PTA General Meeting Minutes, March 11, 2015

By Alice Kenniff, secretary@hunterpta.org

Hunter held its annual PTA meeting in Flushing Queens, at the Nan Shan Senior Center on March 11.  The meeting came to order at 7:22 p.m.. Judy Weinstein, president of the PTA, opened the meeting, and Haley Gorenberg, Programming Chair, introduced the agenda. 

Kimberly Chu, a public and private school consultant, psychotherapist and a faculty member at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education affiliated with NYU School of Medicine, and Principal Tony Fisher discussed the main topic: “Risks and Rewards: Why Students Should Venture “Outside the Box””. 

Ms. Chu set the stage by describing adolescence as a time of tremendous physical, hormonal and emotional developments that may leave students feeling awkward or insecure. Parents often don’t know what their children are thinking, or what type of information they receive.  Students start to develop their own values, which may cause conflict within the family. An adolescent’s brain may not yet be developed enough to make good decisions or to think ahead into the future. 

Ms. Chu compared this stage of parenting to teaching a child to walk for the first time. Like toddlers, teens begin to take first steps toward entering the world of adulthood, and want to know they can take some risks and stay safe. Parents want to encourage teens to learn and develop skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives, but at the same time, help them avoid monumentally bad decisions. 

One way adolescents learn to know themselves is by trying different things. For example, a student who only takes math, or focuses solely on AP exams, may not discover other talents where he or she may excel. Ms. Chu suggested that parents focus on balance as important to helping their children thrive and grow into adaptable, creative and flexible adults. Students who believe that the choices they make today will determine their fate may find it difficult to manage their anxiety, she said, and parents can help by reminding teens there are many goals to strive for, not just one. 

Dr. Fisher pointed out that there are different ways to think of “risk.” One type involves, drugs, drinking or pressure for physical intimacy. Teens may try to  push boundaries with respect to these risks. Parents can help teens make good choices by showing we are willing to talk about everything.  Oftentimes when students are in trouble, he said, it’s because they haven’t thought in advance about how they would face certain risks, and wind up making bad decisions on the spot. 

A second, good type of risk involves teenagers taking on new activities, such as clubs, music or sports.  While it’s ok for parents to want more from their kids, Dr. Fisher advised, your child may not be ready for, or want to join, the activities you recommend, and finding what they’re passionate about may take longer than you think.

An audience member asked Ms. Chu and Dr. Fisher what they would say to a student who excelled in an activity she began at age five, who was now afraid to try a new activity and not be any good.  

Ms. Chu responded that it may be damaging to a teenager to feel locked into an activity.  While parents hope that success in an activity started at age five will get their child into college, recent news indicates there is no one formula that will get a student into college.  Instead, colleges strive to admit a balanced class of students that can learn from one another. Mr. Fisher asserted that students should do what they love doing. A student who quit doing an activity started at age five to start something else would still send a positive message -- namely, that they could excel at something, and still be willing to follow their own path. 

Another audience member asked how to help a student get over fear of failing. 

Ms. Chu said that if the student’s underlying fear is of failing his or her parents, it may be challenging for the parents to communicate what they really want to their child, in particular if the parents themselves grew up with a different set of expectations. She suggested that if a child’s ashamed of failure a parent can work on it with them, but recognized that it may be difficult if the parent has to navigate through what the child absorbed from you. Furthermore, Ms. Chu said, an adolescent’s fear of failure may carry over into his or her adult life, and an adult cannot be successful in work or relationships without taking any risks. Dr. Fisher added that parents can have a mixture of high expectations and an understanding that teenagers will take some risks. Kids have to know that if they make a mistake, they can call you. Signal to them that their safety comes first. With respect to academics, the message is the same. Your mental health and spiritual safety is more important. So parental messages can be pretty consistent. 

Ms. Chu recommended that parents give teens a clear sense of where parents’  boundaries with respect to taking risks are, so that when teenagers are in a situation where they are anxious and floundering, they’ll have what you’ve said to them as back up. You want them to have something to lean on. 

An audience member asked, what if your teenager’s passion isn’t school? 

Dr. Fisher recommended that parents encourage their child’s passion, but encourage balance in all things. Ms. Chu said it may be challenging for a parent to understand their child’s strengths, especially if they are very different from your own. You do not want to squelch your child’s passion or contribute to your child closing down. She asked parents to consider someone else’s child. Who is that child? What would you nurture in that child? 

Finally, a parent asked how to get to know your kids when they do not tell you anything. 

Dr. Fisher recommended being persistent and asking specific questions. Rather than asking how was your day, ask, “What did you do in Social Studies today?” Ms. Chu also advised asking a more limited, concrete question. Keeping it limited keeps your teen from feeling you’re invading his or her space, at the time when they’re starting to establish themselves and decide who they want to be. She reminded parents that teens need to know you’re there as a safety net. As when they were toddlers, if they were going to get really hurt, you would intervene, but you would stand back to give them room to develop. Additionally, Ms. Chu recommended bringing other kids and other families into the mix as conversation starters. She concluded by saying it’s never too late to improve the way you communicate, and that the consistent message should be that you will always be interested, and if they don’t want to talk, you will wait them out, and either way, you’ll still be here. 

For parents interested in hearing more on the topic, Ms. Chu recommends going online to WNYC.org  to hear the March 17th Leonard Lopate interview with Frank Bruni, NYT columnist and author of “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania” (http://www.wnyc.org/story/frank-bruni-college-admissions/ ).