Parents’ Pastoral Conference

The College’s second Parents’ Pastoral Conference took place on Sunday 20th January 2019, as 125 parents attended a day of presentations and discussion. The theme was a shared commitment to supporting teenagers as they grew through adolescence into resilient and confident young people.

After a welcome from the Master, Louise Moelwyn-Hughes, Lady Cayley spoke about the context of the conference. This lay in Marlborough’s commitment to a ‘partnership with parents’ taking tangible form; through sharing concerns, open and ongoing communication, and the opportunity for both parents and staff to learn about pastoral issues which can enable them all to support the young.

Dick Moore (pictured above) spoke first, offering crucial tips on how parents could support the mental wellbeing of their children. These included the need to look at ourselves, and the behaviour we model as parents and adults; the vital importance of looking for empathy and connection, and the need to go on talking and listening, however tough the going seems. The role of ‘necessary’ stress was discussed, alongside the consequences of ‘going limbic’ and the potentially harmful impact of insistence on the ‘stiff upper lip’. Dick explored some of the most common mental health issues faced by adolescents: anxiety, depression, self-harm and disordered eating. He stressed the importance of facilitating self-help for young people, and the obligation we all face to equip them with skills and tools with which they could ‘build strong wings and learn to fly’.

Next up was Claire Harvey from Diversity Role Models, who offered fascinating insights into the unconscious biases we all carry, and how greater self-awareness can lead us to mitigate bias in our own behaviours and role-model more inclusive behaviour to our children. Claire helped us to focus on why diversity was so valuable, and on the dangers of subconsciously excluding others we perceive as ‘different’ from ourselves, if we do not make conscious efforts to include them. Aspects of visible and less visible diversity were examined and through images, discussion and ‘interviewing’ we were helped to understand the harmful effects of exclusion on individuals. In a volatile and rapidly changing world, it is evident that our young people will need to build ‘HECCIE’ skills in order to thrive, and that we all flourish when inclusivity is at the heart of what we do.

Finally, Richard Daniel Curtis, author of AWOL: The Missing Teenage Brain, spoke about the neurological changes wrought by adolescence. He explained the ‘pruning’ within the brain that took place in order to build key neural pathways linked to identity and decision-making, and how the temporary ‘closing down’ of the frontal cortex during adolescence forces youngsters into reliance on their ‘lizard brain’. This, in turn, inhibited language, affected risk-taking and thinking about consequences, made for more emotional responses and affected sleep. In this way could “Kevin the Teenager’ be explained; monosyllabic, over-dramatic, dazed and confused…

All was not lost, however, and Richard pointed the way to building social skills and communication; greater cognitive maturity; emerging beliefs, passions and interests, and eventual adult independence.

At the end of the day parents were able to chat with HMs over tea. It can be easy to be both cynical and disheartened about adolescents: the media picture of the typical teenager is a largely negative, even bleak one. Yet we know this not to be true. Our young people are active, engaged, passionate about their interests, collaborative, curious and great company. It is this knowledge, and the belief in their potential to become happy, healthy citizens, well equipped to contribute positively to the communities in which they live and work, that brought us all together on a grey January day. The overriding feeling amongst those who attended was that it was very much worth it!

Slides from the day are available on the Parent Portal.

Lady Cayley
Deputy Head (Boarding)

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