9 October 2019

Preparing for those awkward conversations: a forum for parents of teens and pre-teens

| Rebecca Vassarotti MLA
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Mother and son

Parents need to ensure they can support young people when they hit the inevitable road bumps of adolescence. Photo: File.

Growing up can be tough. Being a parent of someone growing up isn’t easy either.

As children head into the awkward teenage years, there’s plenty for parents to consider when supporting their young people and their friends as they try to navigate through an increasingly complex, connected and sometimes confusing world.

The Awkward Conversations Forum on Thursday, 24 October at the White Eagle Polish Club is a great opportunity for parents to come together and share their thoughts, ideas and prepare for those teenage years.

The forum responds to the reality that as parents of pre-teens and teenagers, many of us feel like we are in unchartered territory and could benefit from sharing and learning from each other, especially how to deal with technology.

As hormones arrive and young people start to navigate relationships, this generation of internet natives will be faced with challenges not encountered by previous generations but as parents will have to try to keep up with them. My head spins at the deluge of new apps like Snapchat to Pushbullet to Tik Tok. It’s an everyday challenge to work out what is OK and what isn’t, and how to guide my internet natives to stay safe, be smart, and take care of themselves and others online which is part of everyday life.

Young people themselves are identifying coping with stress and mental health concerns as some of their biggest worries. As such, it is clear that parents need to ensure we can support our young people and help them develop healthy and supportive relationships. The focus on how many industries have failed to keep people safe from sexual harassment point to the fact there is more work to be done across the board to promote positive relationships, whether intimate or professional.

While there are some good information sources to support young people and their parents, there is nothing quite like discussing issues with people going through similar periods of their lives. This has been the motivation for a group of parents to get together to organise a forum that is parent-led, to help us connect and support each other, particularly through the early teen years.

Awkward Conversations has been inspired by a similar forum organised by another group of parents of high school students held two years ago. This attracted almost 100 people and followed a similar format to the one planned in October, where parents lead and guide the conversation while having access to facilitators who work in this area every day.

Topics will include respectful relationships, informed consent, supporting your young people to be great bystanders, mental health and young people, sex education in the age of the internet, and supporting young people to talk about sexuality and gender. Skilled facilitators and conversation guides will be on hand, but the conversations will be led by parents themselves. It’s a chance to voice concerns, share ideas and brainstorm ways to respond to the increasingly complex world our young people find themselves in.

The parent organisers are extremely grateful to the local organisations who are supporting the event and providing facilitators, including SHFPACT (Sexual Health & Family Planning ACT), the AIDS Action Council, A Gender Agenda, YWCA Canberra and the ANU. The North Ainslie Primary School P&C has also come on board and is sponsoring the venue hire.

Rebecca Vassarotti is one of the parent organisers of the Awkward Conversations forum. For more information visit Facebook.

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