able to support either referrals or ongoing support.”

On the topic of communication, panelists explored how to articulate more complex thoughts and feelings as a family and approaching a common dialogue dilemma.

“In my years meeting with parents, one of the ones that inevitably comes up all the time was, ‘I ask him how his day was, or what he did at school, and he says fine and nothing,’” says Onyeaju. “I think that this sometimes speaks to the limited frame of reference or words that they have to actually explain something as simple as how their day was.”

Panelists also discussed the importance of teaching consent and the problems with an ‘abstinence-only’ stance.

“Consent is a necessary part of our lives, in all aspects, it’s not just sexual or romantic. It’s just the interactions that we have with others that take place by giving and getting consent,” says Benzacar. “It could be as simple as ordering a pizza or inviting somebody over to your house. I think what’s so important about teaching consent, particularly as it relates to emotional intelligence is that it’s important to be able to manage rejection.”

She adds, “Another reason why it’s also dangerous to teach only abstinence, is because we’re removing what it might be for somebody to give rejection. ‘How do I say no?’ It removes peer pressure from the scenario, and that’s something that I think is prevalent in all scenarios with teenagers.”

If you missed this episode, you can watch our recording below.

Find more information about ParenTalks and watch past episodes.

Related links:

SMCS Parents’ Association

Learning Support at SMCS

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