An Independent School • Grades 5-12
Let's Talk About...Stress event brings parents and guardians together to learn and find support
Let's Talk About...Stress event brings parents and guardians together to learn and find support

by Elaine Christensen, Middle School director

What were over 100 parents and guardians doing in Lakeside's Middle School dining room on a Friday night? 

While their 7th- and 8th-grade students were at the dance, these adults attended a session I organized: "Let's Talk About...Stress." This is the second of three "Let's Talk About..." events this year (the first was on cell phones and the last one will be on grades). To start, we brainstormed what contributes to student stress. I then shared what Lakeside is doing to educate students and mitigate the impact of stress and provided suggestions about what parents and guardians can do to support their students. But most of the time was dedicated to giving parents and guardians an opportunity to talk in small groups, sharing their own experiences and thinking through what they could do at home.

Part of our time was spent on reviewing an antidote to stress according to research from Challenge Success, a research-based organization associated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Challenge Success encourages families to talk about PDF, which stands for Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time. The basic idea of PDF is that these three things matter as much as academic time and sports or activities. Our students, as mature as they are, need the adults in their life to create time for PDF in their, and our, busy lives. You can read more about PDF in this article I wrote last year.

There were two exercises parents/guardians did that were particularly impactful. First, they drew a circle on a piece of paper (like a pie!) and wrote the numbers 1-24 around the outside. Then they "sliced" the pie according to how their students use time on an average day. How much time is spent commuting? How much time is spent on homework? How much on outside activities like dance, drama, or sports? And how much time, if any, is dedicated to PDF on a daily basis? The discussion among parents about their pies raised awareness of how busy kids are, but also how some families are insisting that students have time alone, time without social media, time with family eating dinner together. 

Second, we talked about the importance of naming emotions. "Fine" is a platitude; can you describe with words how you are actually feeling at any given time and how intense that feeling is? Giving words to emotions is an antidote to stress, and (here's the key), parents and guardians need to model this behavior. It's important for students to hear their parents talk about how they feel, about when they are stressed, and what, specifically, they do to mitigate that stress. A good dinner table ritual might be for everyone to talk about their stress level (on a scale of 1-10), then name the feeling that went along with that stress, then talk about how to move through whatever that challenge is. 

The most meaningful part of the event involved student voices. To prepare for the evening, I sent a survey to the 7th and 8th graders asking them to finish the prompt: "I wish my parents/guardians knew...." We read all 116 responses aloud; they ran the gamut from serious to funny.

Here are some examples: "I wish my parents/guardians knew..."

  • That it is difficult to be a teenager and that their expectations of us are based on their experiences, but the world has changed quite a lot since then.
  • That school is pretty stressful, and that it helps a lot when they ask how my day was in detail, or ask me what homework I have.
  • That it's impossible to be perfect all the time.
  • That I am a teenager and sometimes I need space. 

As we read students' thoughts aloud, parents and guardians listened with their whole hearts and minds. This was their kids, taking an opportunity to share what sometimes went unsaid.

The final "Let's Talk About..." event will take place on Friday, May 3. "Let's Talk About...Grades" will be for parents and guardians of current 6th and 7th graders at Lakeside, starting at 7:30 p.m. - during the 6th and 7th-grade dance. I hope to see some of you there!