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Balancing Independence with Boundaries

Published on 04/07/17

“You need to be much more aware of what your children see you doing than what they hear you saying.”

These were the words of Janey Downshire who delivered our most recent Parent Talk. Her presentation on ‘Balancing Independence with Boundaries’ drew a sizeable audience eager to understand better the workings of the teenage brain and how it can result in the irksome behaviours which our teenagers sometimes display. Despite having only 90 minutes, Janey was able to present some complex neurological and biochemical processes in a way that was both accessible and enlightening. The examples of teenage traits which she used to illustrate the science were drawn from her own experiences as a parent and reassured us that we are not the only ones who are sometimes challenged by the young people in our lives.

The second part of Janey’s talk, when she discussed the healthy strategies which affect our minds and bodies in a positive way, really provided food for thought. Many of the ‘usual suspects’ were there: exercise, sleep, healthy diet, friendship, etc. but I was also pleased to see ‘space’ and ‘peace’ on the list. Janey even went as far as saying boredom can be beneficial for one’s wellbeing. I certainly recall boredom figuring quite regularly during my childhood. Family holidays involved long car journeys from Cambridge to Wales and, in the days before seatback DVD screens, my parents would valiantly encourage my brothers and I to chant times tables and invented games involving scoring points for the number of heads, arms and legs on pub signs. As I say, boredom figured quite regularly in my childhood but it helped me to better appreciate the fun activities that also featured and helped to ensure my brain was not constantly being over-stimulated: there really aren’t that many pub signs on the A44 (but just imagine the excitement generated by The Cricketers in Leominster)!

No school is going to proudly proclaim introducing boredom into the daily routine of its pupils but I do think our School is blessed with grounds which encourage pupils to find the ‘space’ and ‘peace’ which can be so important for wellbeing, especially when the exam season is in full swing. In this age of constant connectivity, stillness is, in my opinion, underrated and worth making time for.

What I took away from the talk is that the old maxim ’Don’t do as I do, do as I say’ is a poor strategy for raising teenagers. It may feel like ‘there’s no telling young people’ but, whilst they may not be listening to you, they are noticing how you behave in different circumstances and they will be modelling their own responses and behaviour on you. If you slump in front of the TV flicking away at your smartphone, so will they. If you crack open a chilled bottle of pinot grigio after a difficult day at work, they could be forgiven for thinking that alcohol is the best way to deal with stress. If you only eat salad leaves and fret about your weight, they might begin to see slimness as the only route to contentment. Janey’s talk has made me reflect on what my own teenagers see me doing and I am determined to nag them less and make sure that they find me modelling positive behaviours and seeking stillness through reading, baking, listening to music or just being bored.

Parent Talks are arranged once a term and all parents are welcome to attend.  In the Autumn Term Dr Aric Sigman will be talking about ‘Managing Screen Time and Screen Dependency’ on Tuesday 14 November at 7pm in the Great Room.

Mr Eric Trump is Deputy Head in the Senior School with responsibility for pastoral care.