Parents’ Pastoral Conference

On Sunday 28th January we welcomed 125 parents from the Shell and Remove to the College to hear presentations, share ideas and experience, and talk with one another and with pastoral staff, in an inaugural Parents’ Pastoral Conference.

In a packed Garnett Room, the Master, Jonathan Leigh, opened the conference with reflections on the challenges facing an ‘iGen’ – a generation for whom social media communication, rather than face to face conversation, was the norm; for whom ‘likes’ went hand in hand with loneliness and anxiety. He stressed the enduring importance of good manners, of respect for others and tolerance of difference, of learning from mistakes and the recognition that success is not an entitlement but something that has to be worked towards. Thanking parents for their support, he offered hope for the next part of the journey towards young adulthood, and a strong positive belief in the capacity of the young to meet their challenges and responsibilities with good humour, energy and resilience.

The first presentation was given by Lucy Bailey from How to Thrive. Lucy demonstrated how one’s response to activating events or triggers was often governed by our underlying beliefs; and that these beliefs, rather than the events themselves often determined outcomes. By challenging or changing the underlying beliefs, resilient behaviour could be built. Young people could, in other words, be empowered to feel more in control of feelings, outcomes and consequences, rather than feeling powerlessly buffeted by forces outside their control.

Dick Moore spoke next, building on the theme of learning to ‘dance in the rain’, rather than drowning in the storm. Dick brilliantly explained the limbic origins of our emotional state during adolescence, and why impulsive behaviour and poor decision making was such an important ‘job’ for young people’s development. He went on to describe the ways in which parents could help support young people to recognise the difference between a ‘normal’ ebb and flow in mood, relationships and resilience during adolescence, and when these become concerning and potentially harmful. His ‘Top Tips’ for parents struck a chord with all!

After lunch, Karl Hopwood explored the latest research from a variety of sources, including the most recent ‘Life in Likes’, about young people and digital technology. Offering reassuringly practical and common-sense advice, Karl reiterated that what was not acceptable offline was not acceptable online: that young people should be accountable for what they say, post and access through smartphones and tablets. He expanded on the critical role of parents, and teachers, in modelling good behaviour – in terms of self-regulation, in setting appropriate boundaries, in opportunities for social interaction. He also explained that the risks and threats to young people online were often not from the more sensationalist quarters, but from compromises to personal security and identity theft.

In the final session of the day, a panel of HMs addressed key questions for parents: where was the line between banter and bullying; how were pastoral needs met in a busy boarding environment; how should parents deal with requests to go to parties and festivals; how to balance trust and care.

The response of parents throughout epitomised the day: warmly collaborative, generous in mutual support and, with pastoral staff throughout the College, committed to the ‘journey’ – both the storms AND the sunshine along the way!

Lady Cayley
Deputy Head (Boarding)

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